TUNKHANNOCK, WYOMING COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A new task force to combat human trafficking and rescue children across our area was officially recognized Wednesday. The effort will stretch across nine counties in northeastern Pennsylvania.

On Wednesday, officials from Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and law enforcement leaders from across northeastern Pennsylvania came together to announce the implementation of the Wyoming Valley Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation Task Force.

“This task force is about protecting our children from the heinous, in the shadows, human trafficking, child exploitation, sex offenses, predators, and trafficking on the internet,” Wyoming County District Attorney Joseph C. Peters explained.

Experts say human trafficking and child sexual exploitation doesn’t just happen in big cities, it can also happen in the Wyoming Valley due to its centralized location between Philadelphia and New York and its high volume of hotels.

Experts also say that trafficking and exploitation can take many different forms.

“The ugly face of human trafficking can often be a young girl whose mom and dad think she’s at cheerleading practice when she’s been groomed by a predator, a human trafficker, a part of a larger organization,” Peters said.

The task force aims to identify and prosecute these crimes and inform parents and schools about the signs. It also seeks to help victims heal from trafficking and exploitation.

“It’s equally as important to make sure that we’re shepherding the victims of those crimes through the recovery process so that they’re getting the help and the social services that they need to survive their trauma and get their lives back on track,” said HSI Philadelphia special agent in charge William S. Walker.

Officials say a working relationship between HSI special agents and the Wyoming County District Attorney’s Office has been in place for over a year. With this official implementation, the task force will be able to expand into surrounding counties across northeastern Pennsylvania.

“Information sharing, continued teamwork, meets with aggressive investigation and prosecution, and together, we can and we will continue to make a difference in the community,” Walker said.

This task force is also being substantially supported by the DHS’s center for countering human trafficking in Washington D.C.