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I recently attended a community event with a panel of experts from county and city law enforcement, homeland security, a sex trafficking survivor, and representatives from two groups that rehabilitate trafficked women on the topic of human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking. (email-find list of panelists, links)I thought I knew what I was going to learn. I thought I knew what sex trafficking was. I learned a whole lot more than I thought I would. What I learned changed my perspective forever.
There are a lot of myths and false information floating around out there. Sex trafficking will not end until we can shine a light on it and everyone in our society understands what it is and what it means.
The definition of “human trafficking”
Before we can fight human trafficking, we need to know what it is. The United Nations defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation. One thing that is not required for human trafficking, is movement. The name is misleading because we think “trafficking” we think movement. Not so with human trafficking. People can be trafficked from their own homes. No movement is necessary.
The event I attended specifically addressed sex trafficking, which is a subset of human trafficking and the rest of this post will be specifically focused on that aspect of it. Sex trafficking includes forced prostitution and participation in pornography.
Who is Sex Trafficked?
It may surprise you that this question had a lot of answers. Members of the panel had seen women and girls from ages 6 to 65. Although the average age 12-14. Boys are trafficked as well, though not as frequently, foster kids, juvenile offenders, runaways. Almost any major stress in life can make a person, likely a young woman vulnerable: loss of a parent, violence in the family, a history of sexual abuse, difficulty in school, or physical disability. Imagine coping with one of those stressors, sex trafficking victims cope with multiple.
Where do sex traffickers find their victims?
Basically, the answer to that question is the internet. I don’t think this is surprising to anyone. But specifically, where on the internet
One of the most pernicious places for sex traffickers to find their victims is a place every teenager loves to be, on their smartphone. The worst of the worst are apps where you can meet up with random people. The name doesn’t matter. Parents find out about the latest inappropriate app and get all in an uproar and kids and sex traffickers move on to the next app.
Video games are also a huge problem. You or your child have no idea who they are talking to on the other side of the chat.
Why don’t they just leave?
Fight. Flight. Freeze. Friend. What does this mean? These are the choices the brain has. Most of us have heard of fight or flight. But what does the brain tell someone to do when they can’t get away and their captor could easily overpower them? Freeze: the brain tells the victim to just shut down and they don’t feel anything. Anything can be done to them and they don’t care. Or Friend: the victim convinces the captor that they are glad to be there, that they are willing to do anything he asks to avoid either very real or threatened punishment.
The reason the women don’t leave is they truly believe they don’t have any choice but to stay. When you think about that the average age that a girl is trafficked is 12-14 years old.
How developed is the 12-14-year-old brain? These are not people with fully developed brains that can think through consequences and accurately predict the future.
One of the most common ways that women are trapped in the world of sex trafficking is they are enticed with drugs or money coerced to do a sexual act. Or they are drugged and forced to commit a sexual act. The way that the women or girls are trapped is that the captor takes pictures or video that they use as leverage. The captor blackmails the girl, telling her they will show her parents, or her friends or release it to the internet unless she keeps doing it. They have made one poor decision and they feel they are already trapped. They already have no choice and are in too deep.
What can I do?
What can men do to make a difference?
The biggest difference men can make is to choose not to create demand by not watching porn. There is a substantial amount of porn on the internet that is created by human traffickers. Men (mostly) watching
What can I do to keep my daughter safe? What can I do to keep myself safe?
- Be aware of your posture when you’re out. Walk tall and with confidence. Shoulders back, head up.
- Have a buddy. Don’t go out alone. Don’t abandon your buddy. Stay together.
- Make sure that your friends on social media are your friends. It is extremely simple for a trafficker to steal your friends’ pictures and create a new social media profile using their name and re-add you as a friend. Double-check that you aren’t friends with your friend twice.
- Let people know where you are. The Life360 app is a free app to keep track of where everyone is. The premium version gives you access to a 30-day history of
movementto see where your loved one has been, which can be vital in finding them if there is a problem.
- Stay aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk with your eyes glued to the phone, earbuds in your ears.
- Don’t put your vulnerability on social media. When you send out all your sad feelings
ontothe internet, you are shining a light on yourself for predators to see.
If you feel that you or someone else are in danger
The most important thing you can do to keep your kids safe from sex traffickers
Open communication is the key to keeping kids or anyone away from sex traffickers. The internet isn’t going away. Your child can find anything they want to find. A smart kid can circumvent any monitoring or filtering an adult can do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to keep them safe. But your kid needs to know that they can come to you and tell you ANYTHING. And you need to be able to hear ANYTHING. If girls who were lured in once felt like they had someone to talk to, that they weren’t already trapped. They wouldn’t have been trapped.
If it’s in your heart to do so, be that person for other people’s kids: for the neighbors’ kids, nieces and nephews, any young people in your sphere of influence.
What more can I do to help?
Share this information
The first thing you can do to help is to share this information. Sex trafficking flourishes because we are willing to look the other way. It grows in the dark. Shine a light on it. Dispel the myths surrounding it. Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about it. Kids know more than we give them credit for.
These groups listed are the groups that spoke at the event I attended. If you do not live in the North Texas area, look for local groups that are assisting in ending sex trafficking and rehabilitating survivors for more information or ways to help in your community.
- 7 Human Trafficking Coalition
- Refuge for Women North Texas
- 4 the One
- Valiant Hearts
- The Department of Homeland Security
- Sandy Storm, sex trafficking survivor,
What if I see something suspicious and want to help?
Warning signs of the sex trafficked
- appearing undernourished or injured without appropriate medical care
- appearing to be controlled by a companion
- appearing to be timid or fearful
- dressed inappropriately for the weather ie shorts and no shoes in the winter
- sometimes you just can’t put your finger on it, but you feel something is wrong; your intuition is often an excellent sign
If you see something, do not engage. Sex traffickers are dangerous. If you can gather information without tipping them off, so much the better, but leave it to the authorities. Call 911 or the suspected human trafficking hotline: 1-866-347-2423. Put this number in the contacts of your phone, so you’ll have it if you need it.
The one thing the victims have lost that breaks through all of their emotional barriers.
At the end of the night, one of the women who works to rehabilitate sex trafficking victims all across the world spoke about the only two times that the women she talks with cry. They speak about unimaginable horrors with as much emotion as ordering a pizza. But when it comes to these two things, it breaks down all their barriers.
These two things are the abortions they were forced to have and the pornography they participated in. These two instances are the moments when the women lose a piece of themselves that they can not get back. The women cry for their babies that they lost as well as the photos and videos of them that are not under their control. Losing those pieces of themselves are the ultimate price these victims of sex trafficking pay.
Put these numbers in your phone. Give them to everybody you love to put in their phones. Add a comment below to when it’s done.