A few months ago, I mentioned that one of the reasons I brought on more writers this year was so that I could spend more time on other writing projects. One of those projects has been researching a novel on Human Trafficking, specifically Sex Trafficking in the US.
This novel got its start 7 years ago when I heard a video announcement at church about Sex Trafficking in our area. At the time, I was struck by the thought that I wanted to do something about this problem but had no idea what to do or where to begin. Then a year ago I began writing a book for fun in my “Fiction Friday” posts. After a few posts, the writing took a turn toward Human Trafficking, but as I began digging, I quickly realized I was way out of my element and needed to stop writing and do some serious research in order to present the situation and realities of those involved as accurately and fairly as possible.
What Sex Trafficking Is
From my research and brainstorming over the last 6 months, I realized that Human Trafficking and more specifically Sex Trafficking is a huge worldwide problem. To give you an idea of what it is sex trafficking is, US federal law defines it as:
The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining [of] a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act where such an act is induced by force, fraud, coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. (qtd. in Cooper 18)
Basically, it means that sex trafficking is when anyone is tricked in to a commercial sex act or if a commercial sex act of any kind happens to a minor. In my research, I was surprised to learn that it is one of the fastest growing criminal industries due to the fact that unlike drugs, people can be sold over and over again. Right now it is second only to drugs, and the criminals are rarely caught (Anderson 8). There are said to be more than 2 million children involved in sex trafficking throughout the world and that poor women and children are those most vulnerable and at risk (Walker 17). Those women and children come from the US and from abroad.
How It Effects the US
Right now the US is one of the top 10 destinations for Human Trafficking with women and children outside our country coming mainly from Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia being close behind (Walker 3). These women and children come from a variety of backgrounds but the one thing most have in common is their poverty. Some migrate legally, but when hard times come or parents die, they are picked up by pimps who gain the victims’ trust then exploit them (Walker 109-10). Others are promised and good job, education, and security for their families to migrate, but on arriving in the US their passports are stolen and the job they were promised turns out to be prostitution (Anderson 14; Bales and Soodalter 13-14). Many when realizing what has happened stay because they feel obligated to pay off “debts” incurred while being transported, due to the terror inflicted on them from abuse, the fear of deportation, and because their families at home are being threatened (Walker 107). Many times this threat is not real, but sometimes it is (Hodge). If trafficking in the US were just from foreign nations it would be enough, but often those being trafficked also come from within the US itself.
Girls and children in the US are recruited in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are unknowingly picked up from shopping malls, high schools, universities, and colleges (Walker 104). The traffickers look for girls who appear to be down and trick them into a contract of some kind (Walker 104-105). Others end up as prostitutes because they have been victims of sexual abuse, while still others are trafficked by their own family members in exchange for drugs (Cooper 17).
Scariest of all is that runways are at a high risk of being trafficked. Daniel Walker in his book God in a Brothel states “that when a young girl runs away from her home in the city of Atlanta, statistically the police have only forty-eight hours to find her before she is recruited into prostitution” (106). Though this statement is limited to Atlanta, other US cities are not immune to sex trafficking. Expected cities like LA and Las Vegas came up in my research, along with less expected cities like Oklahoma City.
In their article “Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in the United States,” Stephanie Hepburn and Rita J. Simon tell the story of a 15 year old girl who they called “Sarah.” She ran away from home and met her traffickers through a friend. They subjected her to gang rape and she was forced to live in a dog kennel. During the 42 days she was captive, she was forced into prostitution and often raped repeatedly by one of her captors. When she was finally able to get to a cell phone and call her Mom, she was scared to tell her Mom where she was being kept for fear her captors would hurt her family. When finally her captors were arrested, one of them confessed to Sarah being hidden in a hollowed-out box spring in the place she was staying (9). Though Sarah’s story is horrific, unfortunately, it is not uncommon (Cooper 18; Walker 45). Her story is the exception to the rule. Most criminals are never caught and most victims are never found.
Where It’s Happening
The victims in the US are not limited to typical street corner prostitution. They are sold by pimps at truck stops and on Craigs’ List, and they are often forced or coerced into “pornography, stripping, [and] escort services” (Kotral 182). Even massage parlors are used as a front for sex trafficking. It is said that there are more than 5,000 of these businesses disguised as massage parlors across the US (“Fake Massage”). The traffickers who run these operations, men and women, come from all walks of life and nationalities.
They can be anyone from small operations to more often gangs and organized crime organizations. Since trafficking is a “low risk high reward crime” (Anderson 12), gangs and others see it as fast and easy money, because they can often make as much as $500 a night from one victim, which is about $182,000 in tax free income a year (Hepburn and Simpson 20). Both gangs and organized crime use sophisticated organizations linked worldwide to recruit, transport, and control victims (Anderson 12; Walker112). Sadly, many of these networks are protected by the government in the countries they operate in, even here in the US (Walker).
From his time working in Atlanta, Walker in God in a Brothel says:
Most alarming for me was to learn what happened during an operation set up to target some of the escort agencies involved [in sex trafficking]. When it became apparent during the investigation that some of the male clients were senior members of the Atlanta city council and U.S. Senators, the operation was quickly shut down. Those officers involved were reassigned. (107)
Though, hopefully, this is a rarer problem here in the US, Walker discusses in other parts of his book that law enforcement and political protection are often the rule rather than the exception.
Why It’s Happening
At the root of sex trafficking is the demand of the sex industry. Without those willing to view porn, participate in escort services, and buy sex there would be no industry (Cooper 19; Hepburn and Simpson 4). Sadly, the clients can be anyone. They come from all walks of life and all nationalities (Walker 155-6). No one is immune. Largely, their crimes go unmonitored and unpunished (Walker 156).
What We Can Do
In the face of all this information, what is one to do? How can one person possibly help? For me it means to continue to work on this novel. Sometimes the information and stories are overwhelming and I want to walk away and quit. But then I’m reminded that there are women and children in my very own community who can’t walk away. Who are trapped until somebody does something. My hope for this book is two fold. First, that it fairly and realistically portrays the plight of those trapped in sex trafficking. Second, that it gives readers tangible ways and ideas about how they can help. I don’t just want you to be upset by what you read, but I want to you be empowered to do something about it right where you live.
There are several ways you can help right now.
Pray for those trapped in sex trafficking, those who run the organizations, and those who are funding the sex industry through their own addictions. Also pray for those who are actively involved in raising awareness, providing information, rescuing the victims, and caring them in aftercare.
Pass this information and the information found at the bottom of this post on to others. Get the word out that this in not just a third world problem. It’s happening here and now.
As always you can also give money to organizations involved in the fight against sex trafficking. There are all kinds from those who raise awareness, to those to actively rescue, to others who are involved in after care and support of the victims. I’ve provided a list of trusted organizations at the end of this post.
If you would like to be hands on, you can get involved in the aftercare of the victims. The abuse they suffer is extreme and they need help integrating back into their communities (Walker 163). Much of the help they need is professional help from counselors and those who have walked in their shoes, but they also need help from community members willing to friend them and teach them basic skills. You will find resources for those organizations asking for your time below.
There are warning signs to watch for. In their book, The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America to Today, Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter list warning signs to watch for and questions to ask yourself:.
- Is this person unable to move freely, or is she being watched or followed?
- Does she seem frightened to talk in the presence of others?
- Does this person look to be of school age, but is she regularly seen working during school hours?
- Are there signs of assault—bruises, cuts, bandages, limping?
- Does she seem disoriented, confused, malnourished, or frightened? (41)
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, report the possible abuse to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1-888-373-7888, and in Oklahoma you can also call: 1-800-522-7233.
Just like slavery in the US during its early years, slavery now cannot be stopped unless ordinary people stand up and say “No more.”
Places where you can help
I = Information for you to learn more and share
$ = Donations accepted
A = Raising awareness
T = Time from physical volunteers
Click on their names for more information.
The Demand Project (I $ A T)
The Demand Project is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is one of the most involved organizations I’ve seen. Their work involves addressing the whole trafficking process, and their missing is “Prevention, Prosecution, Rescue, and Restoration.” The do everything from providing presentations for local school and churches, to working with local law enforcement to find the traffickers, to rescuing the girls, and finally, to working to bring healing to the victims. I have written articles that go more in-depth into what they do and have interviewed one of their co-founders, Kristin Weis, to learn how they began this battle against trafficking.
Day Spring Villa: (I $ A T)
“is Oklahoma’s only faith-based, certified shelter for domestic violence victims and the first shelter of its kind in the state for adult survivors of human sexual trafficking. Here, women and their children discover life without abuse and real-world solutions to restore their self-esteem, confidence, and, ultimately, reclaim their independence.”
Nvader: (I $ A)
An organization based in New Zealand who raises awareness and conducts “planned, covert and tactical investigations drawing on best practices to effectively combat sex trafficking.”
On Eagles Wings: (I $ A T)
“The OEW Mission is to restore females that have been sexually exploited through the commercial sex industry with emphasis on prevention, outreach, empowerment, and aftercare.”
Polaris Project: ($ A)
The Polaris Project is one of the largest anti-trafficking organizations in the US. They run the National Human Trafficking Hotline, aid in policy advocacy and expertise, serve all types of survivors of human trafficking, offer training programs over a wide range of information related to human trafficking, and work globally with other programs fighting human trafficking. I (lots and lots!)
Selah Freedom: (I $ A T)
Located in FL but expanding to Chicago, IL soon, they aid in public awareness and aftercare of victims though housing and restorative services.
She Has a Name: (I $ A)
An organization that works to raise awareness and funds. They donate 100% of the funds they raise to partner organizations who are fighting sex trafficking.
She’s Somebody’s Daughter: (I $ A)
“It is our desire to be voices for daughters everywhere, encouraging others to honor women and raise awareness about the issues related to exploitation.” They do this through helping men and women out of pornography addiction, making communities aware of the link between pornography and sexual trafficking, and reaching out to those in strip clubs both the women and the men.
Anderson, Judith. People Trafficking. Inside Crime Series. Mankato, Minn.: Smart Apple Media, 2012. Paper. Bales, Kevin and Ron Soodalter. The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. Berkley: U of CA P, 2009. Print.
Cooper, Elissa. “Sexual Slavery on Main Street.” Christianity Today (May 2010): 17-19. EBSCO. Web. Sept 2010.
“Fake Massage Businesses.” Polaris Project: For a World Without Slavery. Polaris Project, n.d. Web. 24 March 2014.
Hepburn, Stephanie and Rita J. Simpson. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in the United States.” Springer Science and Business Media, LLC. EBSCO. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.
Hodge, Sibel. Trafficked: The Diary of a Sex Slave. Np, 2011. Print.
Kotral, Kimberly. “Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking in the United States.” Social Work 55.2 (Ap 2010): 181-87. EBSCO. Web. 8 Aug. 2013.
Walker, Daniel. God in a Brothel: An Undercover Journey into Sex Trafficking and Rescue. Doweners Grove, IL: Intervarsity P, 2011. Print.