By: Dr. Phyllis Bivins-Hudson
We are in August and the halfway mark through what is an interesting summer; especially for me.
My husband and I are now in bi-coastal mode and it’s taking a little time to acclimate since I’ve been a Jersey girl since 1970 and he since 1974. I must say, I’m loving it, but missing home.
Well, we all know that no matter how much fun we are having, crime doesn’t take a holiday.
And so, here we are, here I am, approaching the middle of August with human trafficking still at the forefront of everything I do lately. I can’t seem to get this crime against humanity out of my mind.
The constant thinking about this atrocity helps to keep me accountable as a person who likes to do what she can toward fixing a problem rather than being a part of the problem.
That said, August will focus on one particular facet of human trafficking.
According to research, there are basically three common types. These include the sex trade, forced labor, and domestic servitude. However, the two most common ones include sexual exploitation and forced labor.
Each of these is prevalent in the US more than any place in the world.
These violations against mankind are so endemic to the US, most likely because of the staggering amount of profits they yield.
Believe it or not, the sex trade, forced labor and domestic servitude boost the economic sectors in several areas: agriculture, restaurants, manufacturing, domestic work, entertainment, hospitality, and the commercial sex industry.
But let’s talk about one of these areas of trafficking; and when you join me again next month, we will pick up from where we leave off, delving into another facet of this unfortunate atrocity.
We’ve stated previously in my YouTube video with Wincey Terry-Bryant, Artistic Director for the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, that the top five sex-trafficking states in this country (ranked in order) are California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Michigan, with New Jersey ranking number 18 of the 50 states.
In fact, all 50 States are a part of this malfeasance. Sex trafficking is more common than you might think.
According to US Customs and Border Protection, in the United States, it is estimated that 15,000 to 50,000 women and children are forced into sexual slavery annually.
But generally, when our minds go to the thought of sex trafficking, we think of others. We think of other countries.
We rarely look at home or at how it’s done.
However, consider this: Sex trafficking, the use of force, fraud, or coercion to get another person to provide commercial sex takes place when power-seekers look to maintain power and control over their victims through physical, psychological, or substance abuse.
These victims can be women, men, girls, or boys.
The youngest sex trafficked individual was a 2-year-old baby and the oldest was a 76-year-old woman (Wincey Terry-Bryant); however, especially vulnerable to sex trafficking are teenagers, and they can be foreign or domestic citizens. Yet, the average age of sex-trafficked females is 12 (rights4Girls.org).
Those who are trafficked most are women and girls of color, and these victims are also arrested more for prostitution, even though they are involved in trafficking rings by force and doing what they do as a means of survival.
The other percentages of women trafficked are brought into the US from East Asia, the Pacific, Latin America, Europe, and Eurasia (40% Black with 26% white bjs.ojp.gov).
The question to ask right now is who are the buyers of these women and girls of color?
The answer: Disproportionately, white men are the buyers; ordinary men.
They are often co-workers, doctors, pastors, spouses, etc.
According to a January 2018 USA Today report, one 17-year-old survivor from the Midwest reported that she was purchased by more than 150 men in one month, a number unimaginable in the minds of most of us.
This, among other reasons, is why we must remain vigilant because if one of is unsafe, the whole lot of us is unsafe.
The disturbed individuals who participate in these acts often lure victims into trafficking by dangling opportunities to earn money, food, shelter, love, or other opportunities for amenities missing from the victims’ lives.
When human beings are deprived of these basic needs, they may suffer from what’s called trauma bonding, a psychological phenomenon where the victims begin to regard their perpetrators in a positive light because their basic needs are being met.
Luring these victims into sex trafficking might also seem like something done by strangers. While strangers make up a percentage of traffickers, a very large percentage of victims are trafficked by boyfriends, husbands, parents, or other trusted people.
These traffickers move in stages. First, they lure their victim, then they take them through a process of grooming and gaming, followed by coercion and manipulation, exploitation, and finally, recruitment.
Once a person has become a victim, he/she is conditioned with starvation, confinement, beatings, physical and psychological abuse, rape, gang rape, threats of violence to the victim or the victim’s family, forced drug use, pornography, stripping, live-sex shows, mail order brides and/or the threat of shaming victims to their family or friends by revealing their involvement in sexual activities in which they would not ordinarily engage.
Sex trafficking, like other trafficking, can occur anywhere, including suburbia, large and small towns, and cities.
One of the most popular places for sex traffickers is large venues for sports or entertainment events. These become a trafficker’s playground because there are usually so many people gathered in one place at the same time and of all ages, races, ethnicities, etc.
This begs the question, who do sex traffickers target? Victims of sex trafficking do not particularly have defining characteristics that could be tied to every victim.
However, worldwide, traffickers routinely prey on individuals who are vulnerable.
These vulnerabilities include poverty, language limitations, immigration issues, unstable housing, and limited economic and educational opportunities (Nctsn.org).
Other risk factors include early substance abuse, children involved in the child welfare system, a history of running away, childhood sexual abuse, dropping out of school, immigrants, refugee children, areas with prominent gang activity, armed conflict, and other experiences that make unsuspecting victims a target for sex traffickers.
It is unfortunate that what happens to females who are trafficked is that they become victims twice because of what they encounter when they are trafficked.
They experience high rates of physical and sexual violence, memory loss, sexually transmitted diseases, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and traumatic brain injuries; symptoms reported by female survivors.
While the entire experience of sex trafficking has a bleak outlook, there is some hope in the following information that provides examples of how not to get trafficked. Understand that no matter what the circumstances, however, some situations may be unavoidable and inevitable.
- Always trust your judgment. If a situation or an individual makes you feel uncomfortable, trust your gut feeling. It is probably leading you away from danger.
- Let a trusted relative or friend know if you feel like you are in danger or if a person raises suspicion in your mind or if the situation appears to be suspicious.
- Set up safety words with a family member or trusted friend. One word could mean you are alone and therefore it is safe to talk, while another word could mean you are not safe. Moreover, it is important to communicate what you would like the person to do i.e. call 9-1-1, meet somewhere to pick you up, or whatever instructions you need to provide.
- Keep all your important identification or documentation in your possession at all times. Your partner, employer, or anyone else does not have the right to hold these and should not have them without your permission.
- Always have an important phone number on you at all times. It should be someone you feel safe to call in the event you are in trouble.
- Make sure you have means to communicate (cell phone), bank account information, medications, etc. at all times.
- If you think you are experiencing danger and have access to communication, do not hesitate to call 9-1-1 first and immediately.
This topic could go on for months, therefore, to bring some kind of closure, I will leave you with some of the frequently asked questions I encountered when in conversation about this topic. Please reference the links associated with the questions for more in-depth information about that particular question.
- How are sex traffickers punished?
A conviction for sex trafficking by depriving someone of their liberty or freedom carries a prison sentence of 8, 14, or 20 years. The law also imposes a fine of no more than $500,000. Inducing, persuading, or coercing a minor to engage in a commercial sex act carries a state prison sentence of 5, 8, or 12 years. (sddefenseattorneys.com)
- Why is it hard to get out of trafficking?
The trafficker provides and controls all needs such as love, food, money, shelter, etc. The victim may have an intense, often romantic attachment to the trafficker (trauma bond). For some victims, leaving the trafficker may mean returning to a life of poverty and instability. (covenanthousetoronto.ca)
- How much money is made in sex trafficking?
Human traffickers are in it for the money, with estimated annual global profits of $150 billion. (DoSomething.org)
- What is the color of sex trafficking? Why do people wear this color for human trafficking?
Blue is internationally recognized as the universal color for human trafficking prevention. Anyone can make a difference on #WearBlueDay — all needed is a piece of blue clothing! By participating in this campaign, you can increase online awareness of human trafficking and play a role in saving lives. (Phoenixrisingky.com andcirict.org)
- What is the life expectancy of a sex trafficking victim?
Victims experience emotional and physical pain including torture, disease, shame, starvation, grief, broken bones, burns, concussions, mutilations, infections, forced drug use, and permanent organ damage. The average life expectancy of a trafficking victim is 7 years.
- Is sex trafficking easy to identify?
Identifying victims of human trafficking can be difficult because traffickers often isolate victims from their families, communities, and the public. Victims are sometimes kept locked behind closed doors. Victims of human trafficking can also be hidden in plain sight.
- Can a victim survive sex trafficking?
With 45 million sex trafficking victims worldwide, only 1% manage to escape or be rescued. Surviving Sex Trafficking examines the ongoing struggles of those survivors as they desperately fight to break free of their past, heal their bodies and minds, reconnect with a world of hope, and reclaim their lost humanity. (survivingsextraffickingfilm.com)
- What happens after sex trafficking?
Studies show that individuals who have experienced trafficking may exhibit signs of anxiety, emotional numbness, memory loss, and depression. They may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a dependence on substance or alcohol use, and/or eating disorders. (hhs.gov)
Business travelers are in a unique position to help. They can support the fight by:
Learning how to identify some of the signs of modern slavery and what to do if something feels wrong. For instance, if you are in the hotel business, this is often where traffickers bring their victims. Here is a list (not exhaustive) of ten signs to consider when trying to help:
- The potential guest(s) are reluctant to provide IDs at check-in
- A suspected trafficker pays for a room in cash
- Someone else speaks for the suspected victim who is unable to speak freely or who displays inadequate language skills
- The suspected victim and the trafficker request a room together in an isolated part of the hotel such as near a fire exit or first floor near an exit
- The suspected victim is inappropriately dressed for his/her age and/or the weather
- The suspected victim is never left alone
- The suspected victim shows signs of physical or emotional abuse
- The suspected victim seems submissive or fearful
- In the suspected victim’s room, there are different visitors entering and exiting the room at an unusual rate
- There are frequent requests for room service orders with high levels of alcohol made by different guests from within the room
On the other hand, if you are a layperson, here are four things you can do should you suspect human trafficking
- Be as observant as possible by remembering the location, clothing, descriptions, how many people you saw, the time, and any names used. If you can discreetly and safely record a license plate number, do so.
- Never confront a suspected trafficker or victim.
- Discreetly alert a hotel manager, security personnel, or other authorities who may be near you.
- If you are not able to report what you have observed to a member of law enforcement, report it online to ECPAT, a global network of civil society organizations that work to end the sexual exploitation of children. Or report it to A21, a global, non-government group working to fight sexual exploitation and trafficking, forced slave labor, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude, and child soldiery.
Stay safe everyone and keep your loved ones safe too. There is a war against our children in particular, so, keep your eyes peeled. And remember the slogan: If you see something, say something.
Until next time, keep flying on your own wings.