Twelve year old Kathy* became caught up in a web of violence and forced participation in the commercial sex industry. She was taken from city to city and serviced many, doing what they wanted. Pregnant with her son, she found a way out or as she says, “God reached in and pulled me out of hell.” Now, many years later, she gives testimony to her story and strives to help other women “out of the business.”
My experience is with women like Kathy. By federal law, any minor exploited by prostitution or pornography is considered trafficked, and I am amazed at the courage of these survivors.
January is the National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Have you been made more aware or knowledgeable? Do you know that human trafficking is defined as “modern day slavery” because it controls a person through force, fraud or coercion — physical or psychological — to exploit the person for forced labor, sexual exploitation, or both? Women, children, and men are all affected by this crime.
Like so many others on the run, there is Candy*, who was left for dead in a motel room. She found the courage to escape, gain a two-year associate nursing degree and a job in a local nursing home. She’s grateful to be alive. Or there’s Hailey*, who gained an education and a job in a nonprofit organization serving youth and purchased a Habitat for Humanity home for herself and her young daughter. I’ve lost touch with both these women, so I don’t know their current status and can only hope their resilience and strength has kept them safe and free of being trafficked again.
Even more courageous is Karol*, who managed to free herself from service as a trafficked hotel escort, coerced to perform unspeakable acts and endure horrendous violence. Today she holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, has the respect and cooperation of judges and the court system where she assists other victimized women to make the transition out of “industry.” She is the director of a nonprofit that assists victimized women. The other day, she was pleased to say that none of their women were homeless. This is a major accomplishment since many of the women have been arrested and landlords do not want to rent to them. Some live with friends, some with families, and some with other rescued women. The heartbreak is when they return to the streets and/or to their pimp.
The day Karol* and I were talking was the same day we met with other case managers from various nonprofits who are working directly with rescued women and girls. I was struck by their stories of successes, challenges, and heartbreak; but mostly, I was struck by the difficulties they shared of staying in touch with their victims, who move frequently, often to avoid discovery by their former pimps.
Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry and profits are estimated at more than $32 billion annually. It is illegal in every country in the world. It is estimated that annually 20.9 million persons are trafficked globally. In the U.S., 82 percent of trafficking incidents involved sex trafficking.
The Internet is a major source for predators’ hunting, recruitment, and trapping unsuspecting and/or innocent victims. During major sporting events such as the Super Bowl or World Cup, ads for and engagement of prostituted escorts significantly increase. The demand must be stopped!
Where are the victims of human trafficking? They can be found in sweatshops, forced prostitution, domestic servitude, restaurants, agriculture, construction, and in hotel/motel cleaning services to name a few.
Who might be a victim? Someone employed in a hotel or restaurant you patronize, neighbor’s housekeeper or nanny, a teenage girl “working the street,” residents of an apartment who are all young men working odd hours and never going out otherwise or young women who come and go in shifts during the night
What should one do if you suspect a person may be a victim of trafficking? Act on your suspicions and/or intuitions that something just “isn’t right” in a particular situation – call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24/7 Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 (they can also provide information on resources in your local area), your local law enforcement or the U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-428-7581. Reporting your concerns could save a life!
You can also join with other individuals and organizations addressing this issue as the Sisters of Mercy have. Together, they are working to raise awareness of the issue, providing direct services to victims and advocating for policy change and stronger legislation to abolish this criminal industry.
Mercy Sister Jeanne Christensen, RSM, is a Justice Advocate for Human Trafficking. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NOTE : *Names have been changed to protect the women’s identity.
Image: Human trafficking concept, Stephen VanHorn / Shutterstock.com