She is your sister. Your daughter. She is your neighbor. Your co-worker. Your best friend. She is a victim of sex trafficking and she could be anyone. Even you. Traffickers do not discriminate against race, religion, or social class. They target the vulnerable in the bustling metropolises of New York City and Los Angeles and in the neighborhoods of quiet suburban towns. How is it that abuse and exploitation happens in our own backyards?
For many of us, our understanding of sex trafficking is limited to a sort of Pretty Woman stereotype: a woman wearing knee-high boots and fishnet stockings who confidently stands on a street corner offering commercial sex to men—all of her own volition. This is simply not the reality. The science of this organized crime is much more subtle. The intricate system used by pimps and traffickers is designed to go unnoticed by the outside world.
Those most equipped to stop trafficking in its tracks are often unaware of its activity. Law enforcement, social service providers, medical care workers, and others who are poised to be the first responders often do not know the issue, how to address it, how to identify it, and how to respond. Parents, teachers, and others who are positioned to protect children are often unaware of the problem. The public is largely uninformed, and thus it does not become a political outcry.
The subtle signs of trafficking are right in front of us, but we are blind to them. A helping hand is right across the street from a trafficked girl, but no one is extending it. Trafficking is a crime that lurks in the darkness, and the victims are lost in the shadows. If we but turn our eye towards them and lend them our hand, we might bring them back into the light.
Some questions may linger in the back of your mind: why doesn’t the victim speak out for herself? Why doesn’t he just run away? Can’t they just walk to a police station and turn their traffickers in? The answer is simple: traffickers are smart and cunning. They are equipped with all the methods of intimidation and control to keep the lips of their victims sealed. These methods include:
- Violence: Traffickers often beat their victims into submission. Possibly more effective, however, is the threat of violence towards family and loved ones. A trafficker need only hint at knowledge of their whereabouts to ensure a victim’s silence.
- Deception: How does initial abduction go unnoticed? Most likely it is not a case of abduction at all. Traffickers may lure their victims under the guise of a boyfriend or a job opportunity. Often only when it is too late does a victim realize she is being exploited.
- Imprisonment: A sure and simple way for traffickers to prevent a victim’s escape is to imprison her. Traffickers may lock girls in rooms with no means of escape. Guards often stand by and escort girls to their various locations.
- Collusion: Collusion is an agreement between two parties cooperating in illegal activity. A trafficker might threaten a victim using her involvement in a business she did choose, warning her that the law will not be kind to her if they are discovered. Unfortunately, there is some truth in this form of control. Those caught in the crossfire of trafficking are often treated like criminals instead of the victims they are.
- Debt Bondage: Traffickers often heap irrational or excessive charges on their victims, exacting money for rent, food, or unmet customer quotas, causing girls to accumulate large amounts of debt. Feeling like she has to pay her dues, a victim will continue working to pay off a debt designed to keep her in bondage.
- Relationship Control: Since many traffickers lure their victims in under the façade of a boyfriend, many girls will come to believe that they are in love with their trafficker. The trafficker might force a victim to “prove her love” by performing commercial sex acts.
- Isolation: Traffickers will often cut off a victim’s communication from the outside world. A girl is taken away from her community, stripped of her money, identification, and any sense of freedom, all to increase her sense of isolation. She feels like she is alone in the world, so she complies with the orders of the only people she knows.
What Can You Do?
We are a light that shines in the darkness, so let us be that light! Let us expose this evil
that thrives off of secrecy. In order to do so, we need to know how to identify trafficking situations and respond to them. If you are interested in learning about sex trafficking and
its signs, sign up for one of WAR, Int’l’s Civilian First Responder (CFR) conferences. At this conference, you will learn the 15 flashpoints of human trafficking, 20 common lures used by sexual predators, 20 signs of sexual exploitation, 39 ways to respond to human trafficking, and more.
You can also support such NGOs as WAR, Int’l as they work to expose the evils that lurk in the darkness. Your time, effort, and talent will help us raise awareness about the prevalence of trafficking—not only abroad but in our own communities as well.
A trafficker makes a victim feel like she has no hope. He takes away her freedom, her dignity, and her identity. He takes away her voice. It is our duty to give her a voice when her own has been silenced. Her lips may be sealed, but ours are speaking on her behalf. Pimps and traffickers—in our communities and across the globe—will come to find that their secret is simply not safe with us.
All information is taken from the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking and research supported by the National Institute of Justice.