When you think about human trafficking, do you picture the red light district or young girls being kidnapped while traveling abroad? This may be the common understanding, but the truth is that trafficking is a global issue and occurs in every country, including the United States. In fact, over 23,000 survivors of trafficking were identified in 2018 alone by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Trafficking hides in plain sight, so we sat down with a member of our local law enforcement who had just come out of their anti-sex trafficking division to talk about what trafficking look like on a local level and what you can do to combat it in your city. Here’s what we learned…
THE IMPORTANT THING TO KNOW IS THAT WHEN SOMEONE IS BEING EXPLOITED, THERE IS AN ILLUSION THAT THEY HAVE FREEDOM.
However, the reality is that there is always someone else controlling and manipulating them. The people who are most at risk of being exploited are those who are emotionally vulnerable and their exploiter has found a way to fulfill a need they are seeking. This is often the feeling of love or security, an addiction, or personal connection. Many victims are often found to have come from the child welfare system or dysfunctional, abusive homes.
Exploiters will manipulate and trick young girls by pretending to be their boyfriend or be in love with them, then call on them to perform “necessary” tasks (or tricks, as they are commonly referred to) for the benefit of the relationship. To friends and family, this may seem like a relationship – probably a co-dependant or toxic one – where the exploiter works to isolate the girl from everyone in her life.
SIGNS OF AN EXPLOITED PERSON, GATHERED FROM OUR INTERVIEW IN ADDITION TO RESOURCES FROM THE NATIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING HOTLINE:
- They’re either unpaid, paid very little, or are only given tips or “gifts” but no actual money
- They work excessively long or unusual hours and aren’t allowed normal breaks
- They experience verbal or physical abuse by their supervisor
- They’re fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or paranoid
- They show signs of substance abuse or addiction
- They have few or no personal possessions
- They are not in control of their own money, financial records, ID or bank account
- They’re not allowed to speak for themselves and constantly need permission from their boyfriend
- They’re defensive of the person who may be hurting them and minimizes abuse
- And the most obvious sign would be if someone is soliciting or engaging in commercial sex acts.
These are just a few red flags that might indicate that the person you know and love is in trouble. And whatever lured them into this situation, a catalyst is needed to get them out and stay out. For many survivors, it is the separation of their exploiter, such as if he is arrested and convicted, so that they are no longer manipulated or threatened. It can also be a job, or way of supporting themselves, since they might not have been able to finish their education or have the skills and experience to get a sustainable job. And finally, unconditional love and support are absolutely vital to a survivor’s journey of healing and ability to remain FREE. At AIM, we have seen and experienced this first hand with the girls we rescue.
If you know someone in a situation like this, gaining trust and rapport with them is essential in order to really help them. Their exploiters are likely poisoning their minds with lies that tell them their friends, family, or police are trying to get them in trouble, hurt them, or that they aren’t safe. Help them connect to a church community, organization, or contact the National Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888) or your local police.
THERE ARE MANY SIMILARITIES BETWEEN FOREIGN AND LOCAL TRAFFICKING, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO THE BASIC NEEDS WE ALL SHARE. IT’S TIME TO TAKE ACTION AND INVEST IN CARING FOR OTHERS, REACHING OUT AND HELPING THOSE AROUND US, AND MAKING CHANGES TO THE CULTURE WE LIVE IT.
*Information shared here was gathered from a personal interview with a Sacramento County Sheriff, Polaris.org, and The National Human Trafficking Hotline.