You’ve heard the term; you’ve read the headlines. It’s happening every day in distant, impoverished countries such as India or Cambodia. But what about here at home? How prevalent is human trafficking in the United States?
It’s happening in every state, nationwide – quickly rising to epidemic proportions. Over 100,000 minors get pulled into trafficking in the U.S. every year. In South Carolina, there were 60 cases of human trafficking reported to the National Human Trafficking hotline in the first 6 months of 2017 alone. We MUST learn about this crisis and confront it head-on.
Simply put, human trafficking is the buying and selling or trade of human beings. It is generally divided between two categories: labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
Labor Trafficking, which makes up 20% of trafficking cases, is the involuntary servitude, debt bondage, slavery, forced labor or services of an individual.
Sex Trafficking, which makes up 80% of trafficking cases, is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion.
*NOTE: Any minor engaged in a commercial sex act is a victim of trafficking, regardless of their willingness to participate in the sex act.
*Please note that the following indicators should be considered together and even if more than one applies to someone you know, it does not confirm that they are being trafficked. However, if you have any concerns or suspicions about a possible human trafficking case you should report it! Call 911 and the national human trafficking hotline number 1-888-3737-888.
Viewing pornography may be a solo act; however, the production of the material and the social and relational consequences of the behaviors extends far past the individual. Children and adults endure brutal rape and abuse at the hands of the pornographers and may require years of specialized therapy to heal from the intense trauma inflicted on them. The effects of pornography can skew the viewer’s perception of healthy sexual behavior and boundaries, impacting the viewer’s personal relationship with a spouse or significant other. Trafficked women and children may face an increased risk of violence or degradation due to the normalization of deviant sex acts propagated through pornography. [Shared Hope International]
At only 21 years old, I found myself trapped in a situation that I never thought could happen to me. Without a car and without a job, I was in search of some income. Searching the internet, I found a wonderful opportunity to become a massage therapist. The ad promised great money and, with no experience or license, I was excited to see that they would provide training. After calling and setting up an appointment, I asked a friend who was also in need of a job to go with me. The day of the interview, I got a call from the woman I had spoken to over the phone (“Donna”). She said she was in the area and offered to pick us up so we could avoid taking the bus. We agreed, and “Donna” arrived in a red truck. We climbed in and took off for our interview. We pulled up to an upscale, gated apartment community – something we were immediately suspicious of, but “Donna” reassured us that this wasn’t the business, but where they held interviews for convenience-sake. The apartment we entered was nicely furnished, well-kept and clean. Seemingly a standard interview, we handed our drivers licenses and other personal information over to “Donna”, and she went into another room to make copies. Moments later, we knew something was very wrong. A large man emerged from one of the rooms with a gun tucked into his jeans. As we sat in fear, “Boss” began to tell us that this was not in fact a job interview, but rather we were going to be making him money…with our bodies. Almost immediately, I was driven to a pink house with bars on the windows. It was at that moment when I realized exactly what was happening. I was handed white lingerie and instructed to put it on and to sit for pictures to be taken. These pictures, along with my personal cell phone number (that they had from my “interview”) were posted online as solicitation for their “massage business.” Priced by the “service” requested, we were made to give massages dressed in lingerie as well as perform various sexual acts for the men who came. In addition to this, we were given drugs and alcohol. I have no memory of sleeping or eating – or the number of days that went by. One evening, a young man came over. Before he left, he offered to take me back to hotel with him. As we had been instructed to do, I walked him outside accompanied as always by “Donna” as well as my friend and the man she had been with. Seeing an opportunity, I told my friend that this was our chance get away. Overheard by “Donna” and knowing time was limited, I ran and jumped over the apartment community wall with the help of the man who invited me to his apartment. “Donna” began to yell for “Boss,” and he ran out waving his gun as we were getting over the wall. We ran to a nearby gas station where I had previously walked under supervision for toiletries and I called the police. An officer arrived and took pictures, got a statement, and left. No follow up on the apartment I had come from and no investigation. Back at the man’s apartment, his friends confronted him on some concerning habits, gave me money and called a taxi. Because the people I had escaped from had my address from driver’s license, and personal information, I was scared to return home. My cell phone continued ringing, no doubt with more calls for “massages.” With help from friends and acquaintances, I managed to find places to sleep and get by. Eventually, someone else reported the scheme being run out of that apartment and this time, an investigation was opened. I was called for information and to testify about my own experience, as well as to identify the perpetrators in a lineup. Boss was eventually charged for pimping and pandering – not trafficking, which carries a heavier sentence. I tend to describe this time in my life as a jigsaw puzzle. It’s as if someone threw this experience on the floor in a million pieces, and returned only some of the parts to be pieced back together. I don’t have all of the necessary memories to be able to make sense of what happened. In 2015, I was diagnosed with PTSD. Camera clicks and flashes, large crowds, feelings of survivor’s guilt, dreams of being shot and of drowning – I am affected every day. With no idea what to do with my life, I was gifted with enough grants and money to put me through school at no cost to me - I later recognized this as God’s handiwork. While in school, a professor extended an invitation to attend his church, and I reluctantly attended with my daughter. Finding that my daughter loved attending and having something we could do together, we continued to attend despite that I didn’t really know what was happening. Week after week, I sat alone in the service, crying each time. In August 2013, I was saved and baptized. God’s grace had washed away all of my sins, all of my guilt, all of my shame – and while I still struggle with these at times, I know that I can run to Him in prayer. Since that point, I have made so many connections who work towards trafficking awareness and elimination. God is using this scary and trying time in my life in order to give me a purpose, and I know this purpose is to help others who have experienced this horrible phenomenon. Through my journey of healing, I have come to find many victim services are in need of additional education and service development for this particular trauma, and I know that I can play a role in filling those voids. I have already found additional healing through getting licensed as a certified victim services provider for various types of traumas. God continues to use me and my perspective to help others with their journeys forward. To this day, people still tell me to “get over it.” One of the biggest lessons I have learned is that we never “get over” situations such as these, nor can we go around, above or under them. We must go through them in order to come out on the other side stronger, wiser and with unsurpassable faith. Day by day, that is exactly what I will continue to do. –M
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