January is human trafficking awareness month and there are many great articles out there to raise awareness of this issue and educate the public about what their role is. There are also a lot of totally unhelpful information.
I think by now we have all seen the Facebook post warning people about how their sisters cousins aunt was almost abducted on the parking lot of Wal Mart or TJ Max or the mall. It hasn’t made the news so we must all share it and keep everyone safe. Where the police called? Was a report filed and an investigation started? We don’t know?!?
I would like to share with you all today that in all the years that I have been doing this and listening to others pour out their painful stories. I have NEVER EVER heard of someone being randomly snatched off the street. It does happen but that is not the most common form of trafficking.
Last weekend I was at a planning meeting with key stakeholders in our community here in Fort Wayne, IN. A state police officer was also there, at lunch he took the opportunity to tell me what he sees. His words have stayed with me all week and ring true. ” most of the trafficking cases that we see are runaways”. In a CNN article from way back in 2009, “”More common in the United States are traffickers who exploit abused runaways or so-called “throwaways” — children abandoned by their parents and living on the streets, Lagon said.”” The officer also talked about how often the kids are actually trafficked by their parents but it can’t be proven. So the kids are returned to their parents and end up back on the street. He also said that most of the cases that he sees are in the rural counties not the inner cities.
Another part of human trafficking that I would like to make you aware of is the ” snatching” part. Kidnapping and human trafficking are not synonymous. Most cases of human trafficking started with luring a victim and then trapping them. Most often its a charming ” perfect” boyfriend or sometimes a caring “best friend. ” Its starts with late night intimate conversations on Snapchat. A night out on the town and showered in gifts. A starving kid on the streets needing a shower, meal and place to stay.
I am often asked, what are the warning signs of human trafficking what should we watch out for? The answer is: watch out for vulnerability.
Here are some examples of cases that I have worked on the last few years .
14 year old boy that doesn’t fit in anywhere at school. He finds a few accepting friends online and talks with them. A few months go by and one night the power is cut to his home and he lured away with promises of a life of friendship and adventure. He was rescued 3 days later 900 miles from home
16 year old girl with emotional and behavioral problems since she was in kindergarten. Traditional therapy has not worked for her and medications only offer minimal support. The young girl desperate for attention gets involved in making child porn videos and images.
15 year old’s stepfather begins visiting her bedroom at night. She tells her mother but her mother tells her to keep her mouth shut because the stepfather is the primary source of income and they live in his house. The mom suggest that the daughter dress more modestly and try not to entice the stepfather. The daughter runs away at 16 because she just can’t take it anymore. She meets a nice woman who invites her into her home. The women tells her how she can make $500/ hr and have the independent life that she always dreamed of. The dates are set up, she takes a hit of something to help her get through the night. 2 months later she is going on ” dates” and earning $15-$25 and it all goes to support her addiction. She never saw $500/ hr she doesn’t even know how much she gets sold for.
An 11 year old girl moves with her family to a new state. Her mom and stepdad are having trouble finding stable employment. They rent a house from a 37 year old man. The 37 year old man begins grooming the 11 year old girl. The girls tells but no one does anything. No one seems to be working or earning any money. They just hang around the house watching TV while the 11 year old girl has a 37 year old boyfriend.
For years a now 15 year old girl has been asked to be ” extra nice” & ” just go with it” to some of her dads special friends. This has been going on since she can remember. At 15 she becomes pregnant with the child of a ” special friend”. The department of children’s services gets involved. The dad begins to worry that they will all get caught. She he insist that the 15 year marry who ever he can find that is willing. The abuse starts right after the wedding, DCS disappears. The girl stops going to school and the doctor. At 16 the girl decides to run away with her child but has no where to go. A shelter wont take a minor. She cant file for a protection order, her parents or her spouse have to do it for her. She makes a friend who invites her and her child in. She turns to selling her body to try and support herself and her child. After all she is not doing anything that she hasn’t done before. She is arrested for prostitution right away. DCS takes her child away and gives it to her parents. No one believes her about what her dad did to her and she is desperately worried that it will happen to her child. At 16 broken and full of a lifetime of trauma she has to get a job that pays enough to support herself and her child, obtain stable housing and go to appointments without transportation. In no time she is back on the streets hoping to earn enough to become a ” fit parent”.
Rebecca Bender is a human trafficking survivor and I encourage you to follow her to learn more about her story and the amazing work that she is doing. A quote from her that I find haunting is, ” I had to choose poverty for myself and my daughter.
If you suspect human Trafficking call 9-1-1 for more information on Human Trafficking please visit https://indianacesa.org/human-trafficking/about-human-trafficking/