Written by: Jordyn; Alverno College Social Work Student, Exploit No More Fall 2018 Intern
A few weeks ago, on my way to my internship, I received a call from Melania giving me a heads up that a young survivor of trafficking would be in the office with us that day. I didn’t know it yet, but receiving that call drastically changed my understanding of the world of sex trafficking.
After completing many hours of research, I thought I’d be prepared for my first interaction with someone I knew had been trafficked. Julie, name changed for confidentiality purposes, came to us after a family member had dropped her off at a police station, not knowing what to do after Julie had revealed that she was being trafficked. Like most victims of sexual exploitation, Julie had gotten caught up in the life without fully understanding what was happening to her. When she finally reached out to someone she knew and loved, she was turned away and left at a police station, expected to tell her story to strange men who couldn’t possibly understand what she was going through.
When we talk about sex trafficking and exploitation, we’re given a list of warning signs and indicators to look for that can identify possible victims and survivors of trafficking. Physical signs like; physical and sexual abuse, unexplainable tattoos or brandings, large amounts of cash, multiple cell phones, and not making eye contact or avoiding answering questions are some of the major signs that I knew could be present in this young person. These indicators, along with behavioral warning signs, have been burned into my mind. I’ve read them, heard them, watched them play out, contemplated, and explored them in more ways than you can know.
As we mature, we're given categories, labels, definitions, ideas, and are expected to use them to shape our worlds. For the most part, we do a good job following these expectations, toeing the line and never straying too far from the norms. Even as we begin to see the false realities that define our understandings of others; the false realities of the stereotypes we assign to each other; it is hard to let them go.
Growing up in a household where labels were defined, we were taught to love and accept everyone, and judgments were passed only after you got to know someone, didn’t have the effect I’d thought it would. You see, despite this loving environment, I spent the majority of my time in a world where labels defined us, stereotypes existed for a reason, and what we learned in school was the gospel truth.
All of this is to say that despite all of my research, despite the hours spent contemplating and researching, trying to understand how this system of exploitation has lead so many victims and survivors down a path that changes their lives, when Julie came into the office, I was shocked.
Julie did not show any of the indicators listed above. She wasn’t malnourished or unkempt. She didn’t keep her head down or avoid having conversations.
Julie laughed loud. She spoke to me as if we’d known each other our whole lives. She was kind, confident, energetic.
Julie is human.
Julie is human. She defied the expectations of having been broken by experiences too awful to put into words. That she might get triggered by any mention of trafficking or that she wouldn’t be able to talk about what had happened to her. There were no tears in her eyes as she collected clothes and blankets, necessities for her new life. She did not exhibit any sadness in having nothing, nowhere to go.
Julie is beauty.
In all that she is and all that she has been. Julie is beauty in all of the scars and experiences that have contributed to who she is.
Julie is light.
She is the sun, shining in a dark world that tries to extinguish any and all light.
Julie is power and courage.
In the way that she carries herself without fear for the future. She is a force to be reckoned with. She is the brave warrior that stands up even when she is scared, when her voice shakes, she speaks her truth.
Julie is hope.
She is hope that tomorrow will be another day, filled with more opportunities and less exploitation. She is hope that one day, every person who has been trafficked will be able to rise up and fight back against their abusers.
If I hadn’t known that she had been trafficked, I never would have been able to tell. Julie looks like any and every girl that walks around the office, down the halls of a school, across campus, down the street. She looks like your neighbor, your niece, your friend, your family member.
Yes. This is a scary thought. That sex trafficking can and does happen right under our noses, every second of every day. That humans have the ability to be so cruel, so heartless, that we would buy, trade, and sell each other for sexual pleasure. But this is our reality.
Victims and survivors of sex trafficking are not the exception and they are also not the rule. They come in more forms, shapes, and sizes than anyone could have imagined. There is no model victim.
Despite all of the work that we do, this is something that we too often forget.
What Julie has taught me is that we have the power to change the way we move through this world. And yes, sometimes it will be hard to break free of what we have been taught, to step out of our ignorance and see the world in all of its chaos. But when we take that first step, when we are filled with a courage that allows us to connect with others, it is one of the most beautiful things we can ever do.
Written by: Melania Klemowits, Executive Coordinator at Exploit No More
Hey Freedom Fighters,
I just read another news article about someone claiming that they were a potential victim of human trafficking because they were followed in a grocery store by a "creepy man." Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not selling their story short or suggesting that being followed around is right, but I am saying that incidents such as these do not have the earmarks of human trafficking.
Human trafficking and sexual exploitation is a "trending" topic right now. The media covers it more and more and parents are taking to Facebook to heed warnings to other parents. I was talking with a high school social worker earlier this week who informed me that three of her students had previously been trafficked. That's three too many students. We get inboxed, voicemails, and emails every week from community members who are fearful and confused about what the issue of trafficking means for their kids and neighborhood.
My heart hurts every time I read an article like this. It hurts every time a parent announces they're living in fear. It hurts when people aren't living their best lives because they don't want to be kidnapped.
The honest truth? Kidnapping makes up less than 2% of all violent crimes and rarely involves weapons. Abusers, like someone who exploits others for profit, depend on the grooming process in order to control and manipulate their victims. The grooming process, to train someone for a specific purpose, takes time and energy on the part of the trafficker. He or she may take months to build a foundation of trust and love with a victim. Even after the abuse starts, grooming can still take place as the relationship between abuser and victim evolves.
Traffickers rely on mastering social norms to fly under the radar in broad daylight. They have a specific agenda to their behavior with a targeted end game of maximizing profit. A trafficker is an excellent master of disguise and will blend in so as to not even be noticed in most social and public environments.
Knowing the red flags and warning signs of trafficking are essential for everyone to be aware of. Not only can it keep potential victims safe but it ensures that the issue of trafficking isn't sensationalized. As we've said before, don’t let what is shocking cause us to miss out on the subtle tactics most traffickers use.
You may have seen our recent post about the woman we met the week of the Fourth of July who was being trafficked in the Delafield area. Many people responded with comments about her situation and questions on how to help so we thought it would be good to address some of these things across the board.
To level set, we did not express in full detail what happened during our time with this woman or outline her situation verbatim in our public post for a this defining reason; it is our job to ask for collective prayer, not to re-exploit her by sharing her story.
Her story is for her to tell, not anyone else to repeat.
Were the police or CPS contacted?
Yes, the police were contacted. No, CPS was not contacted because the woman is over the age of eighteen.
Is Exploit No More mandated reporters?
This young woman is in her early 20's so there are different mandated reporting requirements set forth by the government for adults and minors. Technically, we are not mandated reporters but of course, we report and refer to the most appropriate NGO's to assist individuals and to our law enforcement contacts, including local and federal.
What is Exploit No More's protocol for emergency situations like this one?
Our connections are vast and our protocol is efficient as it takes into account what the individual needs and wants, versus what we think they need and want.
What happens next for this young woman?
The road to freedom and recovery looks different for each person and at the first point of contact, many individuals aren't able to leave that life behind for various reasons, including abuse and drug addiction, like this young woman. That is why consistency matters because helping a trafficking victim isn't a one-time thing, it is difficult and ongoing. Our aim is to be a friend on the journey to freedom, healing, and hope for the future.
As some of our responses begin to touch on, the issue of sex trafficking has many moving parts and at times, resources are scarce or limited due to individualized needs. A huge way that our organization is committed to combat trafficking is through the MKE Resource Hub.
What is the MKE Resource Hub?
Before the MKE Resource Hub became what it is, organizations throughout the community of Milwaukee kept noticing an unfortunate pattern of not enough personal care and basic necessity items for populations in need. Some organizations had an abundance of resources, some had none, and others had items that were expiring.
When CRAY, Collaborative Rapid Advocacy for Youth, recognized that resources for victims and survivors of human trafficking as well as high risk youth were not being distributive in an effective way, they began to brainstorm ideas on how to bring balance into collaboration; which is how the Resource Hub came into existence. Through meeting the necessity for hygiene and health, one of the vulnerabilities that traffickers target, lack of basic needs, is greatly reduced.
The organizations who will be benefiting from this pool of resources will be able to personalize backpacks filled with personal need and self care items for the populations they work with. Paired with the driving force of the community donating items, volunteering time, and spreading the word, the program will make the maximum impact.
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