Written by: Katie Linn | Previous Executive Director of Exploit No More
It is not uncommon to see a story featured on the news about children abroad who have been sold into the sex trade at a very young age by their own family. These parents often make the decision to sell their children in order to make extra money to care for more valued children, often boys; to purchase material items; or to feed a drug or alcohol habit. However, right in our own cities, American families also sell and traffic their children, and are much more difficult to identify than the families abroad.
While families in impoverished countries justify selling their children out of necessity, parents who traffic their children in the United States are motivated by a very different reason – the pursuit of power and control. Children who are victims of familial trafficking often grow up in a home and a family that is very well respected within the community. While the family may have strong connections to the leaders in society, they also may have ties to gangs and pimps who work with them in the trafficking of the children.
Familial trafficking is perhaps one of the most difficult types of domestic minor sex trafficking to detect. Often a ‘family business’, trafficking is a culture within the family that is passed down from generation to generation. Therefore, within a family that traffics their children, it is rare that one single person is the trafficker and enabler; but rather the parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins have all been raised in a similar way and may play a role in the trafficking. As a result of this, it is difficult for someone who grew up in a familial trafficking environment to recognize their victimization and to brake the cycle with their own family.
From an extremely young age, sometimes even from the moment of birth, violence and abuse become a part of the child’s life, with rape and sexual abuse beginning as young as possible. These children grow up with the normalization of rape and violence, being told that there is nothing wrong with having sex with adults. If the child does begin to detect an abnormality about their family, parents us a form of mental abuse called gas lighting, through which the truth is twisted and false information is given to the victim, causing the child to question their own memories, beliefs, and sanity.
Parents will also use manipulation through threats of abandonment and separation from the family. They continually tell their children that if they were to ever tell someone what happens within the family, they will be separated and will never see each other again. Even as adults, the family may cut out a victim if they decide to admit the abuse and speak out, leaving them without a family unit altogether.
As the main goals of the trafficker in a familial trafficking situation is power and control, they will work hard to maintain normalcy to the world outside of their own family. Many children will continue to regularly attend school, may receive good grades and often participate in extra curricular activities. While they are manipulated by their parents and influenced by he family culture, the children will be very cautious of what they tell adults and may have very limited, if any, one on one access to an adult who may be able to pick up on any trafficking signs.
Due to the manipulation, the strong family ties with respected community members, and the parent’s efforts to appear as normal as possible from the outside, child victims of familial trafficking are very difficult to identify. The younger the child is, the more likely they will be able to be identified and recovered from their exploitation. Any individual who has contact with a child on a regular basis should be aware of the subtle signs of potential familial trafficking and be able to get the child help if needed.
Written by: Katie Linn | Previous Executive Director of Exploit No More
When working to end domestic child sex trafficking, it can often feel overwhelming in determining where to focus efforts and how to make the greatest impact. While there is a crucial need for services in all areas to end trafficking and in helping survivors on their road to recovery, one of the greatest needs is in addressing the demand for sex. As is true in any basic economic situation, the demand for a service or a product creates the need for a greater supply. If the demand for sex from sexually exploited children and prostitutes was eliminated, the traffickers would be out of a job and victims would not be exploited in this way.
One of the ways that states, as well as some other countries, have found effective in addressing demand is through what is known in the United States as ‘john school’, an educational intervention program for clients, known as ‘johns’, of prostitutes and sexually exploited children. These one day programs are typically for the men, and sometimes women, who have been arrested for soliciting a sexual service or for a similar offense. First time offenders are offered the option to either go to court or to attend the program and a smaller fine, which helps to fund the program and support local organizations working with victims and survivors of trafficking.
During this one day session, the focus of the discussions are often on the health dangers of purchasing sex, the violence associated with prostitution, the experience and the harms of prostitution, and the effects on families and communities. There are often a number of people to present, including law enforcement, medical professionals, and leaders within the community who work to fight trafficking and exploitation. In many cases, there will also be a survivor of trafficking or a former prostitute to testify about their own experience. For many men, they had not previously recognized the women’s victimization, believing that she was working out of her own free will. The survivor’s testimony is aimed at giving a realistic picture of the injustice that johns sometimes unknowingly support.
After the first john school was begun in San Francisco in 1995, the concept quickly spread throughout the United States and into other countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom. There has been some debate on how successful the diversion program has been and on how to best track success rates. From the data that has been collected, it is obvious that the programs have been able to greatly reduce the recidivism rate, with most cities hosting the program reporting that less than 2% of the men who took the course were re-arrested.
As demand is perhaps the largest area of this issue to tackle, programs such as john schools provide a solid starting point in attempting to prevent recidivism among men who solicit sex. While women make up the majority in the efforts to end sex trafficking, it is crucial for more men to step into leadership positions and take a stand against trafficking.
Exploit No More has been greatly encouraged in 2015 as we have seen a number of men take a particular interest in helping survivors of trafficking and in making a difference in addressing demand. From a men’s group donating food and personal items for victims and survivors to those who are stepping up to begin a men’s roundtable aimed at addressing demand, there are many ways men can be involved in this fight.
If you are interested in learning more about ways to get involved in addressing demand, please email email@example.com or call 414-384-6100.
Written by: Katie Linn | Previous Executive Director of Exploit No More
Ashley was just 14 years old when she met him. At the time she thought that he cared about and loved her. She had opened up and told him things that she rarely spoke to other people – about how her mother didn’t understand her and how her father had abandoned them years earlier. He bought her gifts and told her she was beautiful. She fell in love, but when he promised that he could fulfill her dreams and she left her life behind to be with him, everything changed.
Unfortunately, a story like Ashley’s is all too common for girls who fall victim to sex trafficking.
Loverboy syndrome is one of the most common tactics that pimps use in recruiting and grooming their victims. A pimp knows that once a girl is emotionally involved, she will do whatever she can to keep his affection. As a trafficker works to secure his victim, there are three main phases of recruitment that he will take before he is certain that she will not leave – the scouting, manipulating, and trapping phases.
The Scouting Phase
The process of recruitment into sex trafficking begins with the initial contact and bonding between the trafficker and the victim. Traffickers are experts at recognizing vulnerabilities in young girls, then using those vulnerabilities to connect with, manipulate, and exploit the girl. While traffickers are able to use many vulnerabilities to connect with a child, they often look for girls who have low self esteem, are isolated from friends and family, have a history of sexual abuse, are homeless or in the foster care system, come from a fatherless or broken home, or those who have conflicts with their parents or guardians. Once the girl’s vulnerabilities are identified, the trafficker works to fill the role that is missing, such as a father-figure, a boyfriend, or a caregiver.
The Manipulating Phase
As the victim begins to trust and become closer to the trafficker, he continues to bond with her through false love and affection. Also known as the ‘honeymoon’ phase, he will shower her with expensive gifts and compliments, they will engage in physical intimacy, and he will promise her the opportunity for a better life. The more that the trafficker provides for the girl and as she grows to trust him, she moves further away from her family or care-givers. Soon, she finds that she is dependent on her trafficker for her physical and emotional needs and desires.
The Trapping Phase
Once the trafficker knows that his victim is completely dependent on him, he will manipulate her into prostitution. Typically, he tells her that he has financial difficulties and asks her to help earn money for them to live on, encouraging her to sleep with his ‘friend’ in order to make some extra cash. While the girl does not want to have sex in exchange for money, she will often do so in order to make her ‘boyfriend’ happy, convinced that he loves her and wants what is best for her.
Through this process of recruitment and in the grooming through abuse that begins after, the trafficker and the victim begin to go through the process of trauma bonding, which is a strong emotional bond between two people, one of which harasses, beats, threats, abuses, or intimidates the other. A similar form a Stockholm Syndrome, it is the trauma bond that makes it so difficult for victims to leave their traffickers and causes the victims to return to them even after they have escaped the life of being trafficked.
While pimp-controlled trafficking is the most commonly identified and most well-known type of trafficking, it is just one of many types of sex trafficking that youth can be victims of. In the next few days, we will continue to look at other forms of sex trafficking, some of which have similar aspects as pimp-controlled, while others have very different factors that contribute to the exploitation.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. As Exploit No More works to bring awareness to the issue of child sex trafficking in new sectors of our community, we’ve encountered an important question:
“Does community awareness even matter?”
To answer the question, we reached out to our colleague, Regina Labby. Regina recently served as the Resident Director for a nationally-recognized safe home for domestic minor sex trafficking victims, is a long-time advocate for human trafficking survivors, and has provided critical training to aftercare programs across the country. As a survivor-informed advocate for trafficking victims, here are some of her thoughts on why awareness matters:
Ever go to the mall? To church? Drive on the highway? Go grocery shopping? Purchase gas? Eat at a restaurant? Go to the park? Go into a school?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are on the frontlines of outreach to survivors of human trafficking.
Many people think that if you are not doing outreach at strip clubs or working in a safe house for survivors of trafficking, you need not educate yourself to the issue of human trafficking. Those who are educated in human trafficking trends would suggest that doctors, police officers, and medical professionals are on the front lines. And they are on the front lines, but so are everyday people who do everyday things.
In fact, I would argue that everyday people are more on the front lines of interacting with survivors of trafficking because victims do not have the same guards up when talking to a waitress as they do with the doctor, whom they would be accompanied by their trafficker or some other person who holds control and reports to the trafficker. A trafficker is more likely to send a survivor into the gas station alone to pay for gas than he/she is likely to allow them to appear in court alone. Traffickers keep close watch over situations where trained professionals might be able to identify their victims and thus intervene. Traffickers typically are not threatened by everyday people.
While it is possible, it is less common that a survivor of trafficking is locked up in a room and unable to communicate or interact with the “outside world.”
Generally speaking, interactions with the “outside world” are limited and closely supervised by the trafficker but still possible. In my experience working directly with domestic minors of sex trafficking, all of them had direct contact with the “outside world”. Most of them visited the doctor at least once when they were trafficked, went to the mall on occasion, went to school at least some of the time, and walked around outside, in bars, clubs, or on the streets. None of these experiences required a professional outreach worker to intervene and make a difference.
All it would have taken was for another patient at the doctor’s office to be educated, notice, and call the police. If a parent had noticed that her child’s classmate came to school with expensive clothing and electronics but yet had no means to acquire them, perhaps she could have intervened and asked questions. If a patron at a bar had noticed the branding on one of the other customers, he could have asked questions or observed the situation and then called the National Human Trafficking Hotline to take action.
None of these people needed professional degrees to identify the survivors.
All they needed was a little bit of education and awareness to identify that they may have interacted with a survivor of trafficking and the courage to contact authorities who could properly intervene. These everyday people were on the frontlines and they didn’t know it. What made these everyday people part of the front lines? The fact that they were everyday people.
To find out more on how to identify a survivor of trafficking, visit http://www.state.gov/j/tip/id/. To report a tip, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233733).