Human Trafficking Awareness Month–Targeting Buyers

trafficked girl w teddy bearHere it is January again. And once again it’s Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The problem hasn’t gone away and like most of this nature has most likely gotten worse.

When I started volunteering as Twitter account manager for StreetLightUSA, a local provider of comprehensive services for sex trafficked girls, in 2014, the emphasis of the anti-sex trafficking/stop child rape movement was getting the justice system and society to stop referring the human merchandise being bought and sold as prostitutes and throwing them in juvenile detention centers like their adult counterparts get sent to jail.

Education and awareness have changed this*. This girls and boys are now considered victims because it’s become clear that these young people do not willingly sell their souls to pimps who in turn sell their bodies to buyers, but they were coerced into it and coerced to remain. The pimps prey on basic human needs like food and shelter for runaways, love, and acceptance for kids who don’t feel that at home or are rebelling against it. Pimps play with the minds of their victims like experts of the human psyche. Drugs, rewards, punishment, fake love and more keep these now damaged children hostage. Some don’t realize they can escape and those that do fear for their lives if they leave.

Who would knowingly enter into a life like that, to be raped 10, 20, 30 times a day, to be beaten and drugged and manipulated in the most inhuman ways? All states and many countries now have decriminalized minor victims of sex trafficking, keeping them out of jail and placing them with services for recovery and restoration, although this system needs much improvement.

A more recent focus to eliminate selling our children to be raped is reducing demand or making it more dangerous and less worth it for men who pay to rape children. Many states and municipalities have introduced laws meant to discourage men from soliciting sex with children. In Phoenix, AZ and it’s surrounding cities, such a man is faced with heavy fines, sex school, his picture being published online and being labeled as a sex offender with all the ramifications that go with that.

Just as we’ve thought of child victims as mini-prostitutes who want to do what they’re actually being forced to do, we want to think of the sex buyers of these children as creatures so disgusting the only way they can get sex is to pay for it. This is false. These men are professionals, or businessmen or men with decent jobs, often married with children. Most now solicit and arrange for sex with children using the internet. They are the men we see every day in our professional and business dealings. For some of us, they are our family members.

One way police are capturing these people–mostly men–are by sting operations. They place an ad, set up in a hotel and arrest the men coming to them expecting to find a teen, or even younger. But they find the police and handcuffs and arrest and shame. This is one way of reducing demand.

But it’s just a drop in the bucket. Some traffickers still work by word 0f mouth, some sell their children, young relatives, their girlfriend’s children out of houses and apartments. These people need to be caught, too.

Increasingly, traffickers arrested and convicted are facing many years in prison, but the buyers do not. The risk of getting caught and the current punishments for buyers aren’t fearsome enough to deter them from paying a few dollars to rape a child. Without a market, a commodity is no longer needed, the business goes out of business.

We’re a long way from the perfect society where sex does not rule the minds, bodies and souls of many people. We’re a long way from respecting each other when it comes to sex. Until that day arrives when there is a worldwide epiphany and we understand how we hurt each other and determine to change our behavior, we must keep making progress to protect out most vulnerable citizens and punish and hopefully rehabilitate offenders. We must educate, and when that fails, prosecute. Otherwise, our society is doomed.

*SharedHope International 2015 Protected Innocence Report

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Human Trafficking, continued.

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Good grief, January totally got away from  me!

We had the Super Bowl here in Phoenix this year. The highlight of that for me was I got to see The Thunderbirds fly directly over my backyard on their way to fly over the University of Phoenix Stadium which is like 4 miles from my house! Now, I’m glad the whole thing is over and the news can return to the usual shootings, traffic accidents, and other stupid human behavior.

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Not my photo, but the Tunderbirds looked just like this, blue seky included, flying over my back yard.

However, as volunteer Twitter account manager for a residential center for teen victims of sex trafficking, StreetLight USA, my month was filled with promoting their activities. Rallies, plays, prayer meetings, art display.

And all month, I wondered how many girls and boys were imported into the Valley of the Sun by their pimps, their sellers. Not only did we host the Super Bowl, but also the Waste Management Phoenix Open, a stop on the PGA tour AND the Pro Bowl AND the annual Jackson Barrett Auto Auction which auctions off expensive cars. So the valley was rife with affluent men spending money on leisure activities.

For some of them, their activity of choice is raping young girls.

One lie these men tell themselves is that the girls they rape want to be there, that it’s their choice. 

Um, NO! You, sir, are a child molester.

The typical female victim of sex trafficking is 13 years old. That means some are older. That means some are younger.

She might be a runaway, and most likely was sexually abused by someone in her past. Often, her home life was unstable. Probably, even if she didn’t run away from home, she was vulnerable (what teenage girl isn’t?) and fell prey to some male older than her who “groomed” her by being kind to her, giving her things, affection, a place to stay, nice clothes, meals…drugs.

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The Scarlet Cord, an art installation was on display in Phoenix in January. Read about it here: https://www.artprize.org/pamela-alderman/2014/the-scarlet-cord

Some of these males then might sell her to someone else to sell to johns, or they might pimp her themselves. They tell the girls they have to pay them back for what the girls believed was offered out of love for them. These girls endure multiple beatings, verbal and emotional abuse, even drug addiction. Many are branded with tattoos that mark them as property. They become psychologically and physically dependent on the brutes who hold them hostage. Many trafficked kids are able to walk away, but they don’t see that. They believe they are helpless apart from the people that sell them.

Some kids, even very very young kids, are pimped by their parents. Some by friends of the family. For me, as a daughter from a loving home, and as a mother, I can’t imagine even thinking that thought–trade my child’s innocence, their mental and physical health for money.

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Kids in the life are sold an average of 10 to 20 times a day. An estimate of 100,000 kids IN THE USA ALONE are believed to be living this life. Another 100,000-200,000 kids are at risk. Mostly girls, but boys, too. When a kid enters this life, their future extends, on average, only a mere 7 years unless they are rescued or somehow manage to leave. Drugs, beatings, and disease are the most common causes of death.

One result of hosting the Super Bowl for the good was that the City of Phoenix enacted tougher penalties for buyers of children for sex.. Mandatory arrest and jail time, cars impounded, fines, mandatory education. Before, jail time and education was optional at the discretion of authorities.

Personally, I think these men should be treated as sex offenders with all the social stigma that goes with that label.

Maybe it’s a good thing the month flew and I didn’t get any other posts up. The spotlight may be off Phoenix, but kids are still being sold for sex.

Here.

And where you live.

January and Human Trafficking Awareness Month may be over for 2015, but the problem didn’t go away at midnight on February 1.

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What can you do? Probably not go out and rescue a girl, bring her home and restore her. You can educate yourself on the issue and figure out where you fit in. Maybe it will be as complicated as a career, or as simple as donating money or spreading awareness by following organizations and sharing on social media. The more we do, the louder we say this has got to stop.

Follow these two organizations on social media:

http://www.polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/sex-trafficking-in-the-us

http://sharedhope.org/

A couple articles about trafficking.

http://www.womensfundingnetwork.org/enslaved-in-america-sex-trafficking-in-the-united-states/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/15/human-trafficking-month_n_4590587.html

The Scarlet Cord

https://www.artprize.org/pamela-alderman/2014/the-scarlet-cord

You can help the girls at StreetLightUSA by going to their wish list on Amazon and purchasing items that will be shipped directly to the facility. Check the left side for several lists to choose from.

 

 

Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Photo thanks to Shared Hope International

Shared Hope International

Here in America, because we like to think we abolished slavery. And we did, to an extent. We made it illegal for one person to own another. But like every other thing made illegal, those intent on making money from it find ways to do it secretly. Or in plain sight.

Technically, slavery has been abolished everywhere in the world. In 1981, Mauritania became the last country to make slavery illegal. Modern slavery is often referred to as Human Trafficking. It’s estimated that up to 1,000,000 individuals are enslaved to others, the vast majority being female.

I became aware of this disturbing issue via Facebook a few years ago. A friend posted something from Shared Hope International, probably the foremost voice against sex trafficking in the country. As I read and researched the topic a little, I realized I was shocked and saddened that such a thing exists, but not at all surprised. Slavery has been a boil on the butt of humanity since the dawn of time.

Sex slavery is nothing new, either. But that doesn’t make it less appalling, especially since it’s flourishing here in the US, and its victims are teens, even young children. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 thousand teens are being held in captivity to be sold for sex as I write this. Some are “owned” by pimps, some are sold by their own parents.

Does this knowledge not break your heart?

After I started following Shared Hope International and receiving their email updates, I was made aware of StreetLightUSA, which is an non-profit in the Phoenix, AZ area that provides transitional housing and services for teen girls leaving sex trafficking as well as victims of sexual abuse. Besides housing, they provide counseling, education, mentors, activities and other essentials to help these young victims recover from the life they were forced into. This is funded largely through donations of time, money and practical items. StreetLightUSA is the largest facility of its kind in the US. They have big plans to meet the ever growing need.

I have the privilege of volunteering as the manager of StreetLightUSA’s Twitter account. It’s been very educational, as well as rewarding as I help spread awareness of human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking and its impact on the lives of the young victims.

January has been proclaimed as Human Trafficking Awareness Month by President Obama. As one concerned about this, I’ll up my blogging this month to provide information and resources to help my readers become more aware and possibly decide to take action against modern-day slavery in whatever form makes sense to you.

When one person is abused, the entire human race is diminished. As individuals, we can’t end this horror, but educated and united, we can.

Do Something! Click on the links to Shared Hope and StreetLightUSA and see what these two organizations do. Like their Facebook Pages and follow on Twitter to show you support their work and to keep updated in the work against sex trafficking.

Read: http://borgenproject.org/seven-facts-modern-day-slavery/