Story by Madeline Wilson Photos by Connor Chilson
According to The Polaris Project, approximately 40.3 million people are sold for sex every year, across the globe. This form of exploitation is known as human sex trafficking and affects everyone in some way. Whether it is a neighbor, classmate, professor, best friend, or even family member, most people have come in contact with multiple people who have been sold into sexual slavery.
What is sex trafficking?
Christy Sheddy, Washington Trafficking Prevention Community Engagement Coordinator explains that, “sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which… [it] is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.”
the Process of Being Trafficked
So, what happens when someone is trafficked? First, the victims are lured by the trafficker, also known as a pimp. Pimps have varying tactics for psychologically and physically manipulating their victims. According to Jessica Strawn, Senior Faculty Lecturer in Sociology and Social Services, “a lot of kids…are looking for a family. The pimps use that to their advantage.” There are many ways in which a pimp can find their victims and prey on their desire to be loved and cared for. Some traffickers hang out in areas typically crowded by teenagers, while others use online sites such Instagram or Facebook to stalk the posts of seemingly vulnerable youth.
Something as simple as the frowny face emoji being posted on Twitter, can alert a trafficker of a potential victim. Because new generations of teenagers are being raised with social media, traffickers are even more equipped at spotting these individuals. Once the trafficker has made contact with their victim, Sheddy mentions that they utilize coercive tactics to entice the individual into hanging out with them. This eventually leads to the pimp asking the victim to perform various sexual acts in order to remain under their protection. The process of preparing a child to be trafficked is known as grooming, explains Sheddy. During the grooming period is when pimps find their victim, make contact and begin feeding on their vulnerability. What makes these victims inherently vulnerable? Strawn explains that “[because] these kids are voiceless,” they are unable to protect themselves from the “tons of psychological coercion.”
The Trafficking Industry
However, vulnerability is not what drives all traffickers. Sheddy notes that “someone is not trafficked [solely] because they are vulnerable, but because there is a demand for young people, and demand drives the market.” Sexual exploitation is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. Senior Lecturer in Sociology, Connie Robinson, explains,
“human trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar criminal industry, whose victims are often hiding in plain sight.”
One of the main reasons why sex trafficking is rapidly growing, can be attributed to how hidden the victims are. Robinson also mentions, “it is a problem that often goes undetected because the victims of human trafficking are often invisible to most people.” Human traffickers are not going to proclaim outright, in public, that they are trafficking kids form the local elementary school. These individuals are smart enough to keep all of their victims hidden from reality and anyone outside the “family”. Strawn clarifies, “the only source of information [the victims] can access, is from the person who is trafficking them.”
Why is Sex Trafficking Not Being Discussed?
What quality of human trafficking, makes people want to ignore the issue? Well, most people would rather believe that it doesn’t happen in their neighborhood, instead of learning how to effectively protect their family. Strawn comments, “most Americans like to think of our country as a more or less, safe place.” However, when people avoid considering the idea that human trafficking is an issue in the U.S., they indirectly disregard the thousands of individuals who are being trafficked on a daily basis but can’t be saved. Another way that people avoid talking about this issue is by discussing what the victim must have done in order to be in this life. Strawn argues that “they deny it. They blame the victim.” As with every form of sexual exploitation, there are numerous people who believe that it is the victim’s fault they were brought into this life. Yet, Sheddy proposes, “the majority of them are under the age of 18 and…cannot legally consent.”
She also mentions that people forget “there is an adult on the other side who is willing to purchase.” People are so willing to place blame on someone who is essentially still a child, while simultaneously forgetting that there is someone on the other side of the situation, engaging in non-consensual sex with a minor.
For that reason, it is extremely important to start the discussion and bring awareness to this issue. There are various events held on the CWU campus that are perfect for anyone who is interested in furthering the conversation and learning how to help if they believe someone is being trafficked. The Wellness Center Violence Prevention and Response Coordinator, Kristen Perry, explains that there is “a bystander intervention workshop called Step Up, so students can learn how to address situations.” However, a person who is interested in developing their knowledge on human trafficking can simply start a discussion with friends and learn more about the issue in an instant. Being able to have an open conversation about the dangers of sex trafficking is one of the most beneficial methods for bringing awareness to the issue.
How to Get Help
If you believe that someone you know is being trafficked, there are many precautions you can take to ensure the safety of that individual. If you are not certain that the individual is being trafficked you can discuss your concerns with the Wellness Center, the Student Medical and Counseling Clinic, or Case Management. There are also services provided by ASPEN, “which is our confidential community advocacy organization,” mentions Perry.
However, if you believe someone is in immediate danger, please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888. Human trafficking is an issue that affects almost everyone.
It is a form of sexual exploitation that, since the beginning, has been hiding in plain sight. If you are interested in helping the victims of one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the U.S., then please join the discussion.