Heed the Signs of Human Trafficking
An age-old crime continues today, even in Arkansas. As January is its awareness month, we hope to shine a light on what to look for and how to keep your kids safe, or get help should you ever need it.
By Angela E. Thomas
Forced servitude. Coerced sex trafficking. Modern-day slavery. Human trafficking. This crime by any other name is still the same: “exploiting a person through force, fraud or coercion.” And its victims are from every walk of life: rich or poor; people who live in cities, towns and rural areas; young, old; Caucasian, African American, Latinx, Asian; male, female, transgender, gay, straight, … anyone and everyone can be a victim.
The victims of human trafficking may be forced to perform sex acts for money—that they do not receive—or forced into labor in factories, on farms, in construction or to work as domestic servants, in jobs such as nannies, maids and other domestic roles and receive little pay for their services. They are usually manipulated into these roles and/or threatened with deportation and physical harm.
This is alarming, and officials find it difficult to gather statistics for the number of people who are subject to human trafficking in the United States because it’s a “hidden crime.”
“Statistics are hard to come by because the traffickers threaten victims. They also use manipulative tactics to make the victim think it’s their fault,” said Louise Allison, executive director for Partners Against Trafficking Humans (PATH).
PATH advocates for those exploited by the sex industry by providing a safe environment for their healing through therapy and a number of classes and training.
“It’s difficult to get victims to understand that [what has taken place in their lives] is not their fault. They have been, as you can imagine, traumatized by the sexual abuse and rape that they’ve been subjected to,” Allison said. “A 20-year-old woman knows it’s wrong, but when you’re working with a 12-year-old child who has been groomed, it is a different story.”
For instance, they worked with a 40-year-old woman who had been sold since she was 7. “It was her norm.”
The vast majority of adult victims do not report their victimization—in the case of minors the law prevails, but Allison said when PATH works with adults, they have to wait until he or she is well enough.
If you think human trafficking and sex trafficking doesn’t happen in Arkansas, think again.
Melissa Dawson with Centers for Youth and Families echoed this. “Human trafficking can happen anywhere and to anyone. It covers all socioeconomic classes and all races. It’s not just an international problem, it’s happening here in Arkansas.”
“The majority of the women—85 percent—of the women we work with are born, raised and sold in Arkansas. The traffickers move their victims to and from Tennessee, Missouri and Texas and move back and forth frequently across state borders because traffickers want ‘fresh meat.’ They sometimes travel up and down Interstate 40, which runs right through our state.”
Many victims are groomed to enter a lifestyle in the sex trade at an early age. Allison presented this scenario: An older man will flirt with a young girl, asks her out and talk her into having sex. He’ll compliment her, telling her she’s beautiful and that he doesn’t deserve her, saying something like he’s “in such bad shape,” wouldn’t she like to be with someone better like his “friend.” Later, when—if—she expresses hesitation or guilt, he’ll tell her that “we” have to make money or they won’t make it. And when grooming a young girl, a 5- or 6-year-old, the trafficker will begin by telling her over and over again that she’s so pretty and take pictures of her, having her remove her clothing, little by little.
“It’s a slow mind manipulation,” Allison said. These skilled manipulators can cause life-long damage. The average age a trafficking victim enters the sex trade is 12 to 14, but there are younger victims. “We’ve treated a women in her 40s who said she’d been raping her father since she was 6 years old. She’d actually believed, her whole life, that she was dirty because she’d raped her father.”
“They suffer deep trauma, guilt and shame.”
Until a little more than a year ago, PATH only worked with adults. Now they began to serve children as well. Their clients are as young as 4 and as old as 44 and come to the organization: by calling the 24-hour hotline; as parents who call seeking help for their children, most often their daughters; as part of a post-trafficking situation (sometimes from hospitals where they’ve undergone a sexual assault exam or rape kit exam); or because they’ve attempted suicide.
Youth may also receive help through the Centers for Youth and Families (CFYF). This organization has addressed the needs of children who’ve been trafficked, along with assisting their families, for four years. They offer group and family therapy as well as a structured, safe environment where families can reconnect.
“We use a holistic approach, which begins with a safe place to live. While in our care, victims benefit from trauma-focused therapies, quality medical care, peer support, substance-abuse treatment; and social and life skills training that address symptoms of complex trauma,” said Lindsey Cooper, grants writer with The Centers. “We do this while providing consistent residential care, supervision and healing influences that strive to meet each of their physical, emotional, social and educational needs.”
Traffickers are very cunning. Their greatest tool: the internet. They look for posts that express vulnerability and low self-esteem.
They are anywhere and everywhere that has people, money and things to be sold.
While we use the term human trafficking, it’s just a new name for an age-old problem. It’s still slavery, child abuse and sexual abuse.
Be aware of your surroundings. Keep your head up at all times. Be watchful and always act as if you’re in control. You do not want to appear vulnerable, IRL (in real life) or online.
Protect your children. Make sure they understand: If you don’t know an individual, don’t talk to him, even and especially online, due to the anonymity of the internet.
Parents, monitor your children’s activities, especially online. “It’s your God-given responsibility to spy on your children,” Allison said. “I’d much rather have my children alive and angry with me than they become victims.”
Know your children’s friends, and be a good listener. Listen to their conversations, and talk to your children about their friends. If you suspect something, say something. “There have been many rescues and lives saved by people who saw red flags and called law enforcement,” she said.
If you’d like to receive formal Human Trafficking Awareness Training, log on to pathsaves.org, and click on the education tab. There you’ll find the dates and times for upcoming courses during which you’ll learn vital information such as how to recognize a “pimp,” how victims are trapped and how you can help.
If you’d like to report suspected human trafficking, call the Department of Homeland Security at 866-347-2423, or to get help because you’ve been a victim of human trafficking, call 888-373-7888.
Warning signs that an individual is being trafficked:
Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking)
Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
Talks about wild parties or invites other students to
Shows signs of gang affiliation (a preference for
specific colors, notebook doodles of gang symbols, etc.)
Signs of physical abuse such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
Unexplained absences from class
Less appropriately dressed than before
Overly tired in class
Withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out
Brags about making or having lots of money
Courtesy of The Centers for Youth and Families