March 6, 2012
One of the most important things we can do to put an end to trafficking is to understand how choices made by youth sometimes put them directly in the hands of predators seeking to traffick them. One of the top three choices that puts a young person at risk of trafficking is to become a runaway. The other key pathways are truancy and social networking. As many as 2.8 million youth runaway each year. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one-third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography. Most young runaways have no ability to feed, clothe or shelter themselves as a homeless runaway. Predators seeking to traffick know all too well how to use this to their advantage. Most often, predators are disguised as nice, helpful or friendly persons to a young person in need of a hot meal, bed to sleep in, or money to survive. They are quite skillful at knowing just what to say to eliminate any suspicion or fear from their victims. Sadly, most victims willingly and naively go with their trafficker before they realize they are trapped.
continued..."Most often, predators are disguised as nice, helpful or friendly persons to a young runaway in need of a hot meal, bed to sleep in, or money to survive."
In the case of Ana*, a 12 year old girl from San Antonio, Texas, it was her inability to detect danger that put her into the hands of a predator. Ana was 12 when she ran away from home in 2008. Her broken home life led her to believe she might be better off going off on her own. Often a runaway, who is seeking to escape abuse in her own home by someone she knows, finds herself going from one abuser to multiple abusers. It doesn't take long for a 12 year old to be on the street before she realizes she is "stuck" with no ability to provide for herself. Predators know that a young teen who hasn't eaten in a couple of days is hoping to get rescued. Once taken in, there is the inevitable discussion of "How will you provide for yourself when you are too young to get a job?"
"Casually, a predator will introduce
the idea of survival sex."
Out of the kindness of his/her heart, they will take their runaway shopping for the kind of clothes she will need to merchandise her body. This also creates a feeling of indebtedness and false sense of loyalty with their new young unsuspecting victim. Predators are skillful at using kindness and generosity to create a strong psychological power over them. This is all part of what is known as the "grooming process" and it removes resistance to the idea of victims using their bodies to make money. It isn’t long before the victim realizes she doesn't get to keep the money; it belongs to her trafficker. After all, he needs to eat too, and he took her into his home, gave her his food and paid for her new "work" clothes. She owes him. The predator evolves from a "friendly-rescuer" to a violent tyrant demanding his victim to work upwards of 20 hours a day selling her body to strangers for money.
As the case was for Ana, when she was walking alone on the streets as a runaway, the man who approached her was 20 years her senior. We have learned from so many cases that one of the most important “red flags” a child should be taught to recognize is a “marked age difference” in someone taking an interest in her. Another critical “red flag” is someone who is seeking to take her to a different “location.” This is true in any public place like a mall, movie theater or park. It is even more critical in a private or isolated place like the streets at night. Ana’s predator was driving by, saw her alone and stopped to talk to her. Ana accepted his invitation to his house.
This began a five year cycle of sex trafficking as well as physical abuse by more than one trafficker to Ana. By age 14, she was pregnant and returned home to deliver the baby. Ana’s child was given up for adoption.
It is not unusual for a young trafficking victim to return to her trafficker, which is exactly what Ana did after giving up her baby. Quite often victims suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, which causes them to view their trafficker as family. They mistakenly think the relationship they have with their trafficker is love despite the fact that it is a relationship filled with coercion and violence.
Ana next finds herself trafficked by six men ages 20 - 39. In 2011 these men were arrested in San Antonio, Texas for trafficking a minor. Charges include aggravated sexual assault of a child, trafficking of a person less than 18 years of age for prostitution, and indecency with a child by contact.
Unfortunately, Ana’s story is not at all uncommon. Ana is one of thousands of young girls victimized by Child Sex-Traffickers each year in the United States. Young 12 year old Ana had no idea that being a runaway almost guaranteed she would be targeted by individuals seeking to traffick her. Her status as a runaway, walking on the street alone put her, and any child like her, at high risk of being approached by traffickers.
"If we were to paint a picture of Human Trafficking in our country, it would be a massive sinking boat. There would be a lot of energy expended with people trying to bail water (victims) from the boat. Underneath the water line, there would be three holes on the boat's hull called : Truancy, Runaways, and Social Networking. Until more energy is put into prevention (i.e. fixing the holes on the boat) there will continue to be an endless supply of new victims."
Currently, much work is needed to teach youth both the danger signals to recognize a predator and the choices that puts them at high risk. When you factor that currently less than one half of 1% of victims are rescued, it makes sense to put much more energy into prevention. Everything we know about human trafficking in the United States tells us there three core pathways leading into trafficking.
3 Core Pathways into Trafficking
- Risky Behavior via Social Networking
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