BE A VOICE
In the United States, slavery is not a matter of the past but continues in the modern day and is all around us. While most of us know and acknowledge that sex trafficking exists in other countries, many remain unaware that women, men, and children are being sold for sex in our nation, in our state, and yes, in our city. In my work with women rescued from sex slavery I mentored and counseled women rescued from other countries, other states, and our very own state. Women are trafficked throughout and sold for sex or labor all over our state from cities of lower SES to higher income cities such as Hoover and Mountain Brook. I’d like to take this time to bring awareness by sharing the facts, helping you learn the signs that someone is being trafficked, and advocate for the millions of adults and children who’ve been enslaved by this heinous crime. Please note that these numbers could actually be much higher, as many victims are never identified.
What is Human Trafficking?
- There are an estimated 20 – 30 million slaves across the world.
- Approximately 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation and 19% involves labor exploitation.
- Around 1.5 million in the U.S.
- Only 1-2% of victims are ever rescued.
- 80% of these victims are women and children
- 50% of these victims are estimated to be children
- The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14 years old.
- Human trafficking is the 3rd leading criminal industry in the world, currently following arms trafficking and illegal drugs.
- 70% of traffickers are male.
- A trafficker can make an annual of $200,000 or more per slave.
- Sex trafficking is a 32 billion dollar industry.
- 1 in 3 children or adolescents that have run away will be approached by a trafficker and lured into prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home.
What is depicted in movies or television shows may not always reflect the realities of what trafficking really looks like. Most of the time we think of or see media’s portrayal of young women being abducted and sold into slavery. While this is a real representation of what some victims go through, this is not always the case. Many victims are groomed into the industry through “boyfriends” that treat them well, give them a place to sleep after running away from bad situations with family, shower them with gifts, and claim to love them. Traffickers or Pimps make efforts to build a bond with their victims and then begin prostituting them by guilting them into “doing their share if they really love them” by completing sexual acts for others (Johns). Many victims’ pictures are used on internet sites such as backpage.com to create profiles eliciting for sex. In my time working and advocating for sex trafficking victims, I have seen pictures of girls that could be no older than 12 on such sites. Traffickers pimp victims out on the street, massage parlors, hotels, truck stops, residencies, and other places. It can happen anywhere. When these women, men, and children attempt to get out of the “relationship” or refuse to provide John’s with sex they are often beaten, brutally punished, and receive threats to harm or kill the victims family members. This fear tactic often keeps victims too afraid to attempt escape or reach out for help.
From my experiences, I’ve seen that even after victims are rescued they often still believe that they are at fault and that they were not victims to what happened to them. This can cause a large barrier in treatment and recovery back to a life of full freedom however, I believe, with help and support, regaining a life of freedom is possible. Part of the “breaking in” process sex slaves go through includes brainwashing and even branding the pimp/traffickers name onto the victim. As I write and think about these victims, my heart strings are fiercely pulled into a place of fury and also deep sorrow. Today, I ask you to search yourself for any time you’ve felt violated, abused, alone, trapped, hopeless, broken, or striped of your identity. Everyday women, men, and children are forced to withstand all of this and are made to feel that it is all their fault. They are so victimized and violated that they no longer identify themselves as such. They no longer feel they are anything but a commodity to be used over and over again for the sick pleasure of others.
What can we do for these thousands upon thousands of valuable, worthy, and worthwhile human beings? We can become a voice for the voiceless. We can do the uncomfortable, which is actually talking about this abhorrent darkness lying right in our own neighborhoods. Share the articles and social media posts that are so easily scrolled through due to the uneasiness they bring up within our being. Start engaging others in conversations about these travesties surrounding us. Stand up and speak. We will never know how simply sharing an article about sex trafficking can impact others and lead them to also work toward bringing these women and children the justice they deserve.
Please visit https://polarisproject.org/ to find out more about human trafficking, including signs that someone is a victim of trafficking. If you suspect human trafficking activity or you yourself fear you may be a victim of human trafficking please call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Laura Cordova is an Associate Licensed Counselor (#C2676A) and a Nationally Certified Counselor under supervision of James Wells (#0819). Laura holds a Master’s of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Montevallo and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a member of Chi Sigma Iota Counseling Academic and Professional Honor Society International and Psi Chi International Honor Society in Psychology.