In this second part of our series, titled “Their Stories”, we will share stories from victims who became survivors in cases that either Kelly or Sabrina supported personally or had first-hand knowledge of. We also will share what this looks like in American courts as a segue into part three coming out later this month on the legal issues and debates surrounding the trafficking of human beings.
16-year old Anna* snuck out of her home to go to a party with an older male (19) who had befriended her a few months prior. The one drink she had was spiked. She remembers very little. When she awoke, she was shown a video of her unconscious body being raped by man after man. The “friend” told her this video would be shown to her parents and her youth pastor if she did not do what he demanded. This girl was trafficked from her own home for the next six months. Night after night she’d sneak out to service men at the demand of her trafficker due to her overwhelming guilt and fear. This guilt and fear of being blamed for her victimization kept her trapped in this life.
7-year old Maria* dreaded the days she did not go to school. These were the days she’d be forced to do things with another child and have things forcibly done to her for the enjoyment of foreign men behind the computer screen. Maria was being trafficked by her own mother from her own home for her mother to profit from men in America, Australia, and Western Europe. Maria was rescued by an international NGO partnering with local law enforcement and now lives with other family members, but there are thousands like her that live this horror every day.
The demand for child sexual exploitation online is overwhelming and the demand stems from mostly developed and prosperous countries. This is also happening in the United States. Children and babies are being sexually exploited online for money. As mentioned in part one of this blog series, we won’t discuss the details of these cases due to the heinous nature, but nowhere is exempt, and the viewers and people driving the demand for things as atrocious as “hurt core” (dark web term for sexual torture of children) are in every American city and from every economic class.
Trafficking does not have to involve transportation, physical chains, or kidnapping and often does not.
Angela* was the top performing soldier in her Army platoon. After suffering a debilitating injury in an airborne training operation, she was put on pain medication to heal multiple broken bones. Within weeks, Angela was addicted. When the medication ran out, Angela asked for help from doctors, but they told her the prescription was done and that was it. A “friend” of Angela’s helped her find a substitute and within months from her accident, Angela was addicted to heroin and spiraling downward. One of the most ruthless traffickers in her town took advantage of this and it wasn’t until she woke up in an ICU, beaten so terribly she was unrecognizable, that she opened her eyes to what had transpired. She told me about the plans she had, how her career was on track, how she can’t understand how six months ago she was a top performing soldier with a future and now she’s servicing up to a dozen men a day to survive in her own hometown. Angela’s trafficker pumped her full of drugs, sometimes by force, then withheld them as punishment before beating her when she didn’t meet his demands.
Elena* grew up in poverty. Because Elena was ethnically Roma, she received little to no education. She married young and had children with a husband who regularly beat her. Elena left him to move home with her mother and father and her children. Elena soon met her trafficker through a friend who feigned romantic interest in her. Within days of their initial contact, Elena agreed to go to meet him in another town. Elena’s trafficker bought her a plane ticket to another country where he said they could be together and live a life of luxury. When Elena walked into the apartment in the new country and looked around, she realized it was a “pop-up” brothel – then the demands began. After many months of being forced into prostitution (both through threats and physical violence), Elena became pregnant from a buyer. When a beating did not cause her to miscarry the child, her traffickers tried to rip the baby from her body. Elena tried to get the men paying for sex with her to help, finally, one did. These men, hundreds upon hundreds of men, knew she was in trouble, and none cared to help her except one. Elena was finally rescued and is now safely raising her baby (who amazingly survived unharmed) in her home country and her traffickers are behind bars.
These stories are all too common in everyday American towns and cities as well as throughout the world. Angela and Elena did not make great choices, but they certainly did not choose to be exploited and trafficked for sex. Many of the adult women we see trafficked both domestically and abroad know their traffickers (even as just an acquaintance) and leave or go with them willingly under false pretenses. Coercion and blackmail are common as is physical violence in traffickers maintaining control of the women.
Sex trafficking is many times what people think of when they hear the term Human Trafficking. The reality is many cases in the United States are victims of labor trafficking.
Joseph* was in his native country of Peru when approached by restaurant owners with the promise of housing and paid work in the United States. Upon arriving in Harrisonburg, Virginia however, he was forced to live in the basement of his boss' home and work seven days a week, twelve hours per day, for less than $1.50 an hour. He remained isolated and his traffickers used threats and harassments to control him. After anonymous caller reached out to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, he and two over victims of HT were discovered.
Somnang* heard through distant relatives in his Cambodian village that there was a job opportunity to work as a fisherman off the Gulf of Thailand. While it wouldn't make him rich, it would certainly be enough money to live on and still send more home to his family. Somnang left with the relative and three other men from his village. When they arrived in Thailand, Somnang's documents were taken, he was beaten, and then transported by small vessel out to a larger vessel already at sea where he would spend his next three years never touching land or receiving any money while he worked as a fisherman. This young man was sold to a broker who sold him as a laborer to a fishing vessel known as a "ghost ship" in the Gulf of Thailand. This area provides a significant amount of seafood to US stores and homes. These men have no way to escape or even alert others to the problem. Only through the work of organizations utilizing satellite and other data to hunt these ships for law enforcement to find was Somnang saved from many more years as a slave on the seas. Details of the type of information leading to the seizure of such ships can be found HERE.
This is one of the countless examples highlighting the importance of understanding the source of the product you buy as a consumer. Being a smart consumer takes research and time, but it prevents slave-sourced goods from ending up in your home. Shopping with New Creation is a great place to start. Every item in our store, is either made by those rescued from, or vulernable to human trafficking. When you choose to shop fair and ethical you are joining us to counteract human trafficiking, here in our community and around the world!
An Assistant District Attorney in the southeastern United States shares…
One of the largest obstacles in prosecuting human trafficking cases, is making sure the public, particularly jurors, understand what Human Trafficking is and what it looks like in our community. Most people expect Human Trafficking to involve someone being bound and thrown into the back of a van and taken away to be used as a sex slave. What they fail to realize is that most victims are trafficked by someone they know, and that for juveniles, most often they are recruited from behind their closed bedroom door using social media, or from their foster home.
Secondly, victims of human trafficking are complex. They are often unwilling to disclose against their trafficker due to a threat of harm, or have developed trauma bonds with their trafficker. Many victims fail to recognize that they are being exploited entirely. This can make the identification and prosecution of the trafficker difficult.
These are the stories of survivors – we must hear these more often than we hear those of new victims. Through education and awareness we can better combat human trafficking. The first step in education is ensuring the community realizes that human trafficking exists and that people know how to recognize the warning signs when they see them. No two victims are the same. Victims can be any race, sex, or age and recruitment/exploitation can happen in many forms. Recognition must occur in the community as well as in the court system. Our prosecutorial contributors believe early intervention with juveniles through the juvenile court system and community awareness are crucial in disrupting the recruitment of vulnerable teenagers. Many victims exploited in adult commercial sex trafficking (CSE) entered the life as juveniles. Creating awareness in our juveniles can prevent them from falling prey to traffickers. In our next (third) blog of this series we’ll address common myths associated with human trafficking and the different legal models nations use to combat trafficking.
[* names were changed in each story to protect the survivors]