Human Trafficking: “Close to home”

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What does a survivor of human trafficking look like? Like you when you were a child.

Many people, including myself, have had or still has the misconception that human trafficking does not happen in the United States. There is an idea that the problems of south Asian and Eastern European countries do not touch the land of the free and the home of the brave. Misconception is a great word to describe the mistaken thoughts that many Americans have about human trafficking. The large lack of knowledge and major misguided information about the subject of human trafficking makes this issue even more dangerous. Without knowing something exist it is hard to stop it, provide rehabilitation techniques and programs in order to counter act the latter. The fact of the matter is human trafficking does happen here, in more ways than one. And it has for a very long time.

Thursday evening, on February 21, 2013, there was a panel at Mount Holyoke College called: Human Trafficking: “Close to home”. The panelists was a human trafficking survivor named Tina Frudnt, an activist (and the only male) from Amirah Incorporated, a professor at Smith College named Carrie Baker, a District Attorney from Boston named Pi Heseltine, and a labor trafficking case manager named Casie-Lee Miller.

Attending this panel revealed the many dangers, facts, prevention methods and organizations fighting against the institution of human trafficking.

To begin with, human trafficking is an umbrella term. Many of us think about a poor, helpless, teen possibly trapped in a room or a brothel of some sort when we hear that term. Little do we know, girls who are being trafficked for sex do not always resemble coveted, chained women to a bed, but rather, girls who are walking around you at the grocery store, the mall, on the street corner, at parades, at carnivals, and especially during huge nation wide celebratory events.

The moderator of the evening asked the sex slave survivor that if she had to guess, out of the entire audience, how many of them have probably come in contact with a human trafficking victim? Tina Frundt said, “All of them”... We either chose to ignore it or were too unaware to recognize the signs right in front of us.

Human trafficking, as Ms. Frundt explained, is quite literally modern day slavery. It is a slavery that views no gender, no race and no class. Although the type of human trafficking, the control dynamic, and the situations of human trafficking will heavily depend on the latter three characteristics, victims of the human sex trade can include poor, middle class, upper middle class, black, white, Latino, gay, straight, and trans gendered individuals.

The type of human trafficking spoken of by Ms. Frundt described a pimp who would prostitute young, under-aged girls. These girls are coerced and forced into sex slavery primarily between the ages of 12 and 15, averaging around the age of 13 with girls as young as 9. The next bracket age for young women are the ages between 17 and 19, where many young girls are trafficked off of college campuses, specifically students who are away to school. The young, female students without an adequate home, no close family, far friends, and a long distance support system makes them an easy target for sex slavery.

The males in human trafficking range from age 14 to age 16 and are usually LGBTQ youth who have been kicked out and/or abandoned by their family members or their parents and forced to live on the street. In their circumstance, they, like the girls, did not choose their fate or decide to live on the street, but for young men many of their last resorts falls under “sex for survival.”

The pimp-system in human trafficking, according to Ms. Frundt, is a very intricate system where, if you want to help, certain knowledge and guidelines about how to help are crucial. The way the system is structured, there is a “bottom.” A bottom is a person who recruits the girls used in the sex slave trade. The bottom gets beat and hit the most. If a girl escapes, they get blamed. Their motivation is to beat, hurt, coerce, and manipulate the girls into staying into the trade so that their lives are much easier. “Bottoms” are usually grown men, 10 to 15 years older than the girls they traffick. This experience leads to quick coercion, premeditated approach, instant scouting, and subtle persuasion. They are good at what they do, and it is very difficult to catch them. It is much harder to catch the perpetrators of the sex trade as well. The men who are primarily having non-consensual sex with these little girls are clergymen, police officers, judges, lawyers, and political figures. They have never committed any crime and, if caught, are usually free to go with nothing more than a fine.

The “bottom,” compared to American slavery, would be referred to as a “house slave.” House slaves, although slaves themselves, would watch over other slaves, much like the character of Steven in the Quentin Tarantino film: “Django: Unchained.” In slavery, the slaves information and death certificates, if any, were put in the stable with the animals. In the sex trade, specifically the pimp human trafficking system, the girls in the “game” are considered stables. In an actual stable there are the tools and accessories to till the farm and the gardens. There are shovels, picks, and hoes. This is where the term “hoe,” came from. When referring to prostitutes and strippers, men would call the women hoes. This language has transferred over to our mainstream music, colloquial language, and has even become a curse word known by most, if not all English speaking Americans.

The girls are usually kept sedated with drugs and hungry so that their motivation is food. For this reason, Tina Frundt trains the staff that do street sweeps in her organization in Washington D.C. to not give girls food. If you give them some food you may think that you are helping but this could lead to rape, torture, or a severe beating just for catching the girls with a piece of food. If a young girl feels unsafe or insecure she will most likely not trust someone enough to be able to get out of the sex slave cycle. This tip, along with several others, are different suggestions given to the public when wanting to assist with the cause.

Sex slavery is not the only trafficking that happens in the United States. Much like third world countries, we house labor trafficking as well, usually to immigrants, who are smuggled here and coerced into believing they have to work. Many families or people are smuggled through Mexico, and may find themselves in a house where they are watched. The people in charge who are watching them either created this debt that they have to work off, scared them into thinking the world is a dangerous place without their immigration papers, or have coerced them into believing that the job they currently work at is a paid job, all the while working for free. Unlike sex slavery, which can be a liberating system, it is very hard to liberate a person in a system quite like this one. If you escape or try to help another person escape from a labor house, you could be jeopardizing the safety of your family back in the country that you have left. Besides the possible murder of your family back in your home country, it is also unsafe for any of the victims to escape because of their condition. Usually, if not always, these people are illegal aliens, not U.S. citizens.  They have no home, no money, no sympathy, no governmental assistance, English not their first language, and being deported back to their countries may mean a life worst than one of slave laboring in America.

We can ignore the signs and ignore the news. We can act like there is no hope and there is nothing we can do. But we can start with advocacy. We can start with having these conversations at the dinner table so that EVERYONE is aware. Then we can give back to organizations like Courtney’s House, run by survivors who have the knowledge and means to get these girls out of sex slave human trafficking.

Let’s start acting like it is closer to home. And let’s make a change.

www.courtneyshouse.org

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