Not “Victim,” Human

A man shops for something he’s been wanting. He finds someone selling it, exactly what he’s been looking for. They’re local and will meet him somewhere or even deliver the item to his place, for an extra fee. He decides to go to the seller, so he can save a little money. When he arrives, the salesman takes his cash and shows him where the merchandise is. The man steps through a hotel room door pto find what he’s purchased.

A 15-year-old girl, who’s being forced into having sex with men like him.

This is a hypothetical situation of a real crime. That girl, and others like her, has a name: human trafficking, and it happens between 200,000 to 800,000 times in the U.S. a year, lecturer Keith Owens said. May be not in this exact way, but the result is the same: a human being is forced to do something against their will.

The backgrounds of those pulled into human trafficking vary. They can come from high income homes with supportive families or low income homes with dysfunctional families and no fathers, Owens said. Traffickers force people into human trafficking in a number of ways. The most common is through the internet.

Perpetrators will isolate teenagers, and Owens said they are very smooth talkers. They ask the juvenile for a meet and greet. The two become friends or enter into a romantic, even intimate relationship.

Once the trafficker gains the girl’s trust, they have an emotional bond and alliance.

“She doesn’t know she’s being groomed for another intended purpose,” Owens said.

He will ask her to do things for him with other people. At first, he will propose only one instance, but it doesn’t stop after that. He may take pictures of her dressed scantily for websites.

The complexity of trauma for each and every survivor of human trafficking is different and difficult, said Mary McCoy doctorate student and research assistant in the School of Social Work. Rehabilitation includes placing her back with her family, Owens said.

However, when confronting the issue of human trafficking, the people who experience it are often put into a box. Working with women, McCoy has come across women in all walks of life, and it worries her when those women are thought of as one-dimensional, rather than complex human beings.

“We don’t need to think of them as only victims who aren’t also mothers, sisters, daughters, wives,” McCoy said.

Rehabilitating women after they’ve come through this type of ordeal can be challenging. McCoy used the example of a 32-year-old trying to get into the workforce after being trafficked when she was 16. This person may likely have several children from different fathers. She may not have graduated from high school, know how to open a bank account, set up direct deposit and has a resume including sex work and McDonald’s. This person, who had a crime committed against her by being forced to have sex with strangers, will not be able to enter the workforce because of her lack of experience.

“She has a long road ahead of her,” McCoy said.

People need to be aware and donate to nonprofits because it takes money to get someone in that situation back on their feet.

Oftentimes, if they don’t get the proper care, those who are trafficked become perpetrators themselves.

“It’s hard to move past what’s happened to them because they are very broken,” Owens said.

Another aspect people need to be knowledgeable about is the online advertising of sex trafficking, including minors. Often, if someone is paying for sex through an online venue that involves a minor.

Other places women who have been taken advantage of can be found are brothels, or less-suspecting places, like massage parlors. Often, pimps rent hotel rooms or apartments for places to have women conduct the sexual acts with paying strangers.

Victims can be found anywhere. Looking for signs is important, Owens said. Some signs of trafficking include someone always talking for the person, not having an ID or tattoos on the person being trafficked to show ownership.

Some of the things involved in human trafficking is the initial meet up, with negotiation of price and time. This also includes a discussion of what sexual activity will take place.

Girls have quotas to fill, which range from 150 to 200 transactions a day, each paying around $1000 to $2000, depending on what the trafficker is seeking.

Pimps will charge the person they’ve taken advantage of for things needed in normal human life, even charging them for items needed while they are forcing sexual acts onto the person. These items often include things from hygiene products to food, even condoms.

The reason this crime continues is because the pimps use and reuse the people they traffic, Owens said. It’s not like dealing drugs where the merchandise can run out. Because they the people they’re taking advantage of, human trafficking nets $32 billion a year, Owens said.

The cycle of human trafficking is a daunting and seemingly unstoppable force in society.

Luckily, awareness seems to have expanded in the last 5 to 10 years. The breadth of conversation on the issue needs to continue to move deeper to involve policy and more respect for victims and survivors of these crimes. That way, they can get services faster and future instances can be prevented.

“I don’t think we’re going to get rid of it,” McCoy said, reluctantly. “I think what we can do is make life and recovery better for those who experienced it.”

Owens referred to human trafficking as a modern day version of slavery.

“With respect to a person, it is the basement of our humanity,” Owens said. “Trafficking and selling people continue on. It’s barbaric and horribly heinous crime, and it must be eliminated. Slavery and slavery in all of its forms. Our women and our children are not for sale.”

People should learn as much as they can about human trafficking. Indicators can be found online on websites such as ICE.org, Owens said. If signs of human trafficking are present, the police should be called at the earliest opportunity.

Mary McCoy mary.farman@mavs.uta.edu

Keith Owens keith.owens@uta.edu

Data sources

https://humantraffickinghotline.org/states

https://humantraffickinghotline.org/sites/default/files/NHTRC%202015%20United%20States%20Report%20-%20USA%20-%2001.01.15%20-%2012.31.15_OTIP_Edited_06-09-16.pdf

http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/glotip/GLOTIP_2014_full_report.pdf

http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/413047-Estimating-the-Size-and-Structure-of-the-Underground-Commercial-Sex-Economy-in-Eight-Major-US-Cities.PDF

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