How Safe Are Your Children from Human Trafficking?

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lincoln slaveryWarning: This post is one of the most important we’ve ever featured, but it isn’t the easiest to read.

Anti-human trafficking advocate, Deirdre Flynn, interviewed Holly Smith, a survivor and author, about her experience as a victim of the sex industry. The story is below.

Envy is often what makes our children vulnerable to predators. Pimps and slavers promote discontent. They fill immature minds with dreams of the exciting and glamorous life others are living. A life that has been out of reach for the child, until now.

Holly, will you share your story?

In the summer of 1992, between 8th and 9th grades, I became a victim of sex trafficking. I was walking through the mall with friends when I noticed a man watching me. He called me over to him. At first I shook my head, but I was curious. He had made me feel special. He picked me out of the crowd instead of one of my other friends. I went over to him and after a short conversation, we exchanged numbers.

When we talked on the phone, he said things that made me feel good about myself. He said I was pretty enough to be a model, and I was too mature for high school. He said he could introduce me to famous people and get me into dance clubs. I just had to run away with him. It sounded so glamorous.

At the time, I was struggling with the transition from middle to high school and I wasn’t getting along with my parents. This man’s invitation was tempting because of my discontent. After about two weeks of constant persuasion, I ran away from home to be with him.

I did not become a model or meet famous people. Within hours of leaving home, I was forced into prostitution in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I was 14 years old.

What are some of the misconceptions about human trafficking?

village-voice-tony-ortega-human-traffickingWhen Americans hear the term human trafficking, they often envision victims from other countries.

They fail to realize this crime is happening here, on U.S. soil.

This lack of education endangers young girls and boys.

Societal influences from popular culture can and do cause many children to become targets of exploitation. Much of the media promotes the idea that fame, wealth, sexual experience, and sex appeal are the highest priorities. The sexual objectification of women and girls in music videos, movies, and fashion magazines sends the wrong message.

Children don’t chose to become prostitutes.

Victims are confused, often neglected and abused. They lack an understanding of their basic rights.

They don’t know the difference between a healthy relationship and exploitation.

When did you decide to write your book, Walking Prey: How America’s Youth Are Vulnerable to Sex Slavery?

Walking-Prey-Cover2The first time I ever shared my story was in 2009 for Tina Frundt’s organization, Courtney’s House, in Washington, D.C. I stood on a stage and read from a small piece of paper, shaking, unable to look up.

The women who worked at Courtney’s House were incredibly supportive.

Tina, who is also a survivor, inspired me to stay involved in the anti-trafficking movement.

During a volunteer training session, Tina detailed some of the strategies used by traffickers to lure children away from home. I was stunned. These were exactly the same tactics I experienced in 1992. It was at that moment I realized I was not to blame for my past. I had been a victim. I knew then I had to speak out, had to share my story.

I spoke anonymously a few times in 2010 and 2011. I wanted to educate teens, parents, and teachers. To warn them. Questions from audience members sparked the idea to write a book and helped to shape the parts of my story I share in Walking Prey. I realized I could reach more people with a book than I could speaking.

In Walking Prey, I share my story and that of other survivors. I believe the humanity of the victim is a critical component often missing from current conversations about human trafficking. My hope is readers will recognize prevention is key to winning the fight, and knowing what makes children vulnerable is key to succeeding in prevention.

What has gotten you through your darkest days?

sex traffickingMany things have helped me heal, but primarily it was time. I needed to grow up, to learn about myself and the world around me. Teachers, friends, family, and my own motivation have led me to the place I am today. With appropriate support young survivors can make the transition to health.

It’s important for victims, especially child victims, to know they are not alone.

I’m thankful for so many things, but I’m especially thankful for my family. My husband, Ben, my extended family, my brothers, and my parents have all been my support system during the writing of Walking Prey. This was not an easy process, especially for my parents. I’m grateful to them for allowing me to share this part of our lives to help others struggling in similar circumstances.

How Do I Identify a Victim of Human Trafficking? *

A victim:

  • Has unexplained absences from school for a period of time, and is therefore a truant
  • Demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis
  • Chronically runs away from home
  • Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
  • Exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear
  • Lacks control over her or his schedule or identification documents
  • Is hungry, malnourished or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
  • Shows signs of drug addiction
  • Demonstrates an inability to control own schedule.
  • Unable to provide details re: housing or work
  • Does not have personal documentation (Drivers License, passport, etc)
  • Cannot provide details regarding personal life (family, friends, etc)

Additional signs that may indicate sex-related trafficking include:

  • Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, behavior, or material possessions (e.g., has expensive items)
  • Makes references to sexual situations that are beyond age-specific norms
  • Has a “boyfriend” who is noticeably older (10+ years)
  • Makes references to terminology of the commercial sex industry that are beyond age specific norms; engages in promiscuous behavior and may be labeled “fast” by peers

How Do I Report a Suspected Incidence of Human Trafficking?

  • In cases of immediate emergencies, it is best to call your local police department or emergency access number.
  • You can report suspected trafficking crimes or get help by calling the national 24/7 toll-free Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. This center will help you determine if you have encountered a victim of human trafficking; identify local resources available in your community to help victims; and coordinate with local social service providers to help protect and serve victims so they can begin the process of rehabilitation and restoring their lives. When appropriate, the Resource Center makes referrals to local organizations that assist victims with counseling, case management, legal advice, and other appropriate services, as well as to law enforcement agencies that help trapped victims reach safety.
  • For sexually exploited or abused minors call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST to be connected with the most appropriate assistance in your area, or you can report incidents at: http://www.cybertipline.org.
  • You can report suspected instances of trafficking or worker exploitation by contacting the FBI field office nearest you at http://www.fbi.gov/contact/fo/fo.htm or by contacting the Department of Justice’s Human Trafficking Office at 1-888-428-7581.

To learn more about Holly visit www.hollyaustinsmith.com or follow her on Twitter at @Holly_A_Smith

Photo courtesy of FrameAngel/freedigitalphotos.net

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