There are very few people who would use the word “Speechless” to describe me. “Loudmouth” – “Inappropriate” – “Opinionated” – Now those words I would recognize. But as I explore this whole prostitution and human trafficking underworld I am nothing short of speechless. Speechless because so few seem to recognize the damage being done to our entire world by this insidious and sinister pandemic that preys on women and children. Our whole society is threatened by either ignoring these practices or glibly claiming it to be a victimless crime. Some of the victims don’t even know they are victims…they live in a world where they believe this is their destiny and that this is all there is.
I was touched by several stories I heard this week. One woman stopped into a local shelter – just to chat – and talked about how she was working to “get her man out of jail.” He had been arrested for a drug trafficking crime and is going do a minimum of 10 years in prison – this was not his first time around the “wheel of justice”. She only had to raise another $4000 and the bondsman told her he would get him out. So she was street-walking and soliciting strangers – the victim of a man held behind bars who called her collect regularly to check her bail bond progress, complain about the food and tell her he loved her. We all said a silent prayer that he would be sentenced quickly so that she would be able to get enough freedom to have a chance to let us lead her towards a different path.
Another story was told to me about the proliferation of human trafficking in the Central Florida area. Many of the big cities up north have made it difficult for the traffickers to operate and they have found our tropical climate and our ever widening ethnic and cultural framework to allow them to work their evil trade with very little interference from law enforcement. They make themselves difficult to identify and have surprisingly innovative ways of laundering their ill gotten gains through Hair, Nail and Skin Care Salons, Dry Cleaners and Laundromats, Hotels and Motels, Restaurants and Bars. The women – many under the age of 15 – are told that the police will kill them if they find them or they will be deported to their country of origin where their families will disown them because of the shame they have brought on themselves by living a life as a prostitute. Victims not once, but twice.
Two completely different stories of Human Trafficking converging – not thousands of miles away – not in another country – not in another city – but right in front of me. Within blocks of where I live. I was rendered speechless.
As I drove home to my upper middle class suburban condo with a beautiful view of a lake, I was overwhelmed and saddened by my blindness to my surroundings. That cheap pedicure? Not so cheap. My smart attitude with the maid at the four star resort not getting my extra pillows to me quick enough? Not so smart. My annoyed whine about the spot not coming out of my cashmere sweater? Not so annoyed. My judgmental disapproval of a street walker who wanted to get the man she loved out of jail – no matter what her personal cost. Not so disapproving.
How could I be so blind? How could I not see what might have been right in front of me? I’m a smart girl with lots of life experience and I should know better than to not look a little deeper into the eyes – the windows of the soul – and see the pain and the fear and the desperation. I have to give these girls a voice to express their pain and offer more than the copy of a book they may not know how to read. I have to become UNSPEECHLESS and use the things I have known and seen to teach those who don’t understand and to shine a really bright light into the dark corners where this abomination occurs…first in my own community and then in the rest of my state and then into the rest of the world.
There are three kinds of Human Trafficking. The first is the kind that we call “Prostitution”. Prostitution is the result of one person paying to use the body of another for sexual purposes. Doesn’t matter if it is consensual or not. Some prostitution is that of an independent person soliciting for another independent person to pay them for the sexual services. “High Class” Human Trafficking is where a service (Escort Service or Pimp) takes a cut of the money gained from the sexual service in return for making the service available. Many times this is an agreeable relationship because the Escort Service or Pimp promises to protect the service provider from danger. It may or may not be consensual. Escort Services are notorious for holding back appointments from service providers who they suspect of not following the services rules or failing to be available when they are called to “go on a call”. Pimps use intimidation, drugs, violence or the threat of violence and a variety of other coercive methods to pressure a girl into performing sexual services with his customers. Many times the Pimp even uses “love” to compel a woman into an act of prostitution. As in “I love you baby – do this for me – do this for us!” Sinister, isn’t it?
The second kind is a little more familiar when speaking of Human Trafficking. This treacherous practice is very well organized and very international. And don’t think America is NOT international because it happens here too.
Poverty and lack of economic opportunity make women and children potential victims of traffickers associated with international criminal organizations. They are vulnerable to false promises of job opportunities in other countries. Many of those who accept these offers from what appear to be legitimate sources find themselves in situations where their documents are destroyed, their selves or their families threatened with harm, or they are bonded by a debt that they have no chance of repaying.
In some cases a girl is promised an opportunity to model or become an actress. Someone posing as a designer or talent agent will promise the moon to a young girl and many times secure the permission of her parents. They are then whisked off to another city or state or country and forced into prostitution. Some escape but most don’t. In many third world countries the parents are promised a better life or an education for the child and they readily consent, completely unaware of the dismal future of their daughter. In these same countries, parents knowingly sell the girl to the trafficker because they are starving and female children have a much smaller value than the male children. A United Nations report recently stated that less than 40% of 150 countries studied for Human Trafficking statistics had NEVER prosecuted a single human trafficking case which allows the traffickers to operate with impunity across the globe. Many countries refused to even provide their own statistics – even some of the really big ones like Saudia Arabia, China, Libya and Iran. What was even more surprising in this report was that 60% of the traffickers were women – once victims and now perpetrators.
The third kind – really frightening, this one, is the kind where children are snatched off the street and – once again – forced into prostitution. This happens in every country in the world and is devastating to parents who wonder forever if their child is alive. I’m sure most of them pray they are dead rather than living in this existence. Every time I hear a story of a missing child, I am silently praying for their quick and safe return but at the same time I fear for their safety and the likelihood that they are being trafficked. While women and children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking for the sex trade, human trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation. It also includes persons who are trafficked into ‘forced’ marriages or into bonded labor markets, such as sweat shops, agricultural plantations, or domestic service.
The United States of America is principally a transit and destination country for trafficking in persons. It is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people, primarily women and children, are trafficked to the U.S. annually. We Americans – as a country – have enhanced pre-existing criminal penalties, afforded new protections to trafficking victims and make available certain benefits and services to victims of severe forms of trafficking. We have also established a Cabinet-level federal interagency task force and a federal program to provide services to trafficking victims. The U.S. Department of State began monitoring trafficking in persons in 1994, when the issue began to be covered in the Department’s Annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. Originally, coverage focused on trafficking of women and girls for sexual purposes. The report coverage has broadened over the years, and U.S. embassies worldwide now routinely monitor and report on cases of trafficking in men, women, and children for all forms of forced labor, including agriculture, domestic service, construction work, and sweatshops, as well as trafficking for commercial sexual purposes.
Our commitment to abolishing the practice of Human Trafficking is far from complete. Each individual who remains silent on the subject or considers prostitution to be a victimless crime, should reassess their position by research and soul searching and then act by telling a friend, a family member, a neighbor about what you have learned. Only through education and continuously pointing out the dangers of prostitution and human trafficking can we begin to stop it.
Be SPEECHLESS no more!
To report an instance of suspected trafficking, please call the HOTLINE: 1.888-373-7888