Wednesday, January 11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
In honor of this day (which I hope we soon don't have to commemorate), I want to tell you about my recent experience as part of an undercover operation in a large US city.
Our focus was Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST). These are minors (under 18) and US citizens.
It was an eye-opening, two-day operation. Here's what I learned, in part from Giselle Rodriguez, state outreach coordinator for the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking, who trained us, and in part from my own experiences on the street:
1. We were not in the "bad" part of town but in a area popular with tourists and families.
2. We worked with undercover investigators who regularly monitor DMST happening throughout the city.
3. We saw at least one minor being trafficked, right in the open. We knew there were many more we couldn't see.
4. We talked to hotel owners about DMST and watched their varying reactions. Some said they'd seen girls being trafficked and reported it to the police. Others denied ever seeing anything--but their body language and quick, furtive glances told us otherwise.
5. Girls are controlled by a network of pimps, handlers, and others who are watching her at any given moment from hidden locations. (This is why we were told NOT to try to rescue girls we saw but to get as much information as possible and report to the investigators at our control center.)
6. We must see these girls as victims. They are doing what they do because of force, fraud, and coercion--not because they've made a lifestyle choice.
7. 2,500 children go missing every day--in the US alone. That's 1.6 million a year. Not all of them are trafficked--but they are all at-risk for trafficking.
8. Within 48 hours of running away, a teenager will be approached by traffickers. Most runaways don't bring cash, lunch, or other necessities, so they are easy pickings for traffickers who offer all that and more.
9. Today the average age of a trafficked person is 12 years old. That's the average age, so many are much younger. Traffickers are going after younger and younger children because they are easier to manipulate.
10. One of the common recruiting locations that trafficking recruiters frequent are the halls outside juvenile justice courtrooms.
11. Trafficked children don't call their controllers "pimps" but rather "Daddy" or "Boyfriend." And that's how they really see them. Traffickers work to create a feeling of family because who isn't looking for a family to belong to? Children will ignore the abuse, violence, and control because trauma bonding is so strong. In fact, if you try to rescue a victim of DMST, she will fight you because you have just ruined what she sees as a perfect world.
12. Victims of DMST are trained to lie for their pimps, to take the fall for their "knight in shining armor," and to distrust everyone else (that would be you and me).
13. Once a child is trafficked, her average life expectancy is 7 years.
It is very difficult to rescue a trafficked child--not to mention help them heal. That's why our goal at The Born2Fly Project is to reach kids before the traffickers do. Our goal is to cut off the supply line of kids by educating them ahead of time about the lies that traffickers tell.
My other goal is that some January in the future we will not need a Human Trafficking Awareness Day. My goal is that one day the world will be free of child slavery.