Open Your Eyes

Do you know that odds are that someone you know or someone you regularly come in contact with may be in a trafficking situation. Human trafficking may be happening in your suburb, your community, or even your church. It is important for everyone to be aware of the red flags and indicators of human trafficking in order that we may help identify victims and get them the help they need. First, before I lay out some red flags, it is important to know what you should do if you think someone is being trafficked. The biggest piece of advice I have for you is to contact the national human trafficking resource center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. PLEASE PUT THIS NUMBER IN YOUR PHONE!!! If there is an instance where you may believe someone is in a trafficking situation, you want to be as prepared as possible. You do not want to be looking for this blog trying to find the number all over again. In addition to calling the national human trafficking resource center hotline, you can text HELP to: BeFree (233733). Both of these numbers are ran by an organization called Polaris. An example of a recent text conversation can be found below. This woman was able to get the help she needed.

Polaris

In addition to calling the national human trafficking resource center, you should always call 911 in the case of an emergency. You can call the national human trafficking resource center to report a tip, connection with services in your area, request training, and gain resources, but always call 911 in the case of an emergency.

Back to identifying and assisting a trafficking victim. According to the state department, here are some human trafficking indicators:

Human Trafficking Indicators

While not an exhaustive list, these are some key red flags that could alert you to a potential trafficking situation that should be reported:

  • Living with employer
  • Poor living conditions
  • Multiple people in cramped space
  • Inability to speak to individual alone
  • Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
  • Employer is holding identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid or paid very little
  • Under 18 and in prostitution

Questions to Ask

Assuming you have the opportunity to speak with a potential victim privately and without jeopardizing the victim’s safety because the trafficker is watching, here are some sample questions to ask to follow up on the red flags you became alert to:

  • Can you leave your job if you want to?
  • Can you come and go as you please?
  • Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
  • Has your family been threatened?
  • Do you live with your employer?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Are you in debt to your employer?
  • Do you have your passport/identification? Who has it?

 

It is important to not that it is unsafe to attempt to rescue a trafficking victim by yourself. You do not know how the trafficker may react and retaliate against the victim and you. Always contact the appropriate resources for help in trafficking situations.

 

Dai

Hi my name is Dai,* I’m a survivor of human trafficking and exploitation. I have experienced the harm that these forms of violence inflict on those of us who have been sexually exploited. Let me tell you a little history about my life. I have been an American for nearly 21 years. Abused as a child, I made a promise to myself that I would never be abused again. As I continue with my speech, I’m here to share my story specifically regarding my traumatic experience in the sex trafficking.

One question that has always perplexed me is the need to share my experiences, and what I witnessed in Las Vegas without exploiting myself. An integral part of my story is that I, and many other minority women, whether American or not, were shipped from state to state in order to provide specific services for men. It has been stated by many that the sex industry has been divided into two distinct classifications: prostitution and trafficking. I encourage you to listen to my story as I reveal to you why I believe they are one and the same.

In 1995, I fell in love with a military man, who persuaded me to move with him to an undisclosed remote area. There, I was raped and beat continually while handcuffed to a door of an abandoned house. Eventually, through circumstances, I made my escape, but not before he had confiscated my naturalization papers, driver’s license and social security card. With no proof of my identity, I could not acquire adequate shelter. I felt like an animal that has been cast into the street. My life became a scenario of sojourning from one homeless shelter to another.

One day, I was approached by a middle-aged woman who had been watching my every move. Unaware that she was a (Female Pimp), she insisted that I come and work for her in the Escort Service (she assured me that it was only a dating service). My unawareness of this proposition was so overwhelmed by my need for food, money and clothing that I desperately accepted her offer. After several weeks I found myself well provided for and economically stable. Then the unthinkable happened: a client bargained me for sex. After I refused his offer, he grabbed me by the hair, forced me on the floor and raped and beat me. In terror, I fled to the police to report the violence. To my astonishment, the police informed me that I had no rights because I had attained the status of a “street-walker”.

Eventually, the female pimp who recruited me sent me to this gentleman who worked in Nevada where my experience in Human Trafficking began. To this day, I am still haunted by flashbacks regarding certain smells, as well as cold floors which numbed my bare feet. Many times, panic ensues when I find myself in a line of women; it resurrects the nightmares of all the humiliating inspection line-ups I had to endure. We were constantly paraded before a potential client; their lustful eyes examining and perusing us before we became final choices for each predatory customer.

Being Korean, I remember the time when a prejudiced ‘john’ demanded that I dress as a Japanese prostitute/geisha. My vulnerability was made complete when I was taught to speak broken English, fulfilling the racist image of exoticism. Although, I was one of the few that spoke and understood English, my required masquerade as a foreigner brought more money to the Master through harboring of immigrants.

There is no difference between trafficking and prostitution when innocent women and children are being harbored for the sole purpose of the commercial sex trade. Exploiters and pimps are always violating the rights of these victims who are pursuing their freedom to escape from harm.

In reality, no female desires to be a part of this nightmare. Most of us were incarcerated in basements, underneath casinos and in abandoned warehouses. Our desperate cries for help were silenced by the walls, which separated us from the rest of the world. While tourists roamed the streets of Las Vegas admiring the architectural beauty and the celestial lights, which permeated the night sky, we, the victims, were in perpetual fear for our lives.

The Master, knowing full well that I was an American, forced me to work both the Escort and the Trafficking. If I refused or didn’t comply, I was taken underground and sentenced to various methods of punishment. The vividness of this maltreatment brought back such childhood nightmares of the times I was locked in a closet. Each of these two scenarios mirrored the same cries for freedom; after all, I was the submissive little foreign girl who was threatened not to tell anyone. In both cases, my guilt-ridden confessions of bad behavior resulted in my temporary release. On my knees, I had to convince my Master that I would be on my best behavior. After hours of interrogation, I was given permission to return to do what I did best; being a concubine, and deluding myself into thinking that I enjoyed it.

I was involved in trafficking for more than six months. I compare that time to being held hostage in a timeless existence where my mind engaged itself in disassociation with my soul. This mental state was the only way in which I could keep any sanity. Repeatedly, I witnessed the beatings, rapes and murders of innocent women. At times, my tears of hopelessness would drown me into a pathos of my own execution. How could my own country not be aware of these cruelties? How could this kind of discrimination and slavery be given the power to blind immigrant and American women of their rights? The frustration of these and other questions echoed within my catatonic mind.

Most of the time we were transported by trucks with drivers who were not naive to our purpose, and well informed of our identity. After months of these transports for trafficking our self-images had been reduced to cattle being loaded on a cattle car. Thousands of dollars were exchanged on these cross-country trips which kept us silent and our existence a secret. There were times that the warehouse truck would stop, the tail gate door forced opened, then two or three were summoned out.

We were given shoes and clothing so we would not appear as homeless refugees. We had to walk a block down to a near by truck stop, given fifteen minutes to bathe ourselves, then return to the truck. In degrading humiliation we had to beg for toiletries and other personal items. Sometimes, a policeman would appear on the scene and I would be so tempted to cry out for help, but fear of jeopardizing my life and the lives of the other women prevented me. The quick shower and change of clothing signaled our soon “rendezvous” with the ‘johns’ who requested for us. The women were released a few at a time so as not to raise any suspicion.

Selections of adult-aged women and minor girls (who were under the age of sixteen) usually numbered between twenty and fifty. The adult women were expected to resemble a late teen. If they would not comply they were discarded, cast-out, and some were never heard from again. We were constantly monitored, forbidden to make eye contact with anyone in public areas. When we arrived at our destination, the women were separated into motel rooms. We traversed the very rural area of Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, California, Florida, and New York. We were never paid directly, however, later on I discovered that it would turn more money if clients were deceived into thinking that all of us were immigrants.

After months of ongoing physical and mental agony I became apathetic regarding my life; I did not care if I lived or died. With convincing death threats from my Master, I remained silent. If he suspected that I was going to expose him he would verbalize threats against my family and friends. It was at this time that I soul searched an alternative way to reveal this horror to the public.

Anyone can locate escort services, brothels, bathhouses and strip clubs in the yellow pages, newspapers, and brochures which detail the variety of girls they have to offer. As for the Trafficking business, they sought out clientele by word of mouth, on the Internet, personal references and very powerful people who were involved on the inside. This creates a distraction for the sex trade businesses, which continually harbors immigrants as slaves. The sex trade pimps are incredibly organized, know how to blend into society and stage criminal activity as though it is “business as usual.” The scary scenario is not the every day casual clients, but it is the established businessmen, the upper echelon trustees and the government officials which are also clientele.

America needs to have its eyes open to this reality which is happening twenty-four hours a day. People need to understand that the master minds behind the sex trafficking are very clever, creative, deceptive and cautious regarding their services and the way in which they enslave women against their will. It is important to understand that pimps emerge from diverse social backgrounds. The majority of the ones with which I had contact, (who were responsible for the trafficking recruitment) had attained status and wealth.

Even though language barriers prevented my communication with these women, we shared the same relentless fears. Somehow, we also shared the dim ray of hope that maintained our survival. I remember, at different times, holding each of them in my arms letting their tears stain my clothing, while all along, sharing the same pain. Though English was my one advantage, I was just as lost, confused and terrified. However, within the depths of this hell I was experiencing, my will to survive was the fire which kept alive my vision of exposing trafficking to the public.

Finally, I was able to escape from my master through a wealthy client who bought me for an undisclosed amount of money. He was an older gentleman with considerable influence. Through his kindness I planned my way of another escape. He admired my oriental beauty and encouraged and coached me to be a (female pimp). He bought my companionship with jewelry, money and expensive cars: He never physically abused me. With ulterior motives he taught me how to make my own money as a Las Vegas Madam (Female Pimp). Therefore, to escape the daily abuse of the sex industry, I found myself recruiting women and leading them into the same vile profession which had terribly traumatized me. I was deceived and controlled by the power it gave me.

Down the road, I got to the point where I could not stomach what I was doing; repeating the very pattern which held me captive for so long. I may not have abused these women the way my Master did to me, but I did sell them. I used large amounts of narcotics to escape the reality of my immoral empire. When I realized I could not escape the recurring nightmares of women locked in basements, warehouse trucks and cheap dirty motels. I was hurled into a major mental breakdown. Coming to terms with my situation, I ran away from the ‘john’ who bought me. Fearing the possibility of being kidnapped and returned to Las Vegas, I began to seek refuge in churches, seeking their assistance in my quest for deliverance and freedom.

Upon leaving Nevada, I was constantly on the run from former pimps. My life resembled a fugitive fleeing from one location to another. In the fall of 2000, I made contact with an advocate through the Internet, she advised me to relocate to a different state. Since then, I slowly began to heal, trust, and reinvent myself to return to society to make positive contributions. I long to reach out to those who are still imprisoned in the revolving door of sexual exploitation. Truly, their shackles can be broken by people who are willing to tear down the walls of silence, and offer them the hope of freedom. They robbed me of five years, they thought they could break me. Yet, I am still standing and I will stand and voice my experience for the victims who are still held in captive of human trafficking.

*Names have been changed for security purposes.

Rebecca

Rebecca was prostituted from 14 until she was 17. This is her story:

“I was prostituted from 14 till I was 27. I got out because I chose to live. The guy I was with was very violent and I ended up in hospital. I remember the nurse yelled at me for being a prostitute. She sewed me up without anaesthesia and I left the hospital. I was paralysed for 3 days. Those 3 days made me think. I decided to catch a train and leave without knowing where I was going. I was in prostitution on and off for 3 years after that, but that was the beginning of my exit.

I was abused by my step-father from the age of six. I told my mother but she didn’t care. She was just concerned about me not getting pregnant. There was a club in our town where if you were a girl and under 16, the bouncers would let you in for free at the end of the night. My friend, who, like me, was completely fucked up and hated the world, took me there. It was strange because we were told to sit at the bar, not talk to each other and were given lots of cocktails. It all felt very sophisticated. I was 14. On that first night some men took me to a flat and gang raped me for 6 hours. There was a queue of men outside the door; one would finish and another would come in. Now, when I look back, it feels like it was a test to see if I would be a good prostitute. I don’t know how I made it out alive.

Although I didn’t go back immediately, I did return with my friend because I didn’t care about myself. She would take the money while I had sex with often violent men. I ‘worked’ there for 3 years. I could hear what was happening in other rooms and would think, at least what’s happening to me isn’t as bad. You have to survive. If I saw someone else looking scared, I’d think at least that’s not me. It’s hard for me to live with the fact that I know some women disappeared—I feel guilty.

I was often truant from school but attended till I was 18. From 17 upwards, an average day was trying not to sleep as much as possible. I’d go to pubs and have people buy me drinks. There was a regular at the pub who was known to be violent to women and to pick up prostitutes. I used to be seen with him in the pub, but no-one ever said anything to me. I’m not saying they could have stopped me, but they didn’t even try.

Loads of men who were abusive to me were white and English, but there were also men from other nationalities and countries. It was the time of the anti-apartheid movement. Outwardly they portrayed themselves as so good. Some would actually talk to me about human rights while they were doing horrible things to me! One punter (slang term for men who buy sex) actually resuscitated me and then carried on doing what he was doing to me. I was getting to the point where I wanted to kill the punters or myself. Always being surrounded by people who wanted to kill me made me think I should commit suicide as that would piss them off!

I would see injuries on me after punters had used me and not know where they’d come from. I mentally closed down. My body had been pushed to the limit but it didn’t die. At the time I thought I was choosing punters, but now I realise that men knew they could offer me money and that they could be violent towards me; it was a small town and they knew through word of mouth. Now when I look back, I see that there was a hell of a lot of organisation behind what happened to me.

For the longest time I hated going to the cinema as normally punters would take me there to have sex. When men found out I read, some would buy me books like Lolita and Marquis de Sade. I once set fire to a copy of Lolita. My step-father used to read Marquis de Sade to me at bedtime.

I also did that escort “girlfriend” thing, which is a total mind fuck because even if they treat you well, they still get all the sex they want any way they want. Many wanted to see me regularly. One guy kept me in his flat for 8 days. That messed with my head because I would start thinking like he was my boyfriend, when he wasn’t. He would lock me up in the flat before he’d go out. We’d watch American football on TV. If he saw me looking bored he’d rape me. At least men who are cold and violent don’t fuck with your brain!

As an escort most of the guys who bought me were very rich – many were training to become leaders in their own countries. Some of them are now in positions of power. People disconnect prostitution from other rights abuses. It makes me cynical about governments and those that run them.

Punters are so arrogant. If you’re going to be a bastard, it’s easier to stick to prostituted women because no one really listens to or believes prostitutes. One reason men are angry with prostitutes is because they can’t destroy them. Most men don’t want to use condoms- they don’t come to prostitutes for that. If someone had given me a condom I wouldn’t have had the self-esteem to use one. I didn’t feel like I deserved to live or not get a disease. I look back at the escorting and think those punters really hated me.

A lot of men were in denial about what they were doing so they would pay me with food or alcohol or give me a bed for the night. The guys who thought they were gentle or talked a lot, I hated the most. They wanted to know things about me as a human being, while they wanted to do all these things to me. I hate the punters and the way they make so many excuses for what they do. I hate that what they do is justified by society. I don’t know how any man can justify buying a human being either, just so they can have an orgasm!  I hate that they made me feel I should be grateful to them. I feel like they put poison in me.

I started a blog just after the 2006 Ipswich murders (I’ve always noticed they only report these things when it’s a serial killer and then it’s always about the guy not the women). In Manchester I got lots of backlash from people who talk about prostitution being a choice and people who say I couldn’t have been a prostitute because I’m middle-class or too educated. Within a month, however, I started getting a strong response and now I use it to be political and to talk about the trauma associated with prostitution. I also contribute to Sex Trafficking Survivors United online forum. I campaign for abolition and changing laws.”

Who’s next?

For the next few weeks, I am going to be trying to write two posts a week. The first will be about the need for legislation to fight human trafficking and about how the everyday person can make an impact on the world in this arena. The second post will be about a real life story of a survivor of human trafficking, taken from various sources, giving you as the reader a more in depth understanding of what is actually happening around the world. This post in particular will be about the type of person who is more likely to be trafficked.

There is no one single profile for trafficking victims as trafficking can occur in all different forms. The victims usually are diverse in their socio-economic backgrounds, their levels of education, ages, gender, and more. Even though there is no single profile for a person that is more than likely to be trafficked, there are several vulnerabilities that are often exploited by traffickers. These vulnerabilities bring people to higher risks of falling prey to the trafficking system.

The first biggest vulnerability that is often exploited is the vulnerability that comes with runaway and homelessness. A study in Chicago (http://www.impactresearch.org/documents/sistersspeakout.pdf) found that 56 percent of prostituted women were initially runaway youth. Similar numbers were found of the male population. There are several factors that make runaways and homeless youth more prone to falling into the human trafficking system. One of the biggest factors is that they lack a strong support system. They don’t have people who are providing them with advice and security, making them more prone to fall prey to a trafficker who falsely provides that support. The traffickers often approach homeless and runaways with promises of shelter, food, and security. The trafficker will come in as a strong support system for the runaway and tactfully exploit the runaway/homeless person.

Another big vulnerability that is exploited is foreign nationals. Many people coming from different countries are fleeing a form of persecution in their country or are promised a better life for themselves and their family. Recruiters for trafficking place themselves in various countries, looking for people that are trying to run or have a better life. Many women are promised to be paid well so they can send money back to their country to support their family. Recruiters will even take children from their parents, promising the parents a better life for their child in the states. As soon as the child gets to the US, they are quickly put into a human trafficking ring with little hope of ever escaping. In addition, traffickers leverage the ability to obtain visas for foreign nationals, promising acceptance into the States. Because the foreign nationals lack familiarity with their surroundings, laws and rights, language, cultural understandings, and more, they become prone to exploitation.

The last largest group of people who are more vulnerable to human trafficking are those that have experience violence and trauma in the past. This is mainly due to the psychological effect of trauma on the person, producing a long lasting trauma that is challenging to overcome. Victims of domestic violence, war, social discrimination, sexual assault, are often targets for traffickers. These traffickers see the vulnerabilities left by the prior abusers and exploit those vulnerabilities. These exploitation feeds on the belief of shame and unworthiness.

Now, having read all of this, it may make you want to go to the people you know who have experienced these vulnerabilities and warn them of the danger. In reality, the best way to help someone who has been in any of these situations is to help them get the real and professional help they need. Be a support for these people, but do not try and be their savior.

What are you really buying?

Are we addicted to slavery through our consumerism? You may not know this, but the food we eat, the coffee you drink, the clothes you wear, the technology we use, they all may be made as a result of slave labor. Things that we take for granted are often given to us due to the large amount of slaves being forced to work around the world. On one hand, we all want cheaper products and to get a bargain. We go to Walmart to get the lowest prices on food items. We think to ourselves, “well, I am saving money by buying cheaper items, making it so I have more money to do good with”. The reality is that there is a large disconnect for the every day consumer (specifically the American consumer) between the items we buy and the suffering of people being trafficked across the world. No one wants to wear clothes that are tainted by the suffering of large groups of people. No one wants to walk on shoes that represent the crushing of dreams for children in India. We don’t want to drink our coffee in the morning that is provided by the turmoil of farm workers in Central America. We choose to remain ignorant that our shopping habits may be perpetrating slavery around the world. Why do we do this? Because we want to be able to buy whatever we want, save all the money we have, and live a pretty awesome life without thinking of the slaves around the world who are providing us with that life.

The reality is that most people do not know that this system exists. Most consumers go through their everyday life not knowing to even think about the type of food or items they buy. Even some companies who are selling these slave produced goods are blind to the fact that their items come from slave labor. So what must be done to open the eyes of the everyday consumer and the companies who are just looking for cheap materials?

For the companies, it is important for these companies to be transparent about where their products are made, as well as require any partnering organizations to do the same. The reality is that it is cheaper to make something in a foreign country like China who is known to exploit slave labor. These companies doing business with other organizations must be transparent with the public about their partners, but also require their partners to live under the same value that slave labor is not an option. Places like California require all companies of significance size to disclose to the public how and where their products are made. There still does not exist any laws requiring companies to make a products in a certain way, but the need to publicize their transactions is a foundation for holding businesses accountable.

So as an everyday consumer, what can you do? How can you help fight slavery around the world. First, I encourage you to go to http://slaveryfootprint.org/ and fill out the entire survey to find out how your actions actually are impacting the world around you. You will be surprised by the number of slaves that indirectly work to keep your consumerist life at its prime. In addition, you can install a couple apps to help you in your shopping habits. The first app I recommend is an app called “Good Guide”. This app allows you to scan bar codes at stores and/or input items and the app will give you scores for the item. First, it will give you a score for health, environment, and society. These scores correlate to how healthy the item is for your body, how environmentally cautious and secure the company is, and if the item is exploiting anyone in the process of it being made. It will give you a description of the ratings, and it can also provide you with alternative products. If you find that the society score is really low, you can look for alternative products that will better serve the world we live.

Having this kind of mindset in shopping and living is difficult. It takes effort and a lot of will power. You will lose money, you will find yourself taking more time shopping, and you will save lives. Is it worth it for you?

Current Event: Closing the Loop

Many of you may have already seen this, but some exciting things have happened in the world of human trafficking. Whether you agree with the work of President Obama or not, he has done something amazing for the world of human trafficking. About a week ago, he helped to close a loophole in a tariff law that will ban all products made by slave labor from coming into the US. The loophole originated in the U.S. Tarriff Act of 1930 that permitted these goods to enter into the country. The law will impact a broad spectrum of goods, including gold, technology, clothes, fireworks, construction supplies, and more. If the United States stands strong in it’s legislation, this could have rippling affects through the entire world. This is a market changer and a world changer. As the demand for these goods will be brought down tremendously, the slave labor needed to make the supplies will also dwindle.

Sources: