Domestic minor sex trafficking basics
If you’ve been reading and following this blog (or paying attention to the news) you will know that human trafficking takes many different forms. (If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, I suggest going back to this post for a preface). I thought I’d go into a little more detail about one particular case of human trafficking: domestic minor sex trafficking, since that is primarily the kind dealt with by The Hope House. To break it down, domestic minor sex trafficking is
- domestic- occurring within the borders of the United States. This may involve foreign victims, though the majority are American girls.
- minor- victims under the age of 18
- sex- victims are used for commercial sex- porn, stripping, and prostitution… you get the idea.
- trafficking- one person holds or obtains another person for compelled service (2011 TIP Report)
So, to be as clear as possible, what I am saying to you is this: there are teenage American kids, mostly girls, who are being forced and manipulated by adults, mostly men, to have sex a dozen times a day… all the time.
(To read a summary of domestic sex trafficking, check out this fact sheet by the Polaris Project)
That’s pretty freaky stuff. Especially when you learn it’s not unusual. Of course, you find cases of trafficking in big cities like Los Angeles and New York. But I called a detective from my hometown- Fort Wayne, IN- who told me of cases that had occurred in Fort Wayne, too. When I told people I was headed to Western North Carolina for the summer to work with victims of human trafficking, they were confused. (North Carolina? There can’t be victims of weird crimes like that in North Carolina.) Turns out, some of the girls aren’t from too far away- there have been cases in NC. Domestic minor sex trafficking isn’t unusual because of one simple fact: the demand for commercial sex is everywhere. Where there’s a market, someone is likely to set up shop. Researchers and government officials in the field most commonly estimate there are between 100,000 and 300,000 victims of sex trafficking in the United States today. That’s a lot of kids, and they’re scattered all over the country.
So how does it happen? At first I had this picture in my head of cute teenage girls who were swept out of their beds in the middle of the night and kidnapped into a brothel where they longed for freedom and escape. There ARE some cases like that, but actually, pimps are a lot smarter than that.
Normally, what happens is they find a vulnerable young girl. (The average age of entry into prostitution is 12-13.) She’s maybe a little insecure, not the prettiest girl in her class but not the ugliest either. A lot of the time, she’s running from something: home, abusive parents, a history of sexual abuse, a missing father, a drug addicted mother, domestic abuse, an angry household- you name it. That’s when Mr. Pimp sweeps in and starts to lay on the charm. He’s an older guy- maybe in his 30s or 40s and he tells her how beautiful she is. A young girl who’s never had a daddy starts to think maybe this could be salvation- prince charming in the form of a father she never had! He’ll buy her gifts, special dinners, cute clothing, manicures and pedicures. She thinks, wow! I’ve never been treated so well in my life. He promises to take care of her. He’ll be anything she needs him to be. And she swoons.
That’s when Mr. Pimp will lay the trap. He already has her heart in his hand, so he will smoothly say, “Baby, I love you. But we need some money. If you could earn us some money, we could save up and do so many awesome things together! All I need you to do is have a ‘date’ with my friend.” She’s trapped. She thinks she loves him. She thinks she’s making a sacrifice for him (and if she doesn’t, that’s when the physical abuse starts.) After that, it’s a game of manipulation for the pimp. He sweetens her up with love, gifts, promises. When that doesn’t work, he beats her up with his body, a belt, or his words. And if all else fails, he’ll scare her with threats against her family, siblings, friends, or pets. There’s no escape.
And the odd thing is, a lot of girls don’t want escape. They’re so torn by their “love” for this man. And for once in their lives, they believe they are actually needed and useful. Many girls experience trauma bonding, where they become attached to the one who is causing most of their pain. Needless to say, pimps are incredibly good at manipulation. So what happens to the girl?
Well, she’s probably not a sweet, cute girl anymore. You can’t be raped and beaten on a daily basis and still be innocent and sweet. Domestic minor sex trafficking victims have seen the ugliest situations you could imagine. And she’s probably not honest anymore, either. She’s had to lie to herself, her pimp, her johns, her fellow prostitutes just to survive. She can’t really trust anyone, and she probably won’t trust you either. She’ll do stupid things, like run away when help is offered, because the last time she was offered help, it was by a pimp who promised salvation and gave her hell.
So why am I telling you this? Because I want you to know the truth. Guess what? Not every trafficking victim wants to be saved. Sometimes they’re ugly, mean, nasty girls with a strong attitude. But can you blame them? They still deserve your persistent love and effort on their behalf.
If you think about it, we’re really just the same. We grow up, and we’re a little broken because the world is a broken place, so we look for salvation. Maybe we find it in sports, or beauty, or money, or music. Whatever it is, we worship it wholeheartedly. And then it lets us down. We end up with an injury, never able to compete again (story of my life.) We find out that money is empty and we end up its slave. We find the “perfect” mate only to end up angry and wounded. Life’s a real letdown sometimes. And then God shows up. He says, “Hey, I love you. I’ll take care of you. I’ll never abandon you.” And we don’t really believe him, because isn’t that what the last guy said? Isn’t that what our hobbies, our friends, and activities had promised us? We kind of smile and pretend like we love him but we find ourselves running away to other things. We’re stubborn, and mean, and we don’t trust… just like ex-prostitutes. But God’s love is persistent! It is big, full, and true. We run away, and he pulls us back to himself over, and over, and over again. He rescues me from the mess I’m making every day of my life. We are just like the faithless bride in Ezekiel 16 in the Bible. God loves her, grows her up, provides for her… and yet she runs away time and time again. So he rescues her time and time again. He is rightfully angry with her unfaithfulness, but he never turns his back on his promises to her. Talk about commitment. But that is what our weak hearts need, and that is what the hearts of these girls need, too. An angry victim is still a victim in need. Again, I can tell you the only way I know how to love is because of God’s perfect love for me. I plan to spread it around and give it away (imperfectly, but as best as I can) because I needed to be rescued just as much as they do.