When we think of sex trafficking, we may think it is a problem other countries have and not something that is happening in the United States of America. The “land of the free” could not be witness to incidences of forced sex labor. We are an example of progress and modernity. Slavery is something of the past, and if it does exist, it must exist only in third world countries, right? The truth is that it does occur in America and creating awareness is crucial.
In 2015, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center recorded 979 human trafficking cases in California and of these, 781 were sex trafficking cases. For the most part, people believe that human trafficking and sex trafficking are two terms that are interchangeable. However, sex trafficking is just one form of human trafficking. Labor trafficking is another type of human trafficking that was also included in the 2015 NHTRC’s study. The majority of human trafficking cases involve women, US citizens, and lawful permanent residents. The last study reported that between January 1st and March 31st of 2016, there have been 305 human trafficking cases in California, and of these, 240 sex trafficking cases.
To learn that under aged kids are being trafficked here, in California, makes me think about the times I might have unknowingly passed someone who was an exploiter or a child abuser. I think about the times I walked as a teenager around my neighborhood and that one time an older boy called me over just to tell me I was pretty. I didn’t hesitate to cross that street and talk to this stranger. I think about how vulnerable I made myself in that situation. Thankfully, he did not want anything other than to tell me I was pretty, but he could have been one of these people, or he could have been someone who works for these people. Anything could have happened.
Often, girls search for flattering words or a form of love that will uplift their self-esteem. Perhaps, that was one of the reasons I crossed that street. So many girls fall into the hands of these predators. In my case, I was searching for acceptance amongst my peers. In other instances, the lack of attention at home sometimes compels young girls to talk to traffickers who are disguised as kind gentlemen. The reality is that they are animals that can smell their weaknesses.
Sometimes, it is a stranger coming into the child’s circle but in other situations the exploiter already exists within the child’s environment. I learned this by attending Nola Brantley’s Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) basic awareness training session. Nola introduced the story of a girl from California who was sexually exploited by her parents from the age of 10 through college. Although some children might have exhibited rebellious behavior at school, Minh Dang remained a straight A student. One would not know from interacting with her at school that her mother advertised her as if she was a product and her father sexually abused her. The two people who she was supposed to trust were the monsters of her childhood nightmares. As a young adult, she finally broke free from her parents and is now an activist against child sex slavery. Minh received her Masters in Social Welfare in 2013 from UC Berkeley and is now an independent consultant, trainer, and speaker on issues of human trafficking, leadership development, and social justice. Her story is inspiring to me because I admire and respect those who are able to escape the people who have controlled you for so long.
I feel powerless when I think of all the stories out there that remain untold. On the other hand, I feel hope when I think of the people working towards finding and helping to restore these survivors. Thankfully, there are organizations like Two Wings that help survivors realize that there are good people in the world that are striving to fight for them.
If you or someone you know has an interest in helping and being a part of a survivor’s story, then please contact Two Wings at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on becoming a volunteer or a mentor.
Contributing Writer, Two Wings