The fight to end human trafficking

By Christine McCollum
December 3, 2018

Infographic by Chrissy McCollum

Human trafficking is a well disguised terror that happens closer to home than some may believe. Since the beginning of 2018, Montgomery County has had 20 reported incidents of children being trafficked.

Human trafficking is defined as “a modern-day form of slavery. Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation and/or forced labor.” Besides drug trafficking, human trafficking is the fastest growing crime industry in the world.

Like human trafficking, sex trafficking is “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a child for the purpose of a commercial sex act, which is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person forced to perform such an act is younger than 18.”

According to the International Labour Organization, there are over 40 million human trafficking victims worldwide.

In October of 2018, Cabrini held its eighth annual Domestic Violence Symposium. The topic for this year examined trauma and trafficking. A few speakers of different expertise with various experiences held a panel discussion that shed light on the impacts human trafficking has on it’s victims and the trauma it causes.

Who are targets for human trafficking?

Traffickers most often target:

  • Teens (both boys and girls) between the ages of 12-19 and some as young as 9
  • Teens from all different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds
  • Children online who appear vulnerable, depressed, seem emotionally isolated from family and friends, have low-esteem or appear to have a lot of unsupervised time
  • Runaway and homeless youth, as well as victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, war or conflict, or social discrimination

In Pennsylvania, 74 percent of those involved in human trafficking are female, 12 percent are male and 14 percent unknown. 21 percent of victims are minors.

Statistics show that one in four girls and one in six boys experience sexual abuse before the age of 18. Even if a child under the age of 18 consents to what their trafficker is asking them to do, any sexual activity is still deemed as rape.

“There is no such thing as a child prostitute. Any child undergoing this exploitation is being traumatized,” Anh Hua, a trafficking program manager at Nationalities Service Center, said,

Traffickers do not only prey on young girls and women. There has also been many reported cases of immigrants being trapped into trafficking. According to detective Connie Marinello of the Upper Merion Police Department, undocumented migrants who have come to the United States for work are often left vulnerable to traffickers. When these immigrants come to a new country, they do not know many people and are not sure of who they can trust. Traffickers take advantage of that vulnerability and force them into sex trafficking and or labor trafficking with the threat of getting them deported.

How do traffickers lure their victims?

Most of the time, traffickers do not appear intimidating or easy to identify as dangerous. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics the people conducting the crime and recruiting victims are:

  • 97 percent male
  • 97 percent U.S. Citizens
  • 82 percent white
  • 79 percent no prior felony convictions
  • 70 percent not married
  • 56 percent had no more than a high school education
  • Median age of 39 years old

Traffickers often use the internet to attract young victims. They use grooming tactics to make their victims feel beautiful and wanted. They can also disguise themselves online and build a relationship – commonly a romantic relationship – with the victim in hopes of meeting in person.

Children in the foster system or with a difficult home life are often persuaded to gravitate towards the trafficker with promises of a better life, love, or expensive gifts. Once the trust is built, the next step is to manipulate the targeted victim into prostitution for their own profit.

Marinello explains that another way of recruiting victims is to look for the vulnerable person. The King of Prussia Mall is a known location for abducting and forcing both children and adults into trafficking.

“If a group of girls are walking together in the mall and one falls behind, that girl is more susceptible to the trafficker,” said Marinello.

What effects does trafficking have on victims?

Tens of thousands of children’s lives are forever altered after enduring this type of trauma. The mental, physical and emotional effects of being forced into a $150 billion trafficking industry will likely haunt them for life.

The learning of any student who has experienced sexual abuse can be impacted due to the trauma. After a traumatic incident occurs, the brain can be triggered at any time and not allow the student to focus on school work or other activities they typically engage in. The psychological effects can last a lifetime and the mental stress the trauma brings can negatively affect a person’s way of life if it is not addressed.

A survey taken of survivors in the United States found that 84.3 percent of survivors used substances – such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, heroin or opioids – during their exploitation.

According to Mainline Media News, 72 percent of girls in a Pennsylvania substance abuse and probation diversion programs have a history of commercial sex.

Why don’t victims get help for themselves?

Abused children and all trafficking victims rarely disclose their situation, mainly because they do not feel safe. Male victims are even less likely to self-disclose. They fear either getting in trouble with the authorities, or their trafficker finding them and punishing them for admitting their abuse.

Marinello says that she has met many cops who have a hard time distinguishing between trafficking victims and what could be criminal prostitution.

“Traffickers groom their victims to believe the police are the enemy,” Marinello said. “Police often treat victims poorly or as criminals because they do not self-disclose.”

Both children and adults who got sucked into human trafficking while in search for a better life often have no place better to go. Children seeking an escape from foster care fear getting placed back into the system and adults who have become reliant on their pimp often times cannot return to a normal life and support themselves.

Victims are typically pressured to stay with their trafficker due to a trauma bond. PsychCentral defines a trauma bond as  “loyalty to a person who is destructive… The environment necessary to create a trauma bond involves intensity, complexity, inconsistency, and a promise.  Victims stay because they are holding on to some elusive ‘promise’ or hope.  There is always manipulation involved.”

To break this bond, victims must want to be helped. Outsiders cannot successfully force victims to get help, they should instead work on building a safe relationship with them until they are ready to receive help.

What help is available for survivors?

More help is needed to support the victims seeking a way out of trafficking.

“Trainings are needed for teachers and medical workers to notice signs, raise self-esteem in children, learn how to react if a victim self-discloses to them and educate kids to avoid possible trafficking situations,” Abbie Newman, a registered nurse, lawyer and current CEO of Mission Kids Child Advocacy Center, said.

The first line of defense is educating nurses and people in emergency responding departments to recognize signs of trauma. Victims also need a safe environment in hospitals and police stations to prevent further trauma and separate them from the trafficker.

“There needs to be a shift in mindset; victims are not to blame, they need to be empowered,” Newman said. “Every situation is unique and needs to be treated as such.”

Survivors of human trafficking, sexual abuse, or any other traumatic event can seek help from the Domestic Violence Center of Chester County. The DVCCC offers adult counseling services, emergency shelter housing, child care, counseling services and legal representation services for those in need. Students can also receive help from Cabrini’s counseling and psychological services found on campus in Grace Hall.

To report a tip or get help, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. In the event of an emergency, call 911 immediately.

Christine McCollum

News Editor for the Loquitur. Cabrini University Class of 2019.

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