Human trafficking expert Nita Belles shines a light on labor and sex trafficking, sharing stories of people being caught up in and rescued from horrific situations. She provides practical ways to help trafficked victims and tools to protect your children.
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Mrs. Nita Belles: We live in an area where there are cougars, and so in the spring we have a warning how to respond to cougars, because if we don't respond that way, they will eat us. And that's the way we have to look at these predators for our children. We've got to protect our children from the predators so they're not trafficked.
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John Fuller: That's Nita Belles and she's our guest on "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: You know, John, from time to time we do a broadcast that it's important that little ones are kept occupied elsewhere, and today is going to be that exception. We are going to talk about a topic that needs to be talked about, but best to have your younger children occupied in a different area of the house or if you need to download it later, this is that warning sign. So we want to be fair in that regard. What we're going to talk about is sex trafficking, along with something that's not talked about very often, but it's indentured servitude, it's slave labor.
That's an aspect of this that is also taking the world by storm. Thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are taken into slave labor still today. You may have thought we were done with that, but it's not over; it just has a different contour today. This will be very informative, and really our goal today is to equip you to recognize the signs of those around you. It might be your kids' friends in school. You don't know how the Lord may use you, equipped with the knowledge, in order to save someone that is in your sphere of influence.
John: And as I said, our guest is Nita Belles and she's the executive director of In Our Backyard, which is a non-profit organization linking arms across the country in the fight against human trafficking. And she wrote a book by that same name, In Our Backyard, and we've got details about it at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Nita, welcome to "Focus on the Family."
Nita: Well, thank you. I'm just thrilled to be here.
Jim: Well, and it's a tough subject, so we appreciate what you do in terms of your ministry day in and day out helping save children both from slave labor, as well as human trafficking, sex trafficking, and all of the abuse that adults pour onto children. It's unbelievable. Now I heard the statistic, and I'd like to state this one or have you reinforce it. Something like 100,000 kids are taken into human trafficking every year here in the US alone. Is that accurate?
Nita: You know, it's hard to know what's accurate. Those of us who work in this movement think that's a really low number.
Jim: Really low number.
Nita: Yeah, it's—
Jim: That's stunning.
Nita: --yeah, it's hard to get those stats, because how do you get them? How do you get people to raise their hands and say, "Count me?" But yes, it's very prevalent, both the sex trafficking and labor trafficking, both children and adults.
Jim: Yeah. When you look at the definition of human trafficking, for those that aren't in this day-to-day like you and others that we've had on the program, what is the definition of human trafficking?
Nita: Human trafficking involves force, fraud, or coercion, whether it's labor trafficking or sex trafficking. It's somebody that comes along and pretends that they are going to do something nice for you. It's not the kidnapping thing that we often hear about. That happens; that's a small, small fraction of the cases; but a lot of times it's somebody that comes along. They woo them; they trick them, and the next thing you know, they don't have choices, and that can be labor or sex trafficking. The large majority of sex trafficking victims are American-born citizens. The large majority of labor trafficking victims are going to be foreign-born nationals.
Jim: That's just how it sorts out. But still, 100,000 a year in the sex trafficking area alone, you believe, is a low number.
Nita: I think so.
Jim: That really bugs me.
Jim: I'm sorry, but that, for Christian men, for Christian people, we should be on this. And I know many organizations are, and it's one of the reasons we want to talk about it today, because so often we don't talk about these things—
Jim: --'cause it's not polite, but the enemy of our soul is doing damage to these children. Speak to that alluring tactic that they use. Give us an example of how these human traffickers would lure a boy or girl in the United States into their clutches.
Nita: Okay, well, [in] the first chapter in my book I talk about a girl we call "Sarah." And Sarah came from a Christian home; her mom and dad were still married, had a great family and Sarah was a straight-A student. This girl met her in one of her classes and began to look for opportunities to woo Sarah.
Within three months of the time Sarah met Maggie at school, Maggie had introduced her to the trafficker, which Sarah didn't know that's what he was, and he came on to her about what a beautiful young girl she was, how he'd never felt the way he felt about anyone else.
Jim: So all the things a young girl would want to hear--
Jim: --thinking romantically.
Nita: "You're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," yeah. And so, Sarah fell for the young—well, he was older, he was in his 20's, she was 16—and within three months of the time he met her, she was gone missing.
Jim: My goodness. Now what people don't understand is that elaborate network that these traffickers will create. Maggie was being paid to recruit.
Nita: Maggie was what we call a "bottom." So within the group of girls that a trafficker traffics, we call that a "stable." That's what it's called in the life. It's called "the life." So, each of those girls are vying to be his favorite. The one that is the most loyal to him is the one that ends up with the title "bottom," and so she is the bottom—and there's more to that name, but obviously we're not going to say that today. So the bottom then has the second-in-control to what the trafficker does, and so she gets to recruit, which is what Maggie was doing. She gets to punish if they don't obey the—
Nita: --expectations, the rules. She gets to collect all the money. The trafficker gets 100 percent of the money, and she also has to do dates herself. And so, the bottom was at school recruiting Sarah, and within three months of the time Sarah met the bottom, she went missing. That was her job, the bottom.
Jim: Has she ever reappeared?
Nita: Oh yes, that's the good news, not that it's a good news story, but it's better than the majority of stories. About a year later there was a bust of a brothel in Las Vegas, and Sarah was recovered, and thankfully, wanted to get out, because that's not always the case. They're traumatically bonded to that captor; but Sarah wanted out, and her parents never quit looking for her. Law enforcement called her parents and said, "We've got Sarah." They came and saw her.
Jim: How old was she then?
Nita: She was 17.
Nita: Yeah, she didn't even want to see her parents because the trafficker had so convinced her that her parents didn't love her and that he was the only one that loved her.
Nita: Brainwashing, exactly.
Nita: Stockholm syndrome, yeah.
Jim: Let me ask you. Given the nature of all this, and there's a grimace on my face, what drew you to get involved in this area of human trafficking ?
Nita: When I began working on my Master's degree, I'd done a lot of work in domestic violence, and I began, it was a natural crossover to study human trafficking. And when I saw the extreme horrific nature of human trafficking, it was worse than any domestic violence case I'd ever seen, and I said, "God, I have to do something. What do You want me to do?" And the answer surprised me. I had never been one of these people who wanted to write a book, but that's what God told me to do. And so after some struggling with God, I did that and so, that's what got me involved.
Jim: So you're in.
Nita: I'm in over my head.
Jim: You're in.
John: And it's way more than a book, too, isn't it?
Nita: Yes. It was in writing the book, there was very little written in 2006, and so I began looking for people that were involved and learning from them and taking some trips.
Jim: One of the things that people don't realize is, I know talking with others who do rescue or who engage in this area, they often are threatened, because this is a big industry.
Jim: And that's something that people who engage in this on the good side have to be aware of. It's something that, you know, you have to deal with. How do you manage that emotionally that you're putting yourself and your family at risk?
Nita: Well, I do everything I can to minimize that; then we trust the Lord, because my family knows I'm called to this and they help. My husband's amazing in what he does. I sometimes feel bad that I get the credit because he does so much work.
Jim: You must see such a bifurcation of humanity, because your Christian experience, being at church with your friends, being part of a Bible study—I don't know all that your spiritual side expresses in this life—but there's that good side of having good neighbors, having good friends, spending the evening with friends.
Jim: And then this horrific side, seeing humanity, people treat each other in a way that is so contrary to the laws and principles of God, that we're all made in His image. And to see people sold in this way, for their body, for their labor, how do you manage that continuum of emotion?
Nita: You know when I first got into this, I was angry with the traffickers, whether it was a labor trafficker, which is every bit as horrific as sex trafficking, or a sex trafficker. And I was like, you know, I want to just do something. And God gave me a different view. Because God loves those traffickers every bit as much as God loves you and me.
Jim: You know I've got to say I understand that; I struggle with that.
Jim: I think a lot of us Christian men would say, "Really? We should go knock 'em in the head."
Nita: And that being said, what I have to say to some Christians who feel like, you know, how could we be mad at them? We're not mad at them, but we can never forget who is the perpetrator and who is the victim and we've got to act in that understanding. And that's the justice of God. God allows us to reap what we sow, and so those traffickers need to reap what they're sowing.
Jim: Well, I applaud you for that spiritual attitude, and I want to be there. I don't know how you feel.
John: I'm really, really bothered by it.
Jim: You know and I have two boys. If I had girls, I think my thermometer would be even higher on this. You have girls, John.
John: Yeah, there's a protective element for, you know, that God wires into most men. Unfortunately, some guys just go so sideways because the enemy gets them, but yeah, there's a justice element to this stuff that is compelling and very hard not to think of in this situation in those terms.
Jim: Absolutely. Nita, so many people that don't perhaps have a view of God, you know they're buying into science and evolution and those kinds of things, when you hear this argument that evil is a construct of human imagination; there is no real good and evil; yet you have a foot in both camps. You see true evil. How would you respond to that person who tries to rationalize evil away?
Nita: You know I don't think I would respond to them, because you know I think that what I would say is love, you know. We've got to love above all else. First Corinthians 13. We've got to love. And somebody who rationalizes evil away isn't gonna listen to me anyway and so, my job is to love them, just like—
Nita: --yeah, demonstrate that love.
Jim: Yeah. let's move toward the labor side of this, because that's really not talked about very often. Sex trafficking has this compelling emotionally—rightly—energy to it that you don't want innocent children to be violated in that way. Talk about you said for the most part foreign-born boys and girls that will be taken into servitude.
Jim: Describe that and that is happening here in the U.S.
Nita: That is happening here in the U.S. And you just said something really important, and that is that people don't want to talk about it. That is all the traffickers ask of us is that we not talk about this. That's all they ask.
Jim: Just leave us alone.
Nita: If we are just silent on this issue, they can go forward and do whatever they want. That's all they ask. So thank you, Focus on the Family, for talking about this. The children that are trafficked in labor trafficking, it is every bit as horrific. I've had especially Christians say to me, "But that's not as bad as sex trafficking." I can't look in the eye of people that I know that have been labor trafficked and say to them, "What happened to you wasn't as bad as what happened to them," because it's every bit as bad. And don't think that it's just they work too hard. There [are] horrific things that happen to those that are labor trafficked.
Jim: Well describe Quyen's story as an example. You use that in the book. What was Quyen's story, and where was she from?
Nita: Well, she was from Vietnam, and she was lured into American Samoa by a company that promised her [things]. They showed her pictures of this resort with the beautiful swimming pool and all of that. Her family scraped together $5,000 so they could send her there, and she was gonna send money back. But when she got there, that swimming pool was green with slime. And she was kept locked up and worked the clock around with very little rest. And she was spunky and so, when somebody hurt her or somebody that she cared about, she told them about it. She lost an eye. She was hit in the face with a PVC pipe and lost an eye.
Jim: By her controller.
Nita: By her controller, yeah and by the grace of God, she got out.
Jim: I mean again for those of us who aren't familiar with this world, what does that mean, "labor trafficking?" What was she doing? What was she expected to do?
Nita: So she was sewing, and she was expected to do that for 12, 14 hours a day. Her hands were horrifically, permanently damaged. She had several surgeries to try to fix her hands. And still was required to work with beatings if she didn't—
Nita: --produce, yes.
Jim: That's amazing. Did she finally escape that American Samoa?
Nita: Yes, she finally got out. Finally somebody blew the whistle and she got out and she's alive and well and has a beautiful family.
Jim: And in this case, I think she was making clothing for an American company.
Jim: How do we educate ourselves about this and what can we do?
Nita: Yeah and the reason for placing that factory in American Samoa was so that they could put the "Made in USA" label. So, a lot of us thought we could just buy "Made in USA" and it was fine, but that's not always the case. And so, what we can do is to begin to talk about it more and more. Talk to our suppliers. Get behind legislation that not only fights sex trafficking, which is incredibly important, but labor trafficking as well.
John: You'd think we'd have this behind us, but we don't, and as disturbing as this is, as Nita just referenced, we have to talk about this and shine the light on the darkness. And one thing you can do is get a copy of Nita's book, In Our Backyard, or a CD of this conversation. Share it with a friend. Start educating yourself. And the starting point for you is going to be to stop by at http://focusonthefamily.com/radio, or to call us 1-800-232-6459, and request Nita's book, In Our Backyard.
Jim: Nita, let me ask you this. What do you hope people will do when they hear this broadcast, when they perhaps pick up the book and they read it? What do you want them to do? Because it feels like a tsunami; it feels overwhelming. What can I do?
Nita: It is a tsunami.
Jim: Everyone can do something, though. The first thing I would ask you to do is tell three people about this broadcast. Tell three people what you heard. The second thing is, as you read the book, ask God what are you supposed to do? And God might surprise you like God surprised me with the answer, but everyone can do something.
The third thing I would say is everyone that is carrying a cell phone, which is almost 100 percent of us now, put the National Human Trafficking Hotline in that cell phone.If you see something or even if you have a question, call that number 24/7. It has every single language on the planet to be able to help someone.
Jim: Nita, you talked about a person named Chorito and their story. What took place with her?
Nita: So, Chorito was a wonderful young woman who had excelled as far as she could in her country as a master chef and so, what do you do when that happens? Well, the American recruiter came in and said, "How would you like to move to America, the the land of plenty, and we'll advance you from there?" And so, she agreed. And when she got there, they took her passport. They made her sign a contract with an exit fee, so she now had come here and now to get away from these people who had quote, "hired her," she had to pay a fee to get out. They moved her the next day down to the city where she was going to be working and worked her from about 9:00 in the morning until about 11 o'clock at night.
She was horrifically treated. She was berated by both of the owners. The owners were a husband and wife. She was having problems with her hands and her arms again because she was doing the repetitive motion so much. So, she went to the doctor and they gave her some help, but that meant that the traffickers made her work all the harder.
Jim: My goodness and did the labor bureau get involved, or how did that get resolved?
Nita: Finally, yeah, finally somebody called the human trafficking, the U.S. Marshal over human trafficking in Oregon, and he stepped in. And Chorito today is free and doing marvelously. She's working and she has a job, that she's so grateful for her employer.
Jim: Man, again, how could you have intervened there? I mean it sounds like that one patron could sense something was going on.
Jim: But are we supposed to go into every restaurant and start asking questions, or you know, that can be a little odd.
Nita: Yeah. Good question. So I asked her that, and she said, "Watch and if you see something that's bad, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline." So that is what we can do. We want to never intervene with a trafficking situation as regular citizens, because they are being watched 100 percent of the time.
Jim: Nita, we have used examples where things have turned out, the good side, the saving of that individual. Tiffany Mason is an example of someone where the story did not end well, and it, as you said in your book, it does rip your heart out. Tell us Tiffany's story.
Nita: Yeah, Tiffany was 13-years-old when she was given back to her mother. Her and her twin brother, William, had been taken from her, their mother, when they were young because she was using drugs, and when they were given back to their mother, she was in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco, which is horrific. My husband and I went to that same building where Tiffany was taken and given back to her mother just a couple of years ago, and there were still traffickers, pimps standing out in front of the building, talking to us as we came in.
Jim: My goodness.
Nita: So, Tiffany didn't have a chance. When she was given back to her mother, within a month she was trafficked. And her mother saw what was going on, and she moved her to another county. Unfortunately, Child Protective Services didn't understand the need for Tiffany to be relocated, and they brought her back and put her in another foster home close to, within 10 minutes, of where Tiffany's trafficker was.
Jim: And she's 13 at this time.
Nita: She's 13 and she was trafficked by that trafficker and actually another one for almost two years, and sadly, she was found dead, floating in a lake near Sacramento. I was talking to actually an ex-pimp about this very story one day, and he said, "You don't know how many of these girls are killed, and the traffickers aren't going to tell, because they're gonna be implemented [sic] as the person that did it, and the families, the children have been away from the families so long that the families don't know she's really gone."
And so, that's why we've got to talk about it; that's why I thank you for bringing me here to talk about it, because we can make a change. As Christians, we must make a change. We must care about these children.
Jim: Nita, as we're wrapping up here, I want to make sure people walk away after listening to this, knowing the signs of their own children, of their children's friends. So often that's what's happened is a wise parent who is equipped to know the signs will recognize them in their children's friends—
Jim: And that's the clue. I've heard several times where that has been the way children particularly have been saved from human trafficking.
Jim: What are those signs, and what do we need to look for?
Nita: So those signs are a different kind of behavior in your child. Like Sarah that we talked about at first, she all of a sudden wasn't interested in youth group. She wasn't interested in hanging out with the friends that she had been hanging out with. You need to check their stories. You know, we need to keep, most importantly, we need to keep today an eye on their electronics. Know that cell phone. I recommend that the cell phones go in the parents' room at night to be charged, and the parents need to have all the passwords of those devices, and check, because our children are prey to these predators.
I like to use a story. We live in an area where there are cougars and so, in the spring we have a warning how to respond to cougars, because if we don't respond that way, they will eat us. And that's the way we have to look at these predators for our children. We've got to protect our children from the predators so they're not trafficked.
Jim: Nita, you've mentioned some behavioral changes to be observant about. Some of those can be normal—
Jim: --so it's really tricky. What are some of those other things that we need to be in tune with?
Nita: Yeah, I'm gonna recommend that they go to our website and we have a whole page there for parents to look how to keep their children safe from traffickers, and that would be better than the few things I could tell you.
John: And we'll have that link at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: Nita, this has been enlightening, disturbing, frustrating, all those emotions I can feel, and I don't know why this topic particularly, but it just stirs me up because it's something that is egregious. As I said at the top of the hour, we're all made in God's image. When you have particularly adults treating children like that—I know it affects young adults, as well—but just people preying on each other and we think this is normal. I mean that is terrible.
Nita: It is terrible.
Jim: And it's not the way God intended for people to live—
Jim: --and it's not His heart for anyone, as you mentioned so well. I appreciate what you do. I appreciate the effort. I appreciate the book, In Our Backyard. I think if you want to be an engaged parent and you have almost teenagers or certainly if you have teenagers, you need to be equipped, and one of the best ways to do it is get Nita's book. We have it available here at Focus on the Family, In Our Backyard.
And if you can't afford it, don't worry about that. Just call us; we'll get this book into your hands. We'd like to do that for a gift of any amount to be able to say "thank you" when you support the work of Focus on the Family, but don't let that be the obstacle. And for those that can help support us in a way that we can afford to give those books away to those who can't afford them, we appreciate your support and gift to this ministry. Nita, thanks so much for being with us.
Nita: Oh, thank you so much, and thank you for shedding a light on human trafficking. You've shed a light in the darkness today.
Jim: Man, we need to remember to pray for your safety, and we'll do that.
John: And again, Nita Belles has been our guest today. And to follow-up, stop by http://focusonthefamily.com/radioor us. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.
Well, join us again tomorrow when Karen Ehman offers encouraging words to moms.
Mrs. Karen Ehman: But I looked at her and she was such a great mom and I looked at other people I thought were such great moms. And then when I became a mom and I wasn't so great, I thought, "What am I doing wrong? What am I doing wrong?"
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John: I'm John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, won't you, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Nita BellesView Bio
Nita Belles is an author, speaker and anti-human trafficking crusader who has worked with top law enforcement, government officials, social services and the medical and faith communities to combat human trafficking. She is a sought-after trainer and motivational speaker who's presented to law enforcement, Attorneys General, universities, civic organizations, medical communities, conferences and faith-based groups. In 2011, Nita authored the book In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States. In 2015, Baker Books released In Our Backyard: Human Trafficking in America and What We Can Do to Stop It. Learn more about Nita and her work by visiting the website for the organization of which she is the founder and executive director, www.InOurBackyard.org.