Focus on the Family

Stephanie’s Story: The Lure of Sex Trafficking

by Dawn McBane

Caution:  Mature content.  Not appropriate for children.

Stephanie's mom worked and went to school full-time. Her stepfather was deployed to Iraq. "So, there really was no one at home," she recounts.

Her life took a dangerous turn after she met a "nice, cute guy" at a party. Stephanie was 12 at the time.

"He was older, which was exciting," she said. "That was cool. We talked throughout the whole party."

And then she kept seeing him everywhere — even at the Starbucks up the street from her house.

"I thought, maybe this is like fate — a little knight in shining armor," Stephanie said. "Each time he came up to talk to me, I pretended I didn't know him. I was a straight-A student, went to youth retreats, church and everything — I didn't want people to know I actually went to a party with alcohol and stuff like that."

Eventually, they did start talking. And then they began dating. He took her out shopping and to really nice restaurants.

One day after they began dating he said, "I owe him."

"I started dancing in strip clubs for him and skipping school. I'd take the bus to school and as soon as I got off I'd leave to go meet him down the street. One night it escalated to more than just the strip club. He threw me outside in the freezing cold and said I have to come back with a certain amount of money or I could just freeze. It went on for a long time. I ended up addicted to different drugs and drinking alcohol almost every day. Finally one day the police picked me up and took me home."

But that was just the beginning of what would become Stephanie's quest for her life: Her journey out of sex-trafficking.

To learn more about Stephanie’s story, look for the documentary, Chosen, under "How to Get Involved."


Stephanie's story originally appeared in the CitizenLink Daily Email update on March 28, 2014.


Sex Trafficking: The Facts

by Dawn McBane

Caution:  Mature content.  Not appropriate for children.

Sexual exploitation harms millions of women and children around the world each year. International sex trafficking occurs across national borders, requiring global cooperation to investigate, prosecute and convict sex traffickers and rescue traffic victims. The international nature of sex trafficking makes it extremely difficult to know how many people are actually being trafficked.

While the dark world of international sex trafficking is becoming more well known, many people remain unaware that sex trafficking isn't just an international problem.  It happens in your neighborhoods, communities, at local truck stops – often masquerading as prostitution. 

Domestic minor sex trafficking – the commercial sexual exploitation of children of under the age of 18 in the United States – is a growing problem. In order to be equipped to help fight the crime of domestic minor sex trafficking, we need to understand what it is. 

The federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the federal law that deals with human trafficking for minors and adults, defines the crime of human trafficking as: [1]

In order to separate trafficking from sexual assault, molestation or rape, the commercial aspect must be taken into consideration. The term "commercial sex act" is defined by the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act as the giving or receiving of anything of value (money, drugs, shelter, food, clothes, etc.) to any person in exchange for a sex act.[2]

The age of the victim is a critical issue when it comes to identifying and prosecuting minor sex trafficking. In this case, there is no requirement to prove force, fraud or coercion was used to secure the victim's actions. The law recognizes the effect of psychological manipulation by the trafficker, as well as the effect of threat of harm which traffickers/pimps use to maintain control over their young victims.[3] 

Sex Trafficking: A Christian Perspective

by Dawn McBane

The selling and trading of human life for the purpose of sex, labor or any other purpose is an attack on human dignity. The reality is sex trafficking turns people, often very young girls, into mere commodities — sexual objects to be bought, sold, used and discarded. No human being should be treated this way.

At its core, sex trafficking is an issue of the sanctity of human life.

As Christians, we believe in the sanctity of all human life — from fertilization to natural death. Sex trafficking degrades and often destroys human lives that are made in the image of God. Thankfully, there are many people working to stop the horrors of sex trafficking.

And, equally as important, we must understand human trafficking is directly fueled by and connected to the growth and acceptance of other forms of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography and strip clubs.

The sad reality is sex trafficking wouldn't exist if there was no demand. Prostitution, which often involves human trafficking, is fueled by the proliferation of pornography. Read more about the seamless connection between pornography, prostitution and sex trafficking here

If this issue sparks your desire to help those who fall prey to human trafficking, one of the first steps is to learn how to spot vulnerable girls who could be easily lured into sex trafficking.

How to Identify Sex-Trafficking Victims

by Dawn McBane

Too often, sex traffickers are able to keep their victims in the web of exploitation because sex trafficking can be hard to identify.

It's important to understand there are patterns and signs that can help identify the perpetrators and help the victims receive help. Victims of sex trafficking are often vulnerable because of homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental or physical disability or lack of legal immigration status.[1]  These are all contributing factors when identifying those who may be most vulnerable to domestic sex trafficking.

It's easy to think human trafficking is limited to certain segments of society; however, it's vital to remember that vulnerability to being trafficked knows no boundaries. Traffickers often prey on people who hope for a better life, lack employment opportunities, have an unstable home life or have a history of sexual abuse. These are characteristics that are present across age, socio-economic status, nationality and level of education.[2]

Age is one of the most significant factors in a child being vulnerable to sex trafficking.  Pre-teen or adolescent girls are more susceptible to the calculated advances, deception and manipulation tactics used by traffickers and pimps; however, no youth is exempt from falling prey to these tactics. Traffickers target locations youth frequent, such as schools, malls, parks, bus stops, shelters and group homes.[3]

Traffickers also prey on runaways and at-risk youth. Within 48 hours of running away from home, a young person is likely to be bought or sold for prostitution or some kind of commercial sexual exploitation. Pimps and sex traffickers are skilled at manipulating child victims and maintaining control through a combination of deception, lies, feigned affection, threats and violence.[4] 

If you — or perhaps your school-age child — are concerned about someone you know, consider these warning signs (compliments of Shared Hope International) that an individual is being trafficked:

If you see any of these signs or suspect a young person is being trafficked, please don't waituse these phone numbers to report a tip or connect with anti-trafficking services in your area. 

If you'd like to read more about recognizing the signs of sex trafficking, check out this resource from The Polaris Project.  

How You Can Get Involved in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking

by Dawn McBane

Does the idea of people being bought-and-sold through human trafficking make you want to step up and do something to fight this injustice? Here are some practical ways you can combat human trafficking: 


The 'Seamless Fabric'

Commercial sexual exploitation poses a growing threat to America’s youth—and pornography leads the way.

by Stephen Adams

It all came down to a floral-print bedspread in Room 21 at the local motel. It was missing—and so was Emily Sander, 18, of El Dorado, Kan. Find the bedspread, police figured, and they'd probably find Emily, who disappeared Nov. 23, 2007, a Friday.

Room 21 at the El Dorado Motel was a mess. An employee said it looked like there'd been some sort of "altercation" there. Police found a large quantity of blood on the bed and carpet.

Meanwhile, Israel Mireles failed to show up for work on Saturday at a nearby Italian restaurant where he was a waiter. Mireles, a 24-year-old resident alien from Mexico, had been staying in Room 21 at the El Dorado Motel.

"Foul play" became the operative theory. "All we're saying is we're looking for that bedspread, and it's something we'd like to find," police Capt. Justin Phillips told reporters.

Emily had been last seen wearing low-rider jeans and a "Don't Mess With Texas" T-shirt—leaving a bar around midnight that Friday with a man matching Mireles' description. Her car was still parked at The Retreat bar. Yellow police tape went up around Room 21, now officially a crime scene.

Over the next few days, a massive nationwide search began, with local rescuers employing dogs, planes, divers and underwater equipment to search for Emily's body. Police released a photo of the floral bedspread to help in the search. On Tuesday, Mireles' rental car was discovered in Vernon, Texas, about 350 miles south of El Dorado.

It looked like Mireles might be making a run for the border—along with his 16-year-old pregnant girlfriend. That was not to be the last shocker.

It was also reported that Emily Sander, community college student by day, was something else again by night—an aspiring Internet porn star under the name "Zoey Zane." News accounts said she'd just told her family a few days before about her secret life and a contract she signed with an Internet porn enterprise.

The Emily Sander case, an unsolved murder mystery with sensational elements of sex and violence, catapulted into a national news story. Finally, on Thursday, Nov. 29, the suspense came to an end.

The bedspread had been found.

Ugly Truths

To some, the commercial sex industry is just like that bedspread — not a quilt fabricated of separate pieces, but a whole cloth, seamlessly interwoven.

In the view of some longtime anti-porn activists, prostitution, pornography, stripping and all other forms of commercial sexual exploitation are just the warp and woof of this same fabric. And that's why, they say, it's dangerous not to take pornography seriously, to dismiss it as merely an unpleasant free-speech issue.

In the business of commercial sex, pornography serves as the marketing vehicle. Or, as Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Patrick Trueman, a former porn prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, testified before a congressional subcommittee several years ago, "Pornography is a powerful factor in creating the demand for illicit sex."

Some ugly truths: Experts say pornography consumers develop sexual addictions and predilections for kinky types of sex depicted in explicit material. Men then demand this from their wives—or find other, more willing sexual partners. Some young prostituted women learn how to "perform" by mimicking what they are shown in pornography. Many sexual predators use pornography to show children what they want them to do. Virtually all collectors of child pornography, some experts say, are also molesters of children.

Something else the porn industry doesn't advertise is the tremendous overlap among porn stars, strippers and prostitutes. It's not unusual for the same women to engage in all three. Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, views it as a continuum.

"If you look at the progression of women who begin in the pornography industry, maybe they'll start out in the strip clubs or something like that, and they stay there for a while," Duke told Focus on the Family. "But as they move further along in this sexual exploitation timeline, as they become older and of less interest, they end up moving into some of the other more degrading forms of sexual exploitation."

Drug and alcohol addiction eventually becomes a vicious circle for most, he said. It takes drugs and alcohol to numb their conscience, and then it takes more sexual exploitation to support those addictions.

This is not just the view of the religious right. Increasingly, feminists are coming around to this perspective, too.

Dr. Donna M. Hughes, professor of women's studies at the University of Rhode Island, estimates from her research that at least a third of women in prostitution have been involved in the making of pornography and that patrons of prostitution are twice as likely to be porn users.

"That can be everything from sort of amateur stuff, where a john brings his camera and wants to take pictures, to some of the women who may be stars for a few months in the pornography industry," Hughes told Focus on the Family. "And where do they go after they've had their few months of stardom with a couple of movies? They usually go into stripping, which usually then just turns into prostitution."

It was Hughes who suggested the "seamless fabric" language.

"The categories we have for things like pornography, stripping, prostitution—we tend to think of them as really separate categories," she said. "But if you're actually in the sex industry, they're quite seamless. There are so many variations that I think our old categories are rather obsolete."

Feminist researcher Dr. Melissa Farley agrees. "The more distinctions we make about what johns and pimps do, the more we're letting them win," she told Focus on the Family. "Just because there's a camera in the room doesn't mean it's not prostitution."

In her 2007 book Prostitution & Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections, Farley quoted Roger Young, a retired Nevada FBI agent who participated in major pornography investigations: "What happened to common sense? The fact that there is a camera filming the prostitution doesn't change the fact of the prostitution. Pornography is essentially a crime scene surveillance tape. You can't say to someone, hey, let's go rob a bank, but if we film it, then it won't be robbery."

"Pornography is men's rehearsal for prostitution," Farley told Focus on the Family.

Pat Trueman, who has dealt with numerous sexual predators and addicts, confirms this view from his own experience. "They'll all tell you, they got into pornography, and that led them to the strip club," he said. "And that led them to the prostitute. … They get into pornography, they get into sex, they get into using trafficked women."

The other ugly truth: While estimates vary, experts told Focus on the Family that the average age of entry into prostitution has fallen to 12 to 14 years. The seamless fabric of the commercial sex industry represents a huge and growing threat to America's youth.

A ‘Cruel World'

El Dorado, Kan., is a town of 12,000 people about 30 miles east-northeast of Wichita. El Dorado (locals pronounce it "el doh-raydoh") has been home to notables including cartoonist Mort Walker, presidential biographer William Allen White and serial killer Dennis Rader, aka the BTK strangler.

And Emily Sander—"nude model and nationally reported murder victim."

Searchers spotted the floral-print bedspread in a ditch off U.S. 54, about 50 miles east of El Dorado. Lying nearby, over a steep embankment, was the body of a young woman matching Emily's description.

Emily Sander's identity was confirmed by a forensic orthodontist. An autopsy was performed and the results sealed, along with the police report and all other facts of the investigation. A warrant was issued for Israel Mireles on charges of capital murder, rape and aggravated criminal sodomy.

El Dorado Police Chief Tom Boren disavowed any connection between Emily's death and her alter ego, would-be porn star Zoey Zane. In fact, he said, false leads connected to that Web site were seriously hampering the investigation.

Nevertheless, FBI agents and Internet crime experts were called in to assist in the investigation. A local reporter who worked the story told Focus on the Family it was inconceivable that Emily's general lifestyle didn't have something to do with her murder.

Shocked classmates organized a candlelight vigil in Emily's memory at the community college while the family made funeral arrangements. Friends eulogized Emily Sander as fun to be around, ambitious—a girl who wanted to be in movies. One said she did porn because she needed the money for school.

Clement Sander, her paternal grandfather, described brown-haired, blue-eyed Emily to Focus on the Family as a "cute little girl" who played volleyball in high school in Texas and did so well in school that she graduated a semester early. She had recently acquired some tattoos and piercings.

At the candlelight vigil, Sander offered some advice: "All I can say to you young folks out there is to be careful.It is a cruel world."

Intense news coverage of the Emily Sander case set off a debate about sensationalism and tabloid journalism. Some objected to calling an 18-year-old girl who'd been in the business just a few months a "porn star." Others accused the news media of lurid exploitation, saying they had no business exposing Emily's dirty laundry.

One report suggested big bucks were involved, claiming that Emily's Web site had enlisted 30,000 subscribers paying $39.95 a month to view sexually explicit Zoey Zane material. Even a small share of that haul—nearly $1.2 million a month—would still be tens of thousands of dollars, huge money for a teenager.

Others contended that those dollars actually were shared by a number of girls who were part of the same porn enterprise, all capitalizing on the same thing—a growing interest in younger women, and the younger the better.

Growth Market

Experts told Focus on the Family that higher-end dollar figures were not outside the realm of possibility for a girl like Emily, citing the hundreds of thousands of dollars involved in the notorious Justin Berry case.

Justin was a California teen who made headlines in 2005 and 2006 with revelations in The New York Times about subscription-based porn Web sites in which he performed from the age of 13. He was molested by more than one of his subscribers and was called to testify before a congressional subcommittee about the problems of teens in porn.

Cases like Emily's and Justin's highlight a new avenue for teen exhibitionism and exploitation—the Internet. John Shehan, director of Exploited Children Services at the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, said it's a big problem and growing.

"As more and more teens realize how they can exploit technology, we are going to see more cases like this [Emily Sander] and cases like Justin Berry," Shehan said. "I think we'll see more and more of a transition from the real world—underage teens using fake IDs or whatever for exotic dancing/stripping—to the online arena. I think in a teen's mindset, it's much more attractive to go online. They can make far more money online and reach more customers via the Internet pay-per-view site than working at a local dive, dancing at an exotic bar/strip club."

Earlier this year the anti-trafficking organization Shared Hope International issued a report saying: "American children are victims of the sex trade, and they are being trafficked within the United States."

The numbers are disturbing. Estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000 minors sexually trafficked in the United States each year. Many are runaways or "throwaways"—kids neglected or abandoned by their families—who trade sex for survival.

The problem is particularly acute in "hub" cities for sexual trafficking, such as Atlanta and Las Vegas. Since 1994, Shared Hope has documented nearly 1,500 sexually trafficked minors in Las Vegas coming from 40 states—as many as 400 on the streets at one time.

Former Congresswoman Linda Smith founded Shared Hope International 10 years ago to expose the growing problem of domestic minor sex trafficking. Smith told Focus on the Family pornography is a prime gateway for children to become exploited.

"When they start, they think they're in control," she said. "But once they get into the porn industry, that girl is going to be in trouble. She will become a forced prostitute in most cases if she continues. Now, it could be one act that somebody convinces her to do, and she wishes she hadn't. But once that's out there, she's victimized over and over again by people seeing her moment of vulnerability—or maybe stupidity."

The U.S. State Department estimates that of the 600,000 to 800,000 persons sexually trafficked across international borders each year, 70 percent are forced into "sexual servitude"—and half of them are minors.

Curb the Demand

Daniel Weiss, media and sexuality analyst for Focus on the Family Action, laid major blame on the tolerance of porn, which in turn fuels demand for illicit sex.

"There is no difference between porn, prostitution and sex trafficking," Weiss said. "Together they form a seamless fabric of exploitation and abuse. If we ignore the threat of pornography, as is happening today with law enforcement agencies throughout the nation, we allow the sexual exploitation of women and children in the criminal sex industry to flourish."

Lisa Thompson of the Salvation Army agrees: "I think we need to completely retool how we're conceptualizing pornography," she told Focus on the Family. "Pornography is prostitution for mass consumption."

When the Salvation Army was founded by William and Catherine Booth in the 19th century, a major part of its original ministry to the downtrodden of London was rescuing "fallen women" from prostitution. That's still part of its mission.

Thompson, the Salvation Army's liaison for Abolition of Sexual Trafficking, challenges people not to discount the plight of adult women. Considering the falling age of entry into prostitution, she said, that 22-year-old street prostitute may have been victimized nearly half her life. "She's grown up in prostitution," Thompson said.

The Salvation Army works with communities and law enforcement agencies to provide support services for "survivors" of prostitution. But Thompson said "the church has really got to step up” and start dealing with this issue in a big way—prevention programs for children, more sex-addiction treatment programs for adults.

She noted that one of the biggest sex-trafficking cases in recent years involved girls and women being trafficked out of Toledo, Ohio, along truck routes across America. Two of the girls—cousins, 14 and 15—were abducted right off the street in Toledo and forced to become truck-stop prostitutes.

"If Toledo, Ohio, is a hotbed for recruitment of prostitution, it's time for the heartland of America to wake up," Thompson said. "I mean, we're not talking about Vegas or New York City or Atlantic City— places that we associate with vice. We're talking about good old apple-pie middle America."

Thompson and others are convinced that just arresting women doesn't work, and results in victimizing them all over again. They want to see more resources aimed at helping the girls, and more pressure on the demand side of the sex trade—the buyers and users.

"It is a severe injustice when American girls are held in physical and mental slavery and then punished for the crime that is committed against them," said Shared Hope's Linda Smith.

Going to War

Barrett Duke longs for a righteous revival that halts the moral free-fall in America and sends pimps and pornographers "back into the shadows."

"We've got to find a way," he said. "The good people in this country are going to have to say ‘we've had enough.' The good people of this country have got to start fighting back.”

That fight, Duke said, should begin with pornography. "In a lot of ways, pornography is the gateway to most of the sexual deviancy that we're seeing in this country."

And the church should lead the fight. "It's time for pastors to start calling sin ‘sin,' start calling pornography ‘sin' and start developing programs in churches that can help men— and women— caught up more and more in pornography," Duke said, "and begin to provide help groups, counseling and other kinds of services to help make people aware of sexual addiction and help them come out of sexual addiction."

But it may get darker before the dawn.

Dr. Gail Dines, a professor of sociology and women's studies at Wheelock College in Boston, has written and spoken on what she calls "pseudo" child pornography, the "barely legal" type of porn that appeals to fantasies about sex with children. She points to studies confirming the sinister nature of this growing market for teen porn as a gateway to child porn and pedophilia. "For some of these men [in one study], the teen sites were just a stepping stone to the real thing, as they moved seamlessly from adult women to children," Dines said.

"We've got a whole generation of men now who are aroused by [images] that look like children," Dines said. "We've never before brought up an entire generation of boys on pornography. The average age of downloading their first pornography is about 11-years old.”

Ernie Allen, president of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, cited a study showing 42 percent of 10- to 17-yearolds are exposed to unwanted online pornography in the course of a year. "I mean, that's millions of kids," said Allen.

To Linda Smith, the battle has become very personal. Besides her relationships with a number of girls Shared Hope has helped to rescue, she's also concerned for young boys she says are being lured by the sex industry. She said Shared Hope has confirmed reports by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children that some Internet pornographers are using misleading domain names, spam, pop-ups, tracking and other high-tech tricks directed at boys 8- to 12-years old.

"We found over 5,000 sites with key words and phrases that are associated with selling to kids, and in those it's very clear they're marketing the images to boys," she said. "I just cried, ‘That's the age of my grandsons. They're after my grandsons.' They all play sports, and they all go online, and they all play these games, and they're typing them and sending them porn."

Smith likens the fight against sexual exploitation to the long battle over smoking in public. It took time to change public perception, but ultimately the tide of opinion changed.

"We're intending to go to war against the victimization of our children," Smith said.

Take Action

For additional information and to get involved, contact:

Pure Intimacy
Focus on the Family's online resource for
anyone struggling with pornography, intimacy,
addictions or homosexuality.

Shared Hope International
P.O. Box 65337, Vancouver, WA 98665
(866) HER-LIFE (437-5433)

Initiative Against Sexual Trafficking
Lisa Thompson, IAST Coordinator
c/o The Salvation Army National Headquarters
P.O. Box 269, Alexandria, VA 22313
(703) 519-5896 


This article was written by Stephen Adams and originally appeared in A Grassroots Guide to Protecting Your Community from Pornography , published in August 2008.

A Grassroots Guide to Protecting Your Community from Pornography

by Carrie Gordon Earll

It can be tempting for those who spend a considerable time immersed in public policy issues to think all threats to the family are already known. After all, there's nothing new under the sun, right?

Yet, sometimes a new concept or connection breaks through the "thought-we-knew-this" mentality, revealing a previously unrecognized component of the threat, which in turn elevates the debate to a new level. It happened in the mid-1990s with the discovery of partial-birth abortion, invigorating a fresh wave of opposition to abortion. And, I believe the article you're about to read — "The Seamless Fabric" — will reshape your view of pornography in much the same way.

Pornography is the catalyst for abusive sexual appetites that are never satisfied, never contained and never put to rest. It preys on the weak and vulnerable in an unrelenting hunt to capture your spouse, your children and your grandchildren.

And mine. And it makes me angry.

The connections laid out in "The Seamless Fabric" provide a compelling and motivating look at pornography that you've likely not seen before.

You owe it to yourself, your family and your community to read this special report's flagship article.

Following "The Seamless Fabric" is an article that highlights the familial and societal harm caused by pornography and the net result of the "humans-as-commodities" message as seen in the global scourge of human trafficking.

Also included are a number of practical guides containing action steps that, if followed, will lead to the retaking of a considerable swath of cultural ground we have lost.

These articles explain how to fight pornography where we typically find it: in hotels, in our communities and in our supermarkets.

Even though the threat of pornography can seem overwhelming, Daniel Weiss reminds us in his back-page commentary that we can take a cue from the adopt-a-highway program and work at cleaning up our cultural landscape one stretch at a time.

Download the entire PDF guide.

Grassroots Guide - Cover

'Stopping Traffic'

This article originally appeared in the March 2012 issue of Citizen magazine.

by Matt Kaufman


Feel free to share this FREE article—compliments of Focus on the Family Citizen magazine!



The movement to shut down the sex-slave trade may have just turned a corner.

Even in a country torn over moral issues, there are still some areas where virtually everybody agrees. One of those areas is the practice of human trafficking — modern-day slavery, often for sexual purposes, and often focused on children. As Citizen reported in its April 2011 cover story:

"The U.S. Department of State estimates 600,000 to 800,000 victims are trafficked internationally every year for purposes of entering the sex trade (stripping, prostitution, pornography and live-sex shows) and labor exploitation (sweatshops and domestic servitude). The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports. ‘After drug dealing, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world today.' "

Virtually everyone who hears about trafficking, whatever their positions on other issues, is appalled. So given the widespread public consensus, you'd think that our laws to fight it would be pretty strong. Right?

Wrong, according to the anti-trafficking group Shared Hope International.

"The big issue isn't federal law," Shared Hope President Linda Smith told Citizen. "The big issue is with the states. They do 90 percent of the law enforcement in the country."

In December, Shared Hope released The Protected Innocence Challenge, an in-depth, 207-page report card on the laws in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Most of them didn't make the grade, it found. A total of 41 states got either an F (26) or a D (15). None got an A; only four — Texas, Missouri, Illinois and Washington — got a B.

The report, prepared in tandem with the American Center for Law and Justice, is making a splash in law-enforcement and policy-making circles. That's partly because of the heavyweights involved in its preparation: It was vetted by experts including Ambassador Mark Lagon — former head of the State Department's Office to Monitor Trafficking Among Persons — and directors from the National District Attorneys Association and the American Bar Association, among other groups. It's also because of the name Shared Hope has made for itself in the field, through its previous work doing research and assessments for the U.S. Justice Department's human-trafficking task forces.

"The reception we're getting from state policymakers has been amazing," Smith said. "The reaction hasn't been defensive at all. It's been ‘If that's our grade, we need to make it better.'

"When you have a grade and something to work from, it's a basis for activism. There's no more people saying ‘What is trafficking?' or ‘What can we do?' We're showing them what to do, and they want to get to work."

‘I Must Do Something'

Smith is on familiar ground in assessing laws: She spent years making them, first as a member of the Washington state Legislature, then (from 1995-99) in the U.S. House of Representatives. There, she gained a reputation as one of the chamber's strongest pro-life advocates.

In 1998, Smith traveled to India, at the urging of a missionary with Mumbai Teen Challenge who wanted her to see firsthand the horrors of the sex-crimes industry. "He spoke of girls kept in cages, women living literally as slaves," she said.

She made the trip and saw for herself. It changed her life. "It was so repulsive," she recalled. "I couldn't sleep that night."

After a period of what she called "wrestling with God," Smith was gripped by the conviction that she not only had to do something about what she'd seen — she had to make it her life's work.

"I can't just hear about a problem. I must do something about it. And I couldn't witness the horror I saw without doing whatever I could to help."

What she did was to found Shared Hope International to fight trafficking at home and abroad. Shared Hope helps to rescue and restore girls, finding them shelter and the kind of long-term care they need. It strives to prevent exploitation from starting with community awareness and prevention training programs.

And, on the law and public-policy front, it works to bring justice — both to the victims of trafficking and to those who have victimized them. This means changing laws to recognize the nature of the problem, and to deal with new realities.

"When many of the old laws were written, no one was thinking about children [being forced into the sex trade]," Smith noted. "There wasn't the online market that there is now. There's just so much that's changed."

Hit the Victimizers, Help the Victims

Many states haven't kept up with the times, Shared Hope reports. For example:

Existing laws often are not only inadequate, but also misdirected. The victims of adult exploitation, if they're of age of sexual consent, may be treated as though they've consented to perform various acts. Smith finds that outrageous. "No one under 18 can give consent to their own victimization," she stated. "Kids are kids."

The victimizers, meanwhile, often get a slap on the wrist, being prosecuted under relatively mild "vice" laws, instead of rape or sexual-abuse statutes.

"The men who demand and purchase sex acts with minors often remain nameless and faceless, and are frequently referred to by the innocuous term ‘johns' or not arrested at all," The Protected Innocence Challenge reported.

"Many state sex-trafficking laws fail to include the criminal actions of buyers, leaving out a critical element of the crime of sex trafficking and ignoring the  importance of criminal deterrence necessary to combat child sex trafficking."

What Shared Hope wants, in a nutshell, is a reversal: Hit the victimizers, help the victims.

In detailed proposals spelled out in the Challenge, they propose substantial criminal penalties for the "demand" side of sex trafficking — the buyers — as well as for the traffickers directly involved with the youth, and for the facilitators who make a profit at a distance, such as the owners of sexually oriented businesses and media outlets, including websites.

The underage victims, on the other hand, should not be treated as offenders or delinquents. "These children must expressly be defined as victims under state law to ensure them access to crime victims' compensation, court protections and various programs designed to respond to victims of sexual crimes," the Challenge stated.

They need help in specialized shelters, not juvenile-detention centers, and long-term services that will help them recover from trauma, build trust and break away from the dependent relationships that traffickers have created.

This area is one where reforms are especially needed, Shared Hope maintains. "Only four states have a full package of non-punitive child protective responses, including shelter and services," according to the Challenge: "Illinois, Minnesota, New York [and] Washington."

Getting It Right

But there are signs that the ideas Shared Hope advocates are gaining traction.

This past year, for example, Missouri passed a major overhaul of its laws that elevated it to one of the four states that now gets an overall B grade, second only to Texas.

"Missouri trafficking law had a lot of gaps in it," said Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council. "The biggest is that it was written entirely around prostitution," and not the broader sex industry, such as strip clubs, massage parlors, pornographic movies and websites.

Ortwerth's group, associated with Focus on the Family, developed legislation to fill those legal gaps.

"We wanted to make sure the definition of trafficking was written very broadly to include these areas," he told Citizen.

"We also wanted to cover not just physical coercion, but psychological coercion — [such as] blackmail, threats, fraud. That's how this business often works in practice.

"And we wanted to prosecute not only those who were directly involved in the coercion, but those who were financially benefiting — guys sitting in offices, not getting their hands dirty, but deeply involved." Among other penalties, that includes hefty fines — up to $50,000 for each violation — "in order to financially cripple these guys."

Ortwerth worked in partnership with the Missouri Catholic Conference to get the revisions passed. And, like Smith, he found legislators and policymakers eager to cooperate.

"This bill ended up breezing right through, unanimously," he said. "And for a pro-family group like ours, a unanimous passage is a rare accomplishment."

There's a personal satisfaction in this for Ortwerth. "This issue has continued to grieve my heart for many years," he said. "As pro-lifers, we value the sanctity and dignity of every human life. Trafficking is a pro-life issue in every way. And I don't know of an issue in this country that's more important."

Citizens Alert

Law-enforcement officials working in this area welcome the drive to improve trafficking laws.

"Any time there are more tools available to prosecute traffickers, that helps take a stronger approach to the problem," U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips, head of the Justice Department office for the Western District of Missouri, told Citizen.

Phillips, too, has a special interest in this issue. She's spent years combating sexual abuse and child exploitation, and the office she currently heads has prosecuted more human-trafficking defendants than any other federal district in the country.

Phillips' district has set up a task force on human trafficking, with a wide range of participants, both in the public and private sphere. They include not only law enforcement at the federal, state and local levels, but nonprofit and non-governmental organizations.

"These groups are crucial because when we identify victims, they need services — housing, clothing, all the resources victims need to get by and to feel safe," she said.

In fact, Phillips is increasingly impressed to see the growing role ordinary citizens are playing, as their awareness of the trafficking problem grows. "When we started, the majority of our leads came from law enforcement," she said. "Now we actually get more leads from the public than we do from law enforcement."

It's a trend she wants to see continue. Her message to the public: Be alert. "If something doesn't seem right — if you see a young girl at a truck stop or a hotel, and something seems ‘off' about the situation — act on it. Traffickers prey on the most vulnerable people in our society. And we have to hold them accountable."

Linda Smith, likewise, is impressed by the gains in public awareness of human trafficking.

"Even two years ago, Americans were just waking up. People didn't get the issue. Since then, we've trained 12,000-14,000 first responders to deal with this issue, most of them in law enforcement."

And the progress she's seeing — from the law-enforcement end to the awakening of the public to individual stories of girls rescued and restored by Shared Hope and many other like-minded groups — leaves Smith feeling positive about her work.

"We have hope. You can join in making a difference. All you have to do is show up."    

Matt Kaufman is a contributing editor to Citizen.


To learn more about Shared Hope International and how you can support their work, go to To see a detailed report on your state's laws, click "What We Do," then "Bring Justice," "Policy Recommendations" and "Protected Innocence Initiative."


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