How can I get involved with the effort to protect and rescue the innocent victims of sexual exploitation? Recently I read an article about "human trafficking" and "sexual slavery" right here in our own community! I knew that things like this were happening in third world countries but had no idea that they were also going on here at home. Can you give me any further information about this?
Unfortunately, the article you read has a very real basis in fact. It's true that human trafficking, sexual slavery, and various types of bondage and coerced labor are going on all around us. This is true even in middle-class American neighborhoods. Wise moms and dads need to be aware of this dark, seamy underside of contemporary culture. They should also keep their antennae out for signs of suspicious goings-on in the local community. Most of us go about our business blissfully ignorant of the suffering and tragedy that could be taking place under our very noses.
That's one side of the issue. The other is this: alarmist fears are helpful to no one. You can't live life with your head in the sand, but neither should you give in to paranoia. Most of the human trafficking that goes on in the U.S. and other developed western nations is happening on the fringes of "respectable" society. The vast majority of the victims are undocumented immigrants and poor, homeless, or displaced individuals who are tricked or forced into slave labor or sexual slavery through various forms of deception and intimidation.
That's not to say that this ugly problem can't raise its head closer to home. We're aware of a case in which a middle-class Christian girl was seduced by an attractive "boy at school." She was drugged without her knowledge and photographed in the sex act. The perpetrators of the crime threatened to publish the photos if she didn't agree to work for them as a prostitute. At that point she was trapped. We don't mention this to terrify you with sensationalistic details. We just want you to know that things like this are happening in 21 st century America. There are savvy individuals "out there" who are skilled at turning a profit by taking advantage of vulnerable, trusting, and naïve teens and young adults. Both you and your children need to be aware of this.
You can get involved in the fight against human trafficking by keeping an eye out for certain tell-tale signs. In the first place, be aware of business establishments that seem to employ an unusual number of obvious immigrants. Not all modern-day slaves are working in the "sex trade." Many are day-laborers, housekeepers, restaurant workers, construction workers, and carnival employees. If you see someone you suspect might be a victim of trafficking, watch for evidence that he or she is being controlled. Tell-tale signs include inability to move or leave a job, fear or depression, lack of identification, or marks of physical abuse. If you have an opportunity to speak with such an individual in a non-threatening situation, ask questions like, "What type of work do you do?" "Are you being paid?" "Do you want to be doing this work?" "Can you leave if you choose to do so?" and "Where do you live and what are your working conditions like?" If at any point you come across substantial evidence of human trafficking in your neighborhood, you should not hesitate to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-3737-888.
On the home front, the best way to fight human trafficking is to build strong relationships with your own children. The family should be their primary point of connection. Home should be the place where they get their strokes and their positive self-image. You can protect them against all kinds of negative outside influences simply by forging a bond of mutual trust. Let them know that there are dangerous people abroad in society. Then make it clear that they can always come to you with their needs, problems, and concerns. Say things like, "There's nothing you can't tell us," or "You could never do anything that would cause us to love you less." Children who get that kind of affirmation at home generally aren't inclined to go looking for it somewhere else.
If you have further questions, or if you'd simply like to discuss this issue at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to give Focus on the Family's Counseling department a call. Our counselors will be happy to assist you in any way they can.
Human Trafficking: What You Need to Know
Shared Hope International
National Human Trafficking Resource Center and Hotline - 1-888-373-7888
Protected Innocence Challenge