Linda Smith, President of Shared Hope International, discusses the trafficking of minors in the United States, how listeners can fight it and how parents can protect their children. Joining the conversation is a young woman named "Lacy" who shares her story as a former child trafficking victim and how she escaped the industry with the help of Shared Hope International. (Part 1 of 2)
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John Fuller: This is John Fuller and on today's "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly, we're returning to one of our most powerful programs from the past year and it features the heartbreaking topic of human trafficking and what your family needs to know about this awful crime. Now due to the nature of the topic, it's not going to be appropriate for younger children to listen for the next half hour.
Jim Daly: Linda, right now how many U.S. children are being trafficked? And what's the average age that they are taken in?
Linda Smith: The average age that a child is put into the commercial sex industry in the United States is 13. And we do believe there at least 100,000 children each year that enter commercial sex.
Jim: And that's just in the U.S.
Linda: These are just American born or legal children in the United States.
End of Teaser
Jim: John, those numbers are staggering and this issue makes me angry that such evil can occur and I don't use that word very often, only for life issues, abortion. That to me, is an evil. I don't mean to be offensive, but you know what? It's the taking of human life and this is the utter destroying of human life and for that, it does upset me.
This is a difficult topic to address, but so many of you were appreciative last January when we first aired the program. And this really is an appropriate issue for the Sanctity of Human Life Week, which we're in right now, because we not only need to protect our own families, but we also need to strengthen the laws in the U.S. and Canada to protect vulnerable women and children and hold perpetrators of human trafficking accountable. That's how attitudes are gonna change.
The good news is, many states across the country are beginning to make improvements on how they handle this issue, but we still have so much work to do and that's why we're bringing this program back today and again, because of you, we had such an outpouring to this program. People wanted to know more, so we're comin' back today to do that.
John: And you can find out more. We've got details, information, resources for you at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Now the clip we just heard features Linda Smith and she is president and founder of Shared Hope International. For almost two decades, Linda has been a tireless advocate for the victims of trafficking. And for this interview, she brought along a young woman named "Lacy." That's a pseudonym. She actually experienced trafficking firsthand and this is an unforgettable dialogue. Here's how we started the interview with Linda and Lacy on today's "Focus on the Family."
Jim: Lacy, we're gonna get to your story in just a few minutes, but let me set the ground work and Linda, I'll need your help to do that. Let's give a bit more perspective on what's going on. For those who don't know what this whole arena is like, briefly define for us what domestic minor sex trafficking is and what it includes. That sounds like a highly technical word, but what are we talkin' about?
Linda: Well, in people language, any child under 18 that is in the commercial sex industry, which is prostitution, pornography or performance, like stripping, is in the world of trafficking, is not movement; it's what we call this particular crime. Anyone that buys, sells or facilitates this action of selling the innocence of this child or buying the innocence, is involved in human trafficking.
Jim: That's right, Linda, and in fact, what you've done at Shared Hope International is to create a report card, at least here in the U.S. with all 50 states, I think and maybe all but one. But I was stunned when we recorded the program last time and you described Interstate 25, which runs north to south, right through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and part of Montana, that all of those states received either a D or an F grade. And that shocked me to learn that traffickers were using truck stops for the most part to funnel victims through and that is a common practice with other interstates, as well. That Colorado, in fact, received a D grade really gripped my heart and I thought, you know what? I'm livin' here in Colorado. I'm not gonna stand for that.
And we started to go to work on it and there's a lot of people, both Republicans and to be fair, Democrats, and I gotta tell ya, including a homosexual activist group that I reached out to, to say, "Will you help us get this law passed?" And you know what? We went from a D grade, up to a B grade. And that is significant. We toughened the laws against child sex traffickers and we still have work to do to earn that top grade of an A, but I'm proud to say that this has been a good success story on behalf of children here in Colorado.
But others can do it in their states and that's what we're gonna talk about today with Linda. And Linda, what can a person do to find out more information about their state's grade and maybe even next steps regarding what they can do, just before we hear Lacy's story?
Linda: Well, absolutely, go to Shared Hope's website. Go to the map; I think you can do [that] through Focus's [website];, there's a map. You click on the map. It will tell you what your state law is. There's a legal brief and then a two-page report card. It will tell you how strong or weak it is in all 41 points of law, that you need to assure are addressed your state. And then it teaches you how to be an activist. And it will tell you what's left that you need to take action.
Jim: Yeah and the idea, it's real simple and I so appreciate the way that you've done this is, if you have a D grade, obviously you want to get it up to a B or an A if you can and there's language there on how to do that, working with the legislators in your state to do it.
And let's turn now and really get to the heart of it, 'cause [for] people, this seems distant and far away. Lacy, like I said, I'm so glad you're here at Focus today. Thank you for your courage to talk about this. You're a young lady. You just celebrated your 19th birthday. And so, this isn't like decades ago that this all occurred for you. It was just a few years ago. And I applaud you for comin' today. Thank you again for being with us.
Lacy: Well, thanks again for having me.
Jim: Let's talk about how it happens. There's no better way to talk about it than with someone who it happened to and again, my heart grieves for you. It's emotional. I'm probably gonna lose it here, because of again, what you had to go through, but it will serve a purpose in helping other parents and perhaps, 12-, 13-, 14-year-old girls and boys understand how people are trying to prey on them. Talk about what happened to you. As an innocent young girl, what was going on around you?
Lacy: (Clearing throat) Well, during that time, my stepfather, the only father I've had in my life since I was probably about 4, was deployed to Iraq. So, at that time it was really a different kind of transition for my family. A lot of times he was just, you know, would go to the base on weekends. But this time he was actually deployed out.
And so, my mom was still in a school for her nursing degree and worked in the hospital as the unit secretary, so she was in the ER, so the hours are really long shifts.
Jim: And you're 12-years-old, 11-years-old?
Lacy: Yeah, I was 12, turning 13. And so, during that time, a lot of the home responsibilities fell on me. And I don't know, I just kinda looking for something and I was invited to a party and you know, I didn't get out and do much. I wasn't a bad kid at all. Let me just throw that out there.
Lacy: I went to youth groups all the time. I had straight A's.
Jim: Christian home.
Lacy: Yes, my mom's a Christian and so was my father. So, it wasn't like I was from some bad area, you know, and didn't know right from wrong or anything like that. I was just young, you know, and at that time, you're still deciding who you are as a person. So, I went to this party and I met this handsome older boy. You know, we did this whole romantic thing for a while until he decided it was time for me to pay him back. And then I started dancing in strip clubs.
Jim: And that's how he expected you to pay him back—
Jim: --that you would perform for him, so that he can earn money? Or what—
Jim: --was he was taking [it]?
Lacy: Yeah, he would make the money. But if I made money, I would have to give it to him. So essentially, he made all of the money off of me.
Jim: And you're doing this now as a 13-year-old girl.
Lacy: Yeah, I was 13. And during that time I was still going to school, well, not really going to school, but I was getting on the bus, you know, as my mom was leaving to work, but I would just get off the bus and walk the opposite direction of my school.
And I was sneaking out, telling my mom I was staying at my friend's house and really going to his house and one day he decided that the strip clubs weren't enough and he sent me out, we call it the "strip," but it's just to walk the streets and actually sell your body for sex. And it was really cold that night and I do remember that. It gets really cold in Oregon. And it was freezing that night, I think. It was probably zero degrees and he made me dress in clothes that weren't right for the weather whatsoever and he told me, you know, I can bring him back money or I can freeze.
And I lived in Vancouver, Washington at the time with my mother and so, walking back home, I had no money. I didn't have anything; walking back home was really not even in the question. That night I did pass a lot of buyers for a few hours, and I just couldn't bring myself to do it. You know, they would flag me down and I guess, realized that I wasn't going to, you know, let them purchase and they would drive off. And I just remember, there were so many people flagging me down and you know, he told me what the signs were for someone flagging you down.
And I just realized, there's a lot of people, you know. And you know, I just kinda got disgusted and like in the whole situation, like there's so many people that want to do that. And then finally, I couldn't feel my hands and my toes and my face and you know, my nose was nipped with cold and I finally got into one car and I just couldn't like after he dropped me back off, I just was kind of really disgusted and I couldn't stop shaking and crying and I felt sick to my stomach. And I only made like $100, so you know, I had to keep going and I saw probably about four or five men that night. That was the first day of a long, a long time.
Jim: Lacy, let me ask you in that context, I mean, you're a 13-year-old girl. You're coming from a Christian home. What was that manipulation like? What was happening there? It will help parents better understand how to look for these signs in their own daughters and sons. Was it an inability to recognize why am I in this spot? How have I come to this place? Why was that pull of his romance more powerful than your rational ability to say, I'm in trouble; I'm in danger?
Lacy: Well, for the first thing was, I was young, so you don't really think about that kind of stuff. You're still developing as a person, you know. You don't even really know what you like and what you don't like and you know wrong from right when it comes to stealing or you know, hitting someone or doing something simple like that, but you don't understand wrong from right, especially when you're being brainwashed essentially. That's what they do, is they kind of brainwash you, because you haven't decided as a person who you are. So, they tell you who you are and what you're able to do and what you can do and what you will be in life.
Jim: Let me ask you, Linda, because again, you've developed a whole talk that has saved girls that I'm aware of, when we aired the program last time, Briana, her friend was involved in her being saved from the trap that was being set for her because of a talk that you'd given at Rotary Club or something like that. As Lacy is describing here, let's talk about some of those signs that a parent needs to be looking for, because as a 12-, 13-, 14-year-old, Lacy's right. You're not formed. You don't have necessarily the cognitive ability, the judgment to really know who you are and what's happening. Talk about those signs and what they look like.
Linda: Well, I think if her mother would've looked back, now she knows what she knows, she would've seen that Lacy had a new dress. I don't know if she was hiding it or there was a new dress. There was at least, a bracelet at one point. She's pretty outgoing. She was, it sounds like, becoming a little manipulative and secretive. And so, some of those things a parent might say, "Well, my daughter's 13, so maybe that's a change." You know, some of that, there's a change there goin' on in a 13-year-old, but those are signs something is wrong.
Linda: It isn't just she's turning 13. So, she also had teachers, coaches and others. So, if you're in a child's life and all of a sudden, they're an honor student, but they're leaving school regularly. They're not showing up for training and they've been disciplined. Something's wrong there. Don't assume, as I'm sure they did with her, she was caring for little brothers and sisters. But well, you know, Lacy has a tough time at home, so maybe that's going on. Don't assume that. Those are not right behaviors. If something is wrong, it's just wrong.
Jim: The strategy of these sex syndicates, let's talk about that and expose it for what it is. How do they go about doing this? It's methodical. They call it the "lover boy strategy," I believe. What is that and how do they go about manipulating a young person like Lacy?
Linda: When Lacy was brought to me, she was 14. During the process she turned 15, of us moving her and working to get to know each other better. And I knew then what she told me and I knew what the law enforcement, the FBI, the police, her probation officer, what they told me. But over the years, we've kind of laughed because there was another story that didn't come out really until she became old enough to get it. And she would say, "Oh, that's what he was doing." And I think that it has taken a while to unwrap it. And you tell me if I'm wrong anywhere, Lacy, because I'm going to express from my perspective what I think we saw.
She had been in a neighborhood, walking to buy groceries. They'd identified her probably in the neighborhood. And a couple of older boys, she got to know, identified her and basically told over … involved with a trafficker. They set her up on her 13th birthday. In the middle of the night, her and her friend snuck out from a slumber party and they went to [a party] within walking distance it sounds like, or what, to a party.
And she hung out. She didn't do anything really wrong. And they identified, built a relationship with her. Then the guy that she met, the older boy at the party, started showing up in her life at Starbucks and showed up.
Jim: Near her house.
Linda: Oh, yeah, they knew where she lived. When they got her and the 18 months, they had her, they had to remind her at times of her little sister. And they started telling her, if we don't have you, we know where we got you. We'll get your sister. We know where your mom is.
Jim: Lacy, let me just ask you there. I mean, that is brutal blackmail. I mean, for a young girl to have to process what to do. What were you thinking when they were threatening you in that way, really threatening your family? That if you didn't do what they wanted you to do, that they would either kill or attack your younger sister, who I think at the time was 10?
Lacy: Yeah, my little sister, she's my little heart. (Laughing) She's the [most] precious girl you'll ever meet. She's got a personality. Linda's met her. And you know, my brothers and my sisters, they're my everything. You know, that's my family. And being a military child, we moved around a lot, so we didn't have a lot of long-lasting friendships, so we learned that friendship and love with each other.
So, that after a while of the, you know, the physical abuse, threats didn't really work with my trafficker, it was the threats on my family, 'cause that's really the only thing that could get to me after a while, was my family. And he knew that my family meant a lot to me. So, you know, he would just kind of send me reminders of what my little sister, you know, does in school. And you know, that he knows where she goes to school. And she does walk to the bus stop, you know. She walks my little brother to his bus stop and then comes back and walks to her bus stop. It's not that far from the house. It's actually just at the end of our apartment building. And you know, just as the way that he knew where my bus stop was, he knows where their bus stop is, too.
Jim: Did that prevent you from telling your parents? I mean, obviously, one of the questions is why did you feel you couldn't tell your mom and stepfather what was happening or go to the police?
Lacy: It's just , they get you, you know. They tell you that if anyone knows, they're never gonna take you back. You know, and being my family was really firm Christian, you know, there's that—
Jim: That played on—
Jim: --your fear.
Lacy: Yeah, that you go home and you tell them and you don't have a home anymore or they'll just never love and accept you again. And there was just a lot of different ways he could manipulate and threaten me to the point where everything was just kept a secret and to the point where I didn't have my best friends anymore, because I wasn't allowed to talk to them anymore. 'Cause I told my best friends everything. They knew I had an older boyfriend and they would cover for me when I was staying the night at their house, but really I was going to see my "boyfriend."
And then after that, that was too much information, so I wasn't allowed to have friends. I wasn't allowed to keep going home anymore, to the point where I just never came back home unless the police picked me up and took me home and then I would turn right back around and leave. So you have so much fear and it's not the first time I've been asked the question of why didn't you just leave? Or why didn't you just tell somebody? It's 'cause you're scared. You're frightened. There's this man and you're still a little girl, you know. So, you can't really do much to defend yourself.
Jim: And physical abuse is part of this.
Jim: That's how they control you and that compounds that fear that something bad'll happen to you or worse and to your family, as well. Let's move through the difficulty. I do want to paint that picture, Linda, when you look at it, you're talking about 100,000 boys and girls in the U.S. that are in essence, kidnapped in this way. They're taken for sexual pleasure of adults. And some of them are servicing clients 10 to 15 times a night, something like that is what I read. Is that fair?
Linda: That's right.
Jim: And they're stuck there. How do we notice this as regular citizens, as Christian citizens? How do we keep vigilant to see if there is something going on? And what can we do if we notice something? Help us.
Linda: Well, first of all, if you suspect there's imminent danger to a child, they're in commercial sex, they're in imminent danger. A teenager, a minor in commercial sex is in danger. It's violent. The highest level of "Jane Doe" is so-called a prostitute and usually young. They're in danger. So, you call 911. If they haven't got it in your area yet, then you say, "Understand that this child is in danger."
But if you need or you suspect or a child goes missing, call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children's hotline [1-800-THE-LOST, 1-800-843-5678]. Now some would say, "Well, why don't we use the trafficking hotline? Because we're talking about abused children that are going missing or abused. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, call and say, "There is a kid." Take a picture. Send it to them. And you have done something maybe to save a child's life. So, take action. Don't feel like I don't know enough and I would be embarrassed. Be embarrassed and save a child.
Now I really do think though that the bigger issue is preventing. If Lacy had known the signs of trafficking, she was a smart kid. And she wasn't walking on the edge of danger. And you think of foster children, they're already in danger and they've been in the system and they've been hurt often, is why they're in the system. And they're hurt within the system. They don't belong. They're very susceptible, too. But we're talking about ordinary kids that go home to ordinary moms and dads and grandparents, who go to school each day, who literally are smart enough to know the signs. Don't think you're protecting them by not telling them.
So, we have developed what's called Chosen. In fact, Lacy tells the signs of trafficking and the signs of what happened to her in Chosen and another girl, Briana and they teach kids how to identify. There have been so many reportings now in the 3,000 that are out in the United States, of kids that have gone to their teachers, gone to their parents and literally saved the life of their friends.
John: Because they saw this Chosen DVD.
Linda: They saw the Chosen DVD. And just make sure that you inform your children. If they're over 13, read a book like Renting Lacy. It will teach you about trafficking, teaches you how the traffickers work, so you can be aware. And start by protecting your own children.
John: That is Linda Smith of Shared Hope International and she joined us for a "Focus on the Family" broadcast that received an outpouring of response. It became a Best of 2015 program for us and that's why we're coming back to that today. Linda brought with her into the studio a former victim of human trafficking named "Lacy" and she's going to share more of her dramatic story next time.
Jim: John, I don't think we can stress enough the importance of this topic and why we need to educate our families and communities about these dangers. I'll never forget this comment we received from a dad who heard this program last year and he said, "My daughter was 13-years-old at the time and was experiencing all the signs you talked about on the radio. I was worried. When I searched my daughter's room, I found stripper clothing and wads of money. I knew then it was no accident I heard "Focus on the Family" when I did. God specifically provided those words for me. I called and spoke with one of your counselors, who helped me get my daughter into a residential treatment center. Thank you for your broadcast, because you have saved the life of a precious child from the chains of slavery."
And I want to say thank you to you for helping us to achieve that, those who support and pray for this ministry. That's unbelievable and what a privilege and responsibility we have to help hurting families together. And that's why Focus on the Family is here, to offer a message of hope and God's love, even when family situations seem desperate and out of control.
If you'll contact us, we have lots of follow-up resources for you, like the list of warning signs that the father was talking about there and the Chosen DVD that Linda referred to and our counseling team and websites and links to Shared Hope International and much, much more.
John: And those resources are available when you call 800-A-FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or stop by www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: And it's only because of friends like you that we're able to respond to hurting families like this with the resources that help them, because when you support this ministry, you put us on the front line to confront the evils of a dark and dying culture with the truth of God's light and His love and His Word. So, again, let me say thank you for your ongoing prayers and financial support. And if we haven't heard from you for a while, can I ask you to send a donation today? Focus on the Family needs to hear from you and we have so many things we need to accomplish together. I hope you will stand with us and that you think we are worthy of your generous support.
John: Donate at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800-A-FAMILY. And as our way of saying thanks for your gift of any amount, we'll send a complimentary copy of that Chosen DVD that Linda Smith mentioned earlier today.
At the website we'll post a link to Shared Hope International. We'd recommend you follow up on this important ministry and their upcoming Just Faith Summit in April, plus we'll have additional information about our Best of 2015 collection of programs, which feature wonderful guests and topics to strengthen your marriage and empower your parenting and help you grow as a Christian. All of that at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening and do join us tomorrow, when we address this challenging topic again and show the critical link between pornography and human trafficking.
Linda Smith: You're taking away that child's life. Don't think pornography for one click or one view is innocent, because you're hearing a girl today that lost all of her junior high and high school time.
End of Excerpt
John: That's next time, as we once again, help your family thrive.
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Linda SmithView Bio
Linda Smith is the founder and president of Shared Hope International. She is also a licensed tax accountant and a former US congresswoman, having represented Washington state's 3rd Congressional District from 1995-99. Linda and her husband, Vern, have two children and reside in Vancouver, Wash.