by Heidi Hiatt
Oh no. Not that question.
Squirming in my chair, I was listening to the questions being asked of Phil Cathey, an anti-human trafficking activist with Frontline for Justice. It was Phil’s presentation, not mine, but my education and life experiences had me champing at the bit to back him on some of his answers.
Who does this? Why do they do it? Who are the customers? Why don’t the victims leave? Cathey, an engaging speaker who had recently been on a mission trip to Thailand, was fielding these queries as he discussed the modern horrors of human trafficking, particularly sex trafficking. The audience was captivated and wanted to know what they could do to help stop it.
The questions being asked were incisive and legitimate. They were put forth by caring people who actively reach out to others in need. But admittedly my heart sank when I heard a comment to the effect of “couldn’t the victims just tell someone?” That question. It reminded me just how much work has to be done to educate the general public that victims of both human trafficking and domestic violence can’t “just leave.” That’s a common myth and assumption that denies the dangers victims face and the deadly control their abusers yield.
Frontline for Justice (FFJ), in their own words, is a group of men and women committed to the abolition of all forms of slavery and human trafficking. They “advocate for women and children at risk of, or enslaved in, the injustices of sexual exploitation, trafficking, and slave labor.” Their motto is Prevent, Protect, and Restore, meaning that they not only care about stopping modern-day slavery, but about restoring the lives of its victims.
FFJ works in partnership with organizations in Southeast Asia and they care deeply about the children affected by the unconscionable acts of their “owners” and the perverts who sexually violate them. There are some alarming statistics on their website and facts Phil mentioned that made me sick when I heard them. We tend to think of human trafficking as something that happens mostly in other countries or to immigrants. But Phil quickly repudiated those myths.
For example, the SeaTac area of Washington is considered the third best place in the country to have sex with underage girls. In my own backyard, hundreds of girls, some as young as 11, are made to work as prostitutes. These children are often recruited from public gathering places, like malls, by miscreants who pose as “boyfriends.” These include malls in affluent areas and locations that parents let their kids wander without supervision because they believe they are safe.
These predators approach the girls, fully aware of their vulnerability and naivety, and begin giving them attention and gifts to make them feel special. Soon these “boyfriends” are asking their prey for “favors” that coerce them into a life of prostitution—or they rape them. Whether the rape is forcible or coerced, it is still the rape of a minor. The girls quickly become trapped in a life of sexual servitude that can isolate them from family and friends, especially when their captors relocate them. Not long before, they were just a ninth grader cruising the mall with their friends, but now they are sex slaves.
Evidently there are more human beings in slavery now—about 27 million—than during the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade according to FFJ’s site. FFJ says that almost two million children a year are exploited in the commercial sex industry, and human trafficking generates billions upon billions of dollars every year. It’s big business, and the more our daughters, neighbors, and young people in our very own communities are exploited, the more money they make for their greedy, shameful masters.
Despite Washington being the first state to make human trafficking a criminal offense in 2003 and the first to increase oversight of escort sites this year, as well as King County prosecuting the state’s first trafficking case in 2009, modern slavery is flourishing in my area. While in other countries victims are sometimes sold into slavery by their parents or husbands, lured by the promise of a job, kidnapped, or deceived by a false marriage proposal, here we have tragedies that parents can do much to prevent.
Some parents make the assumption that their unsupervised kids will be safe in public places. Predators know that and are on the lookout for just such children. Many parents aren’t involved in their children’s lives enough to know where they’re at or who they’re with. They might not screen the new “boyfriend” or truly know what their 14 year-old daughter is doing at 11:00 at night. More than ever before, it’s imperative that parents and other adults protect children from the sociopaths that stalk them, but at the same time, it seems to me that more parents than ever give their underage children free rein of their lives.
During his explanation of human trafficking, Cathey was asked who the consumer is. While our stereotypical view of a predator may be a visibly creepy, slovenly, antisocial type, reality is they’re all around us. Those who consume these children’s innocence are the guy two houses down, the family man three cubicles over, and the stylish madam on the next block who comes across as a successful business woman. In other words, those exploiting these children are not all suspicious characters camped out in a seedy motel by the airport, they’re among us.
For this reason, Cathey said, we need to be aware of our surroundings. If we see a house down the street in our quaint suburban neighborhood that has a lot of vehicle or foot traffic, we should acknowledge the possibility that drugs or sex slavery is going on inside. People in my neck of the woods don’t like to hear this, but we do have gangs and organized crime here, and this is often how they make their money. They are successful in part because they know how to blend in enough to go where the money is—and that’s often a place where people don’t want to believe that such crime is happening in their own backyard.
As with many crimes, people want the government to step in and stop human trafficking from happening. Cathey pointed out that the manpower and resources for this are limited, and after years of studying crime, I’ve concluded that crime prevention starts with each individual, not the government. We each need to report suspicious activity and speak up against problems in our own families and communities. True change starts with us. As I used to tell people when I answered the phones at a police department, “we’d rather have you report something and have it be nothing than report nothing and have it be something.”
Imagine, when slavery was legal in the 19th century, if everyone said, “yes, that’s terrible, but it’s up to the government to do something about it.” Concerned citizens outnumbered government agents exponentially, but let’s say they just decided to go on about their merry way and ignore the atrocities among them. Slavery could very well still be legal, or else illegal and flourishing because “it’s just how things are.”
It’s largely because of the grassroots efforts, the people willing to speak out openly for their fellow human beings and those who gave shelter to escaping slaves, for example, that the routine practice of slavery stopped. Dedicated activists at every level of society made this possible. The government can legislate all it wants, but until the attitudes of a majority match its laws, laws are thin cardboard cutouts easily blown over by the wind.
Phil Cathey is passionate about educating others about human trafficking, and Frontline for Justice is taking steps toward educating many more people about this problem. Just as every child in America needs to know what domestic violence is, what to do about it, and how to protect themselves, they also need to know how to guard themselves against modern-day slavery.
While this training should start at home, a lot of kids will never hear this information there, which means that schools should familiarize kids with the dynamics of abuse and exploitation. Organizations like FFJ should be highly sought after by administrators so that students can hear straight talk about the world they live in. I’m looking forward to seeing what Phil Cathey and others like him can do to spread the word about the epidemic of human trafficking, especially in these venues.
In the book and movie Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, we are presented with an axe-wielding Honest Abe who devoted his life to the eradication of soulless bloodsuckers. In this alternate version of history we learn that many slave owners were vampires who kept slaves primarily as a food source. By 1865, Lincoln has struck down the vampire leaders and sent most of the fanged ones running.
Morbid as this premise is, slave owners really are vampires. They are people who use other human beings as expendable commodities for their own benefit, including millions of children. The repeated violation of their victims doesn’t matter to them; profit and status do. Anyone who can facilitate the grooming and rape of children, or merciless exploitation of anyone, needs to be shut down and the law brought down on their heads.
While the Abraham Lincoln story tells us that most vampires hightailed it out of the slave business about the end of the Civil War, reality is– it’s 2012 and the vampires are back. They want your business and they want your children. They are actively prowling your communities and scouting your gathering places.
What are you going to do about it?
Frontline for Justice is in the process of revising their website but still has a lot of good information on the existing site: http://frontlineforjustice.org/. Their Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/FrontlineForJustice, and they have some great resources at http://frontlineforjustice.org/get-involved/educational-resources/.
To report suspected human trafficking, you can contact the Department of Justice at 1-888-428-7581 or use the other options on the FBI’s website athttp://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/civilrights/human_trafficking/. You can also contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888; their website says that reports are considered confidential.
Last year the movie Eden was shot here in Washington State. It is based on a true story and the survivor was interviewed by the local media including in this article: http://www.seattlepi.com/local/sound/article/Survivor-of-human-trafficking-and-sex-slavery-on-2144670.php#page-1.
Heidi Hiatt, MA recently graduated as a Forensic Psychologist. You can read more of her posts at her personal blog, Truth, Justice, and All-American Allergen-Free Apple Pie Straight Talk in a Crooked World