A quick glance at your local news, or a short internet surfing session, is sure to turn up at least one story about human sex trafficking. A problem once thought to be only international in nature, has swept through the United States, visiting big cities, suburbs, rural areas, and small towns. Human sex trafficking generates millions of dollars, and no community is exempt from it. Underage victims are exploited daily, and the number of victims continues to rise. The greatest barrier to preventing sex trafficking is to raise awareness and involvement in the local community. While no blueprint exists to totally defeat sex trafficking, there are steps everyone can take to combat the problem.
According to a recent story featured on the News 9 website in Oklahoma City, a nationwide human trafficking sweep, which included 76 cities, resulted in 150 arrests, with 60 of those occurring in Oklahoma City. During the operation, law enforcement rescued three under age victims, that were being forced to engage in sexual acts by adult human traffickers. Most people do not think of Oklahoma when it comes to states that have a human sex trafficking problem, but according to the report, the problem now includes most of the country. Criminals can now use social media sites, and other computer options to recruit victims, and reach out to potential customers. As parents, and concerned citizens we must recognize the dangers associated with human sex trafficking, while doing our best to prevent and end it. Oklahoma City residents can learn about human sex trafficking and how to combat it by visiting the website of No Boundaries International, which is a local non-profit organization that fights against human trafficking, while helping those rescued from it. Another local resource, where Oklahoma residents can monitor local news related to human trafficking and other sex crime related news, is John TV, a website owned by Brian Bates, also known as the Video Vigilante. Bates has fought against prostitution in Oklahoma City for several years.
The people who recruit, and force young victims into human sex trafficking look for certain traits in their potential victims. According to the Polaris Project, a non-profit organization that fights against human trafficking, most human trafficking victims fall into a category known as vulnerable people. Vulnerable people includes victims of abuse in the past, runaways, teens addicted to drugs and alcohol, children from broken homes, and those raised in state’s custody. The victims are enticed with false promises, threatened with violence, or given material things in the beginning, to earn their trust. Once a child or teen becomes the victim of human sex traffickers, they are immediately isolated from family, friends, and anyone who is not a part of the trafficker’s organization. Many of the victims are forced to remain under the control of their traffickers by violence, the threat of violence, receiving drugs, and promises of a better life after a certain amount of time. Experts agree the number one tool used by human traffickers is violence against the victims.
Because most human trafficking victims are separated from their families, it is important for everyone in the community to watch for and recognize the signs someone might be a victim of human trafficking. The Polaris Project listed signs usually associated with human trafficking in a given area. They urge everyone to watch for young teens who are not free to come and go, teens who are always working, yet have very little to show for it, young people who don’t know where they are, or know very little about the city or town you meet them in, victims who show signs of fear, depression, or extreme nervousness, and teens who are always accompanied by adults who speak for them. Victims of human trafficking are often identified by teachers, and other individuals who have regular contact with young people.
Experts agree the best defense against human trafficking is parents, families, and school staff members who are involved in the lives of their kids. Parents should always know who their children are interacting with, and what they are doing at all times. Teens love social media, and most teens do not like to have their phone and computer activities monitored, but adults must monitor who they are interacting with, and what activities they are participating in. Law enforcement experts say human traffickers use the peers of potential victims to recruit, because the teens feel less threatened by someone from their age group, and someone they can relate to.
Human sex trafficking is a real problem that continues to spread across our country. Each individual must do their part to prevent and end human trafficking. Many organizations, and local law enforcement agencies are working hard to raise awareness about human trafficking, while offering information on preventing it, and helping those who have become victims of it. If you believe someone is the victim of human sex trafficking, or you recognize a human trafficking organization in your area, you are urged to contact local law enforcement immediately.