The Face of Sex Trafficking

By Devin White

It’s happening across the globe. It’s happening in the United States. It’s happening in Shreveport-Bossier City. Sex trafficking has no face. And under the wrong circumstances, anyone’s child, friend or relative can become a victim of human slavery.

Brittany sat alone in the passenger seat of a car outside of Dallas wiping the blood from her face, stunned by the violent encounter she just had with the man she thought loved her. In a split second the pregnant 18-year-old found herself being repeatedly punched by her pimp and deep down inside she heard a voice telling her, “It’s about to get real bad.”

In 2013, Brittany became one of 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking worldwide. According to Polaris Project, a global organization dedicated to ending human trafficking, sex trafficking is defined as commercial sex induced by force, fraud or coercion or in which the person induced is 18 years of age or younger.

While Polaris reports that the prevalence of sex trafficking in the U.S. is still unknown, they have identified nearly 6,000 sex trafficking cases involving U.S. citizen survivors through operating the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. In 2014, the Urban Institute conducted a study of the underground commercial sex economy in eight U.S. cities and concluded that it generated between $20 million and $39.9 million in revenue depending on the city.

It’s difficult for some to grasp that sex trafficking is happening in Louisiana, let alone in Shreveport-Bossier City, but a reason for this reaction is due to the lack of knowledge about trafficking. It’s easy to make generalizations about prostitution, but the vast majority of sex workers are not committing these crimes out of free will. Many are threatened, manipulated, brainwashed and beaten into performing sex acts for money. And perhaps most alarming: children are being abused and forced into sex slavery.

Jessica Miller is the executive director of the Gingerbread House Bossier/Caddo Children’s Advocacy Center, a non-profit organization that collaborates with local agencies to serve child abuse victims throughout nine parishes in northwest Louisiana. Founded in 1998, its mission is to lessen the trauma experienced by child victims during the investigation and prosecution of cases. When a child is rescued from sex trafficking, the Gingerbread House is the place they are taken for interviews and counseling.

In 2014, Gingerbread House worked 28 cases of sex trafficking of minors, the youngest being age six, and in 2013, they conducted interviews with 35 child victims of commercial sexual abuse in northwest Louisiana.

“There are kids in every neighborhood being trafficked, and people don’t even know about it.”

“Sometimes people have the image in their head that human trafficking is like the movie Taken, or they might think that it happens overseas only or only in large cities,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There are kids in every neighborhood being trafficked, and people don’t even know about it. Many of the girls are not only trafficked here in our neighborhoods but they are transported to larger cities where they are even less easily identified. And then vice versa. Girls from those communities are brought here and trafficked as well.”

Miller said trafficking in the area is a growing problem and tends to be less organized than in big cities, but Shreveport-Bossier City’s location is ideal for it to occur locally. Due to the interstate corridor, it’s easy for traffickers to travel between two of the major U.S. hubs for trafficking, Houston and Atlanta.

FBI Special Agent Chris Plants leads the FBI’s Child Exploitation Task Force in northwest Louisiana. The goals of the task force are to recover victims who have been transported over state lines and prosecute the perpetrators, or pimps.

“It’s a huge problem in northwest Louisiana,” Plants said. “For whatever reason, if you want to say it’s the casinos (attracting) them, or the I-20 corridor. We’re so close to Jackson, Miss., and Dallas, and the girls are transient. Most people don’t realize how transient they are.”

Special Agent Plants and the task force make the majority of their arrests in undercover operations through websites such as Backpage.com, a site similar in appearance and function to Craigslist, but rather than household goods and cars for sale, the site is a haven for pimps to purchase and post prostitution ads.

“Ninety-five percent of prostitution is through Backpage nowadays. It’s huge,” he said. “Backpage made approximately $20 million off those ads last year.”

And shockingly, Backpage.com is legal. As long as the posts don’t advertise an illegal service, Backpage isn’t responsible, and many of the ads use slang terminology such as “date,” (which means sexual favors) or will simply state that the women are offering companionship.

“Backpage doesn’t do anything illegal. You pay for the ad, and when I get an underage girl, if I subpoena Backpage to find out information about the advertisement, they bend over backwards,” Plants said. “They know what they do, but they bend over backwards to get me all the information that will help me with my case.”

According to experts, pimps target individuals with certain traits and begin what is known as the “grooming” process.

Vigen

Mark Vigen, Ph.D., is a Shreveport psychologist who worked with rapists and child molesters at a Massachusetts prison. He said traffickers likely look for children who exhibit signs of neglect, such as the child who gets picked up late from school or who is not dressed appropriately for the weather.

“Another aspect is the particular background in which someone is raised, “ Vigen said. “When a woman grows up in an environment where she is not respected, where her personality is not considered, where she feels powerless or neglected, I think that’s the seeds for being vulnerable to this kind of exploitation.”

Although, each case is unique, many adult victims of sex trafficking have a background of poverty, drug addiction or sexual abuse.

SHELLEY“I think some women find themselves in unfortunate situations that just happen upon them, however I think the vast majority of people wind up in these situations because of neglect, because they are looking for love, validation or self-esteem,” said Shelley Visconte, licensed professional counselor in Shreveport. “Often the men are very seductive in the fact that they’re very flattering and give lots of attention. They groom them.”

“Often the men are very seductive in the fact that they’re very flattering and give lots of attention. They groom them.”

DANITADanita Wynes, a psychology doctoral candidate, has conducted extensive research on gang members, who sometimes traffic young women as part of gang initiation. She said they typically go through a honeymoon phase where they shower the girls with gifts and attention in order to garner their trust.

“The girls are so in love with whoever they’re with that they’re blinded and do whatever the gang member wants them to do physically,” she said. “She’s just a means to an end.”

The Girl Next Door

“It was just not spoken of. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

Brittany (whose last name is being withheld to protect her identity) will be the first to say she was brought up with good values in a stable home. She doesn’t fit the typical profile of a sex trafficking victim, but her story supports the fact that trafficking doesn’t discriminate. Experts agree there are certain factors, which might play into someone being more prone to coercion and manipulation, but a common thread among victims is vulnerability.

At age 15, Brittany said her views on sex became skewed. She grew up in a church going environment and had always intended to wait for love and even marriage before losing her virginity. She fell for her friend’s 22-year-old brother, and after his promises of a future together she decided to take the next step in intimacy. Just a few days after losing her virginity, he broke it off with her, claiming she was too young.

“I was so sad,” she said. “Also, a year before that, I was shown porn at a slumber party, so that already distorted my view of sex. Then, he just messed it up even more. After that, sex didn’t mean anything to me. I lost my respect for it, and I was going to play guys how I felt played.”

The daughter of a football coach and teacher, her family relocated to a small town on the state line of Louisiana and Texas and Brittany began her junior year of high school, only to develop a reputation for promiscuity. Nonetheless, Brittany graduated from high school and began a semester of college in Tyler, Texas, but she fell into the wrong crowd and began smoking marijuana and drinking. She also started failing her classes. Still living with her parents, her mom and dad smelled marijuana on her one evening and decided to take her phone and car away, insisting that as long as she lived there she would need to respect their their rules. So, the next day while her parents were at work, Brittany stuffed her belongings into trash bags and left. She found shelter couch surfing at friends’ homes until eventually taking up residence at a college basketball player’s house in exchange for cooking and cleaning.

“His teammate was from Las Vegas, and I guess he told his teammate the situation I was in and that I didn’t have anything,” Brittany said. “His teammate told him that his cousin lived out in Vegas and that he had two girls working for him. And that I should go out there and work too and that I would make a bunch of money.”

Brittany said she was naïve and didn’t understand that the term “date” in the world of prostitution meant having sex for money. She thought she would accompany men on dinner dates or maybe go see a movie with them in exchange for money but no sex. With the temptation of making good money fast, she agreed to take a Greyhound Bus to meet the man in Las Vegas.

“My parents had never talked to me about prostitution,” she said. “It was just not spoken of. I had no idea what I was getting into.”

After arriving in Las Vegas, the man picked her up at the bus station and drove them back to his home where two other women were sleeping. When they woke up, they took Brittany to a shopping mall where they purchased new clothing and shoes for her to wear. Then, they went to the Las Vegas strip and walked through the casinos where the women showed Brittany the ropes. It was at this point Brittany realized they were prostituting.

“Afterward, it did feel weird. I was like, this doesn’t feel right,” she said. “But then I felt the money was almost worth it because my morals about sex weren’t even anything anymore.”

She returned home from her first night working and was instructed that she must always either lay the money down on the kitchen countertop or bring it to the man, who Brittany said the two women referred to as Daddy.

“I didn’t even ask any questions,” she said. “I gave him the money, and that’s basically when I learned about pimping.”

Meanwhile, Brittany’s friend back home alerted her parents to where she had gone and to the fact that she was possibly involved in prostitution. At this time, the only form of contact between Brittany and her parents was through Facebook. They begged her to return home and sent her messages with hotline numbers and other information about sex trafficking. Daddy found out about Brittany’s parents’ concern for her well being and told Brittany she would need to return home to her parents in order to avoid having the police called on him. After four days in Las Vegas and earning thousands of dollars prostituting, Daddy gave Brittany $160 and bought her bus ticket back to Texas.

Brittany was reluctant to return home but she got on the bus. In Phoenix, the bus stopped to pick up more passengers and one person who boarded attracted Brittany. She said she was drawn to him. At the next stop, the two got off to smoke cigarettes and that’s when the man approached Brittany.

“He said, ‘hey, I want to talk to you.’ He told me his name and where he was from,” Brittany said. “He told me he had overheard one of my phone conversations and asked me if I hustled. I told him, ‘yeah’ and he said he did, too. He was on parole in Dallas and had to check in but normally stayed in the west coast. He said, ‘you could get off in Dallas with me, and we could hustle together.’”

By the time the bus arrived in Dallas, the two were holding hands and Brittany got off with him. Twenty years her senior, he promised they would only need to “hustle” for a little while; he would sell drugs and she would prostitute.

“We got to the hotel and he introduces me to online escorting, basically posting ads on the Internet,” she said. “You stay in a hotel room and clients would come.”

During the next six months, they traveled across parts of Texas and much of the west coast, where he would pimp her out by setting up dates with “Johns” (men who hire prostitutes) online. After a few months, and a few arrests in Las Vegas and California, Brittany took notice that she was making him thousands of dollars, yet the two weren’t really getting anywhere. Yes, they bought a BMW, but they were living in an out of hotels and she was seeing three or four Johns every night.

“I can recall only one day that I didn’t work and that was Valentine’s s Day. He took me to the movies,” Brittany said. “We built this relationship, and since he was so much older and experienced,

“he completely brainwashed me. He manipulated me so much, and I just fell into this deep love for him.”

After six months, Brittany’s pimp suggested they recruit more girls to work. Believing their situation was different than that of Daddy and the two women in Las Vegas and that they were in love, Brittany objected.

“He wanted another girl, and he would always be online. He even made an account, like on a dating site, and posted my picture pretending to be me,” she said. “Whenever they try and get girls, that’s why they want what is called a bottom b**** because girls will feel more comfortable with other girls. That’s what he was trying to do.”

The next thing Brittany knew she was being ruthlessly beat in the car on the way back to the hotel following an appointment with a John.

“Look at me! Look at me!” he yelled.

Brittany had just found out she was six weeks pregnant by her pimp. She tried to protect her stomach as he kept swinging his fists at her.

“When I finally looked at his face, I just saw him in a totally different way. He looked like the devil,” she said. “All the sweet stuff was over.”

Finally he stopped, and headed upstairs to their room. He returned with a wet cloth and told her to clean herself up.

“This is how messed up the situation was. I’m telling him I’m sorry, and he was mad and basically was like ‘don’t touch me,’” she said. “That made me feel even more horrible.”

The next day Brittany’s pimp acted like nothing happened. He took her to the salon and they went out. And Brittany went back to work that night. When she was through, they returned to their hotel and while her pimp momentarily stepped out of the room, she heard a knock at the door. Her father stood on the other side.

“I was so shocked,” she said. “He tells me I need to come home and I told him no. The next thing you know he (the pimp) walks up and asks ‘who is this?’”

Her father never looked or spoke to the pimp. Instead, he insisted that Brittany accompany him downstairs to talk to her mother.

Brittany agreed, and her parents gave her an ultimatum: either come home or they were calling the police. She told them she needed to grab her belongings, and when she got back to the room, she told her pimp they needed to leave before her parents called the police. They hastily grabbed their things and when they attempted to flee in their car, her parents blocked the car.

With the help of an investigator and a few of Brittany’s old friends, her parents were able to track down the two at a hotel outside of Dallas. While her parents had been searching for her, they had also kept busy researching sex trafficking and now had some knowledge about it and the behavior of a pimp and victim.

After a struggle in the hotels’ parking lot, the pimp instructed Brittany to go with her parents and that he would find her the next day.

Brittany ultimately left with her parents, but not without a struggle in the parking lot. Believing their daughter would be safer in jail, they drove her to Marshall, Texas, where Brittany had a warrant for her arrest for an unpaid traffic ticket, and she turned herself in.

According to Brittany, at some point her pimp did attempt to bail her out, but with the help of law enforcement, the pimp was unable to do so.

After some days and nights in jail, Brittany began to evaluate the previous six months of her life. She recalled one of the last tricks she turned, and how something “felt off” with the client. Brittany said she felt like he may have wanted to harm her, and she refused to have sex with him.

“I had spent four days in jail, and now I was sobering up. I remember thinking, this is dangerous,” she said. “I’m pregnant, what if a trick beats me or something? Or what if he (the pimp) hits me again?”

When Brittany’s father visited her in jail, she told him she was pregnant and her family helped her get out of jail.

Brittany fell into a deep depression. Her parents contacted a Shreveport non-profit organization that works with victims of sex trafficking and connected Brittany with the group. They offered to provide Brittany with a place to live in one of the nonprofit’s recovery homes. Brittany accepted.

A few months later, now seven months pregnant, the pimp made contact with Brittany, and against the rules of the non-profit’s program, she snuck out of the recovery home and met him at a motel in Bossier City. Brittany was unaware the pimp had recently sold narcotics to an undercover police officer in Bossier City, and the police raided the motel room. Brittany found herself in jail once again, now facing the exact same drugs charges as her pimp.

“I was freaking out,” she said. “I felt so bad because all I could think about was my family and all these people who have helped me. And I go back to him. Look where he got me?”

Brittany spent three weeks in jail, but with the help of a public defender who recognized that Brittany had been trafficked, the charges were reduced. She was able to bond out, and she returned to her parents’ house. Almost a month later, she gave birth to a baby girl.

“In jail, I had a revelation of him (the pimp). I realized he didn’t love me. It wasn’t real,”

she said. “I had my daughter, and she motivated me even more to want to live right.”

The non-profit group eventually accepted Brittany back into the program and allowed her to return to the recovery home.

It’s been over a year since Brittany was trafficked. Her life looks a lot different than those days spent traveling between cities and living in hotel rooms. With the full support of her family, she has graduated from the recovery program and now ministers to women in jail for prostitution. Today, she is empowered. Today, she is free.

“The same stuff that I fell for, I can’t fall for it again because I know better. I realize that God has something in store for me,” she said. “There is a different life out there.”

Sex Trafficking Warriors

***To protect the safety of certain individuals, SB Magazine will refrain from identifying by name the executive director and founder of an anti-trafficking non-profit in northwest Louisiana, as well as the name of the non-profit.

Four years ago, a local woman (who will be identified as “Jane”) founded a non-profit with the mission of helping victims of sex trafficking as well as preventing it. The idea came to Jane while she was operating another non-profit that works with people in poverty in Shreveport-Bossier City. Along with her colleagues, she continually heard stories of exploitation from the men and women she encountered.

“Really the sex industry in general is fueled, most of the time, by poverty because poverty drives you into survival mode”

she said. “And when you’re in survival mode, you’re willing to do things that you wouldn’t normally do, just to make it to the next day.”

The group began discussing ways to reach out to people involved in trafficking, but before they had a plan established, one of the homeless women who they often visited and helped went missing during an ice storm in Shreveport. Jane, who maintained regular contact with the woman, became concerned that something terrible had happened. They checked the jails and called all the hospitals, but there was no sign of the homeless woman.

Eight weeks went by and then one day Jane’s phone rang. It was the missing woman.

“I could tell she was in danger but I couldn’t place her or understand what she was saying,” she said.

She kept calling Jane, only to abruptly hang up the phone when she answered.

Not sure of what to do, Jane went to the police station and told an officer about the missing woman and the phone call.

“So his desk phone rings and he picks it up. His eyes get really big and said he thought it was my girl calling,” she said.

The police sent out a unit to pick her up at the end of Texas Street in downtown.

“They brought her through the door and instantly when I saw her I knew what happened. She was really skinny, hunched over and screaming. She had visible abuse marks,” she said.

Jane learned the woman was headed to a shelter during the ice storm when a man driving in downtown Shreveport pulled over and offered her a place to stay warm.

“He had been posting her on Backpage.com and selling her. She didn’t have a choice. He would drop her off to the person who bought her and then pick her back up,” Jane said. “He took her outside of town where he lived and took everything away from her including her ID and phone. He only fed her when he wanted to feed her. He would only let her use the bathroom at certain times.”

It became clear to Jane and her staff when they told the story that no one believed it, and there were no local services for individuals who had been victimized by traffickers. They realized something had to change, and it would have to begin with them.

“It was a very quick learning curve. After that our staff started going to training and getting prepared,” she said. “For about a year, that’s what we did. We learned and attended seminars. It’s just kind of progressed from there to where we are now, which is being able to house them and have this fully functional program every day of the week.”

The founder and her team began partnering with law enforcement agencies to help rehabilitate victims recovered from trafficking. The nonprofit offers an intense 18-month long program for victims, divided in two groups, one for adults and one for juveniles. At any time, the non-profit is working with close to 20 women and can provide housing for 12 in one of its recovery homes in Shreveport. The women must attend classes from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and progress through four phases of the program. Participants are also required to attend counseling, as well as mental health checkups. As long as the victims are actively involved in the program and abide by the rules, the non-profit pays their living expenses.

“Our program runs under the belief that prostitution or exotic dancing or whatever is the least of their problems,” Jane said. “Very typically, it’s just the showing of a lot of brokenness. Their problem is not that they prostitute or else they could stop prostituting and recover. Never is that the problem, actually. A lot of times the real problem is drugs so we’re very heavy on recovery from substance abuse.”

Not only does the non-profit help victims of trafficking, but they also work with women employed in the sex industry through exotic dance clubs or pornography. Jane said exotic dancers often are being forced to dance in a club by someone else, and that many times, trafficking victims aren’t even aware they have been trafficked.

“Trafficking is a very narrow victimization,” Jane said. “That’s what’s so difficult about the conversation of trafficking. A lot of times it’s going on without that definition being put on it. The numbers tend to be so low because it’s not a crime that people report.”

They don’t know that having a pimp is equal to the definition of trafficking. It’s a little tricky.”

Jane isn’t sure of the exact number of victims they’ve assisted because each case is so different. Some women are admitted to rehab facilities for substance abuse, while others choose not to participate in the recovery program and are typically only heard from if there has been an emergency. But she stands by the program and knows it’s a model for success.

“Our goal is to restore women 100 percent to who God created them to be, and we believe it’s possible because we’re watching it happen,” she said. “It’s not easy for them, or us, but that’s what it’s about.”

Bonnie’s Story

Bonnie Brown’s nickname was Bonnie Hollywood. The name came from her time working the streets around Hollywood Avenue in Shreveport. She grew up in a home where her brothers sold crack cocaine, and it was her sister who provided her with her first hit of the drug. By age 23, Bonnie was married and divorced with four children. It wasn’t until after her divorce that she became hooked on drugs.

Her addiction sent her spiraling out of control, and Bonnie began selling herself for her next hit.

“I was older when the trafficking started,” she said. “I was raised in church, and then I went out to find my own selfish way. Being a drug addict led me to prostitution, and then I began to lean toward people who I thought had my best interest at heart.”

But they didn’t have Bonnie’s best interest at heart.

“Instead, they would take me places and have other guys wait in rooms and then I was sold,” she said. “I wasn’t paid but they were paid. And it went from that extreme to the extreme of me recruiting other people, other ladies like myself.”

A man she had known for years would take her fishing and often would tell her “You’re so pretty Bonnie; you need to quit doing drugs.”

“I thought he was my friend,” Bonnie, 57, said, holding back tears. “He gained my trust and I would go home with him.”

This so-called friend began taking advantage of Bonnie, and started setting her up on dates himself, ultimately pimping her out, trafficking her.

Then, one day this man picked up Bonnie and they drove to his house in Bethany, La. She walked in and he locked the door behind her. They were not alone. He hit Bonnie over the back of the head with a chair, and three other men were waiting to rape Bonnie over and over again.

In the early hours of the morning, Bonnie managed to escape through a window, and darted down the dirt road with no clothes on. She managed to come across a clothesline in someone’s yard where she snatched a T-shirt and frightened for her life, she continued down the road, hiding in ditches at the sight of headlights.

“I laid down in the ditch and then this particular time I got up to run again and a car light came. Something came over me saying to just run in the middle of the street, and I ran into the middle of the street,” she said. “It was the police.”

She told the officer she was brought out into the Greenwood area to perform sexual favors against her will. As is common with sex trafficking victims, Bonnie refused to take the officer to the pimp’s house or file a report against him out of fear he might retaliate.

The months following the kidnapping and assault were filled with drug binges and despair. Traumatized, Bonnie didn’t leave her house for two weeks.

“I became a very ugly person. I was so ugly. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t like what I had become, and I could not stand to look at it,” she said. “I had no respect for myself or anyone else.”

She managed to avoid the pimp, yet her drug addiction resulted in turning tricks once again. It also led to her arrest, which she said sparked the beginning of a change in herself.

Bonnie was released from Caddo Correctional Center in July 1999 but she said she started her drug regiment again. However, it was different this time.

“I was buying the dope but wasn’t really getting high. I was just repeating the cycle,” she said. “But I could see a glimpse of Bonnie somewhere.”

One night, she received $400 for turning a trick and she and a friend bought crack and walked to an empty house down the street. She sat there and cried and smoked, and cried and smoked. Her friend was getting high but Bonnie wasn’t.

“I tried to smoke some more dope and then I heard someone say ‘no more,’” she said.

Bonnie describes the voice as piercing loud. She heard it again. Nervous, Bonnie tried to light the crack pipe, but she said she heard it again, “no more.”

Convinced the voice was God speaking to her, Bonnie threw the crack and the pipe on the ground and stomped it to pieces.

Bonnie said she suffered no withdrawals and has never touched the drug again. Instead, she said she became saved and found God.

Even though Bonnie’s life has turned around, she still resides in the west Shreveport neighborhood where she grew up and said she sees many young girls and women walking the streets, just as she once did. In fact, not long ago she saw a girl, who looked to be about 16-years-old, walking down Greenwood Road, and she pulled over her car to offer some words of advice. The conversation would lead to a surprising discovery.

“I asked her if I could buy her some breakfast. She was afraid,” Bonnie said. “I told her, ‘I used to be you,’ so she trusted me enough to let me take her to McDonald’s, and come to find out the exact same person who did it to me was doing it to her. And she was so young. He’s still a predator to this day.”

Bonnie talked to her for over an hour and gave the young girl her contact information, but she has never received a call.

“My heart goes out to her. You don’t know at first, and then after you’ve been abused and used, where is your self worth? Where is your mentality? You have none,” she said. “They have stripped you of everything morally right.”

But Bonnie now has self-worth. She graduated from Southern University and is now set to graduate in December with a degree in psychology from Louisiana Tech University. She plans to become a substance abuse counselor to help others. She also has a book coming out at the end of the year called Something Good is in the Trash.

Solution: Education & Awareness

Sex trafficking is a crime in which there is no quick fix. As long as there is a demand for it, there will be pimps selling powerless children and helpless women.

According to Special Agent Plants, sex trafficking is on the rise and the Internet is a primary factor.

“I know it’s easy to say it’s the oldest profession, but over the past few years, with the Internet, it has exploded. Guys just keep pushing the button,” he said. “And to some degree it’s the supply and demand effect. There is way more demand on the Internet for prostitutes, so when you get that, you’re going to have a greater demand for underage prostitutes.”

Miller said the key to protecting yourself and children from becoming victims of sex trafficking falls on a three things: education, awareness and being involved in children’s lives.

She said people need to become aware the problem exists and accept that it is happening in the community. Parents need to know what to look for, and when it is suspected that a child is being victimized, they should contact authorities.

“It’s an adult’s responsibility to prevent child abuse. It’s not a child’s responsibility,” Miller said. “We have to make that call. We have to be willing to get uncomfortable, and if you’re so uncomfortable that you don’t want to give your name, then call anonymously and give a tip.”

Miller also encourages parents to be nosy when it comes to their children. Talk to children about the techniques used by traffickers and the grooming process, so they are less vulnerable if they are confronted.

“It’s a three prong approach,” she said. “You have to educate yourself; you have to be aware. You have to know what your kids are doing, and if you suspect that a child is being abused, you have to be that voice.”

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.373.7888. If you are a victim of trafficking, text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733) to reach a call specialist, who will assist in planning your escape and/or connecting you to services in the area.

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The Facts

  • Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing crime worldwide, just behind the drug trade.
  • Human trafficking is a $32 billion-a-year industry.
  • FBI estimates nearly 300,000 American youth are at risk of becoming victims of commercial sexual exploitation every year.
  • The average age range at which U.S. children are first used in commercial sex is between the ages of 12-14.
  • 83 percent of sex trafficking victims found in the U.S. were U.S. citizens.

(Sources: FBI.gov; Polaris Project; HumanTrafficking.org)