National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

The One Book to Read to Learn More about Child Sex Trafficking

Having bombarded you this month with various posts regarding human trafficking awareness, I want to close out January's National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month with a book recommendation for you to read and learn more. Of the many excellent primers and memoirs out there, my most recent favorite is a combination of the two. Walking-Prey-Cover2

Survivor and activist, Smith weaves her personal story into an analysis of the cultural constructs that form the backdrop and path to trafficking. Unlike most books on this subject, Walking Prey thoroughly addresses the negative influence of media including the early consumerism of children, sexually explicit music lyrics and videos and television and movie industries.

The sexualization of idols in teen-driven media adds to a teen's self-objectification and self-sexualization.

Smith describes in vivid detail (readers beware) the compounding vulnerabilities she experienced before the age of 14. Media is merely one, but it fed into her low self-esteem brought on by substance abuse in the home, childhood sexual abuse, parental denial of abuse, and lack of mental health interventions. For various reasons, by the time she was trafficked, prostitution didn't seem so preposterous. "I already saw my body as a form of currency even before I arrived at that motel room."

I cringe when people refer to me as a former sex slave because if I was a sex slave to anyone, it was to popular culture. Advertisers, entertainment producers, and other moguls of the media were the ones who seasoned me to accept sexual exploitation and prostitution. My body was an object: its sole purpose, I believed by that point, was for sex.

For all the research I do and conferences and trainings I attend on this subject, Walking Prey is the first book that has really challenged me as a mother and trainer of youth. I thought I had crafted an awesome hour-long presentation to high school students. I thought I had all the right components in the arts prevention curriculum I wrote last year. Now I am seriously considering how to add media literacy to my training.

And then there's my home... The Disney Channel regularly promotes "dating" among younger and younger kids and yet before we got rid of cable, was often on in our living room. What is the message that our adolescents are receiving about needing to have a boyfriend/ girlfriend? What about the lyrics to the songs they listen to? One Direction has many catchy songs, but it took us really listening to realize almost every one was about relationships and sex... and our 7-year-old was memorizing them. These popular cultural messages which slip into our kids souls through Disney (at first) feed into an over-sexualized culture which lays the groundwork for exploitation.

Smith lists some interesting documentaries to watch and learn more. Some of the trailers can be viewed for free:

1. Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood

2. Dreamworlds 3: Desire, Sex, and Power in Music Videos

3. Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women

I appreciate Holly Smith sharing her story and offering the anti-trafficking movement such a thorough resource. Right now, if you are a parent, I want to encourage you to take whatever seeds of guilt or condemnation you might be feeling (I don't intend that!) and turn it into prevention education. Would you at least consider the role of media and the over-sexualization of our kids... your kids... And consider the role it plays in allowing sex trafficking to prosper in our society.

My Favorite Training Trafficking Tool in 10 minutes

In 2003, to combat domestic sex trafficking, the FBI, Department of Justice Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, formed the Innocence Lost National Initiative. To date, more than 69 collaborative task forces have been formed around the country and helped recover over 3400 children. Rocky Mountain Innocence Lost Task Force (RMILTF) is one of them. In this 10 minute video produced by iEmpathize, Sergeant Dan Steele of the Denver Police Department and RMILTF describes the nature of a trafficker. It has become one of my go to training tools to educate audiences on the strategy of a pimp/ trafficker. Watch the video and consider the 5 tactics a trafficker employs.

1. Pretender 2. Provider 3. Protector 4. Promiser 5. Punisher

Ride Along: Detective Dan Steele from iEmpathize on Vimeo.

"You have to go on the assumption that this is happening in your community. First and foremost, be knowledgeable on the subject..." Dan Steele

Today's action, beyond becoming more knowledgeable by watching this video, is to put this national hotline number in your phone. Do not hesitate to call or text for help, a tip, or advice.


Sex Trafficking is in Your City

January is the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and as such, I have bombarded you with tough thoughts on Domestic Sex Trafficking. I wrote about the problem with some agitate methods such as End It Movement's Final Four Slavery Truck here.

I addressed the debate around sex workers choosing the life here.

At A Sista's Journey, I asked about the men.

In a brave mood, I dared to say that porn fuels the sex industry here.

And of course, I've encouraged you to buy my book, END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking, written to men, but useful for all.

But I need to tell you more. Today, I want you to ponder this:

Sex Trafficking is happening in your city, however small, however large. It is happening in your own backyard. And it can happen to anyone.

Domestic Sex Trafficking is anyone under 18 who is commercially sexually exploited or anyone 18 and over who through force, fraud, or coercion is induced to perform sex acts. This looks like women living and working in fake massage businesses, forced to give sexual services to clients during 12 hour days. It looks like young runaways trading sex for shelter and getting caught up with a guy who ends up selling her. It looks like LGBTQ youth being thrown out by their family, seen as a sexualized object, and exploited on the street. It looks like older boyfriends who after pampering their girls with gifts for a few weeks asks for a return on his investment.

There may not be a track. Your little city might not have a strip club or a seedy side of town. But do you have the internet? Do you have youth? Do you have heart break and broken families and poverty? Our city, while rated in the top 10 livable cities in America, has all of this. And we have sex trafficking. So do you.

Only a well-educated, well-informed community can effectively launch a response to sex trafficking. If you have blinders on, I implore you to remove them.

END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking walks you through what you need to know, how to assess your city, how to garner community ownership, and tangible action steps to take. Make the first move. Take action now!

End New 3D

What kind of community do you live in and what are you seeing?

Do Sex Workers Choose To Sell Their Bodies? The Debate Around Choice.

LittleGirl Let me say from the beginning, I do not believe any little girl wakes up one day and says, "Mommy, when I grow up I want to sell my body. It's the easiest job I can think of that makes the most money. Just think! I'll let men use, abuse, and harm me every night, all night and then I'll be living the dream!"

What happens between "I want to be a Mommy!" or "I want to be an astronaut!" or "I want to be a Doctor who takes a rocket to work in a village without Doctors and then come home on my horse!" and "I am 'choosing' to prostitute myself!" is a million small violations and systemic problems that completely annihilate the meaning of "choice."

Choice: noun an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities.

Possibilities. Consider these:

Childhood Sexual Abuse

Research shows that over 90% of prostituted youth and women arrested for prostitution were sexually abused (though I have heard field workers say it's 100%). Such a degrading and disempowering assault deeply affects the body, mind, and soul. When older and faced with survival, it's easier to exchange sex for food and shelter since the barriers to sex have already been crossed. Often the decision to sell sex is a reversal of the power paradigm by which they can exert control over their bodies, rather than be powered over by another.

Social System

Consider the little girl raised in a chaotic home, with the presence of substance abuse. People in and out, affecting school and perhaps food security. Foster care is often present, social services involved. Absent fathers the norm. An environment of low dreams, where college feels unattainable, if talked about at all. Truancy, teen pregnancy abound. Is it hard to imagine she might not have the constructs for a different kind of life? And what if she thinks she'd be better, safer, if she ran away? Or worse, what if she is thrown away? Research shows that within 48 hours of being on the street, a youth will be solicited for sex. The National Runaway Switchboard estimates that each year between 1.6-2.8 million youth runaway. And those who are on the streets for more than 30 days are most closely associated with commercial sexual exploitation.

Force, Fraud, and Coercion

Three words help define human trafficking. In the U.S., it looks like this: young girl who comes from aforementioned background is preyed upon by a brilliant controller (otherwise known as a pimp). He scopes her out, identifies her vulnerability, and works to exploit it. As one survivor says, "You need a Daddy? He'll be your Daddy." After a period of lavish gift buying, "dating," and consensual sex, he asks for his return on his investment- sex with others. Depending on his style of pimping, this is where force (brutal beatings, food deprivation, and rape), coercion (threats to expose her to friends, harm a family member, etc.) and fraud come into play. A psychological game ensues and the girl is trapped. What are her choices now?

So, when we debate whether prostitution should be legalized, if sex workers should be "left alone" to do with their lives as they please, I ask, from what array of choices have they chosen to sell their bodies? Have we not, as a society, failed the little girls who grow up with a limited number of possibilities? In this greater systemic context, is not choice but an illusion?

What do you think? Share your thoughts below!

If you would like to learn more, check out my recent book, END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking. While written to a male audience (to empower them to engage this issue) it is useful for all. Full of documented facts and explanations, stories, group discussion and a doable game plan for every community, this manual will help you launch a response to sex trafficking in your backyard.

End New 3D