While news reports, movies and documentaries spotlight sex tourism in Asia, the No. 1 destination for American men looking for sex with a child is — America.
Speakers in a daylong awareness event about human trafficking Aug. 11 in Greenville for medical, social work and law enforcement workers reeled off a long list of similarly shocking statistics.
With five interstate highways slicing through North Carolina, this state is well located for its earned reputation as a hotspot for human trafficking in both the sex and farm labor arenas.
Knowledge of how far this trade in human beings reaches is only beginning to surface, due in part to the efforts of Pam Strickland, founder of the Eastern Carolina Stop Human Trafficking Now coalition, and a member of Oakmont Baptist Church in Greenville. She learned of the problem in a 2006 missions conference and has been motivated ever since to stop it.
With its interstate system, immigration and labor intensive agricultural jobs, North Carolina is a ripe area for human trafficking, which is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion.
You see victims in restaurants and fields, in yards and processing plants. You don’t see them as domestic slaves or in brothels in neighborhoods much like your own. But they are there, enslaved by men who promised them transportation to America and good, honest work in exchange for a high fee.
Life did not turn out that way and they instead find themselves strangers in a strange land; their documents confiscated; unable to speak the language; no money to flee and in debt to their handlers at levels they will never overcome.
Human exploitation is Woman’s Missionary Union’s area of special study the next two years.
Human trade has become more lucrative than drug trafficking, according to law enforcement officers at the conference. Drugs are sold and consumed.
A human body can be resold many times and those who trade in human slave labor are said to profit by $32 billion annually.
Even at just $30 a “trick” in a North Carolina brothel, a victim can earn $75,000 to $250,000 a year for her pimp. As many as 17,500 persons are trafficked into the U.S. each year and from 100,000 to 300,000 persons in the U.S. are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation. That includes web based pornography.
You see them every day and don’t notice them, according to conference presenters. What are some signs that people are being held against their will, even though they are not physically restrained? Look for security measures around a house that don’t fit the neighborhood, like barbed wire designed to keep people in, not out.
Does your foreign waiter’s name tag reflect a likely name from his or her country? State Trooper Mark Nichols, a member of New Bethel Baptist Church in Garner, said he was eating at a Chinese restaurant and his waitress had a French name and she had “not a clue” what her name was or what the word on her name tag meant.
Are they working excessive hours with no time off? Do they have any knowledge of the surrounding area? Victims are kept moving so they cannot establish relationships in a particular area.
Are they fearful, anxious, submissive?
There are barriers to identifying and stopping trafficking, including the stereotypes about undocumented workers and women who have been prostituted. There are language and psychological challenges; fear, shame and self loathing by the victims; and lack of awareness of resources even by those who would like to help.
If you suspect a person is a victim of human trafficking, call the hotline at (888) 373-7888. North Carolina has several rapid response teams that can move quickly when such human bondage is verified.
The root cause for human trafficking is demand for cheap labor and for access to the bodies of women and children. Strickland said if there was no buyer, there would be no seller and consequently, no victims. Learn more at her web site.
We need to be talking about sex, pornography and human trafficking in church,” Strickland said. “We know that men who are behind selling and buying sex and pornography are sitting in the church pew.”
A large part of her drive is to decrease the vulnerability of children to being trafficked, as 300,000 American children have been forced into the sex trade. Runaways often end up in the trade, enticed and embraced by pimps who haunt youth shelters.
Sensuality only talent
Girls everywhere are becoming sexualized because their main role models identify sexuality as their primary talent, not their intellect or spirit or work ethic or dependability.
When sexuality runs into conflict with the law, as in the Super Bowl incident with Justin Timberlake aggressively ripping off Janet Jackson’s bustier, Jackson and the network were punished in the marketplace, but Timberlake was not.
There is a double standard. Girls obviously too young to have chosen a life on the streets are arrested for prostituting, but their customers are too often told only to “go home to your wife.”
One in five girls, and one in 10 boys will be sexually abused in the U.S., according to presenters. That doesn’t mean they will be raped, but it means they will endure unwanted sexual touch.
A 2006 survey revealed an estimated 650,000 kids in the U.S. have exchanged sex for drugs or money. Many were “marketed” in their own homes before they ran away. Or they were abused by mom’s boyfriend, but he paid the rent so mama wouldn’t throw him out. Then the child had to use the only method she knew to survive once she hit the street.
International human trade is shocking, but distant. Knowing that thousands of humans are in physical bondage in North Carolina is frightening because it is here, and it includes our children. The only way not to see signs of human trafficking in any community in North Carolina is simply not to look for it, said presenters.
And the best person to help put a stop to it is anyone who will call the human trafficking hotline.