The FBI reports on its website that "not only is human sex trafficking slavery but it is big business. It is the fastest-growing business of organized crime and the third-largest criminal enterprise in the world."
I noted in Part 1 of my series on human trafficking that ABC News reported in July on a National Geographic undercover investigation about sexual slavery, saying that "it's actually 10 times more likely for an American girl to be trafficked inside the U.S." than it is for a foreigner. According to the FBI, ABC reported, "they range in age from 9 to 19, with the average age being 11."
Each year, roughly 300,000 American children are at risk for trafficking into the sex industry, compared with 14,500 to 17,500 girls smuggled in from other countries, according to U.S. Department of State statistics.
What lures these kids into sexual slavery? Sure, there are the darker elements of abduction and smuggling. But there are also many of the same enticements as there are with legitimate organizations and careers: security, self-worth, belonging, fame, fortune, etc.
We often think of the sex trade as being run by nothing but controlling hoodlums who second as drug lords -- and many are -- but the truth is that sexual slavery has turned into a billion-dollar industry run by many "average Americans" who are businesspeople.
The National Geographic investigation highlighted how it's not just career criminals in red-light districts who are luring down-and-out minors to sexual slavery. There is a growing swell of U.S. traffickers who are wealthy and "upstanding citizens" in suburban and rural America.
How do these "upstanding citizens" entice their victims? By offering them love and protection, a little adventure and even a career jump into stardom. And many use any reputable bait -- on and off the Internet -- to lure prospective prey into their nets, including careers as models, masseuses and actors. Once their victims are snared by charm and emotional tactics, traffickers then crank up their coercion and control with money, drugs, bondage and blackmail.
The Christian Post interviewed Linda Smith, founder and president of Shared Hope International, and reported: "The way that traffickers often gain their victims, Smith explained, is to first gain the friendship of their target. Sometimes they will pretend to be their boyfriend. After capturing them, they will videotape them getting raped. Then, they may threaten to post the video on the internet, or may threaten to harm their family if they do not cooperate."
Sex trafficking victim Jillian Mourning told investigative journalist Mariana van Zeller: "Every single person that walks the face of the Earth has an aspect of vulnerability. We all have something that can make us vulnerable. Traffickers and pimps and anybody that is in that industry knows how to find that weak spot."
The FBI further elaborates: "These perpetrators may promise marriage and a lifestyle the youths often did not have in their previous familial relationships. They claim they 'love' and 'need' the victim and that any sex acts are for their future together. In cases where the children have few or no positive male role models in their lives, the traffickers take advantage of this fact and, in many cases, demand that the victims refer to them as 'daddy,' making it tougher for the youths to break the hold the perpetrator has on them."
Chong Kim, whose sex trafficking story is at the heart of the award-winning film "Eden" (http://www.edenthefilm.com), explained how subtly she was coerced into the trafficking world, which led to two long years of torture before she could escape: "I met this guy who I thought was my boyfriend, and unlike a lot of fictional human trafficking stories where it happens in one day, this guy, I was convinced that he was my boyfriend. And so when you're that in love, you don't think about 'OK, he's going to traffic me,' if that makes sense. So we were living in Dallas, Texas, and he told me about after two or three weeks of us dating, and he said to me, 'I want to take you out of state to go meet my parents.' And my girlfriend said that if a guy says that to you that he likes you, so there was no 'be careful' -- none of that. I was real excited. I call it the Cinderella syndrome, where we write our names with their last names and future kids' names. But what happened was instead of ending up in Florida, where he said he was going to take me, I ended up in Oklahoma handcuffed to a doorknob in an abandoned house, and from that point on, he contacted the traffickers to come pick me up. So I was transported to Nevada."
The FBI also explained that tragically, in many cases, the parents themselves peddle their children: "Other young people are recruited into prostitution through forced abduction, pressure from parents, or through deceptive agreements between parents and traffickers. Once these children become involved in prostitution, they often are forced to travel far from their homes and, as a result, are isolated from their friends and family. Few children in this situation can develop new relationships with peers or adults other than the person victimizing them. The lifestyle of such youths revolves around violence, forced drug use, and constant threats."
According to the FBI, the truth about family origins is this: "These children generally come from homes where they have been abused or from families who have abandoned them. Often, they become involved in prostitution to support themselves financially or to get the things they feel they need or want (like drugs)."
If you or a child you know is in danger, contact the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at https://report.cybertip.org or by calling 800-THE-LOST (800-843-5678).
The Polaris Project provides the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which is a toll-free hotline available for calls and texts from anywhere in the country 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year. Call it at 888-373-7888, or text "help" or "info" to BE-FREE (233733).
Next week, I will discuss one of the more controversial aspects of sexual slavery: Is the legal porn industry a perpetrator of trafficking, too?