Now anyone can be a target, even the person you least expect. Elisabeth Meinecke reports for Townhall Magazine.
She was a beautiful, talented young woman who had played the violin at Carnegie Hall. For college, she attended a private university on a large academic scholarship. She studied and didn’t sleep around. She was raised in a faith-based home.
Yet she became a victim of human trafficking, targeted on her college campus. Even now, she remains caught in the dark, twisted world of those who manipulate others in the lucrative business of sex slavery. Her initial trafficker is in jail, but a group of his buddies keeps her ensnared. Her family and trained professionals are trying desperately to draw her back out.
For those on the outside, such a transformation seems impossible. How does a young woman with everything going for her end up here? But for the perpetrators, unfortunately, the case makes all too much sense. Mind games are part of their business. Seduction and manipulation are two of their sharpest tools.
And where they first wield them can be scarily close to home—your child’s campus, or places where your high schooler hangs out.
The Shadow World In Your Backyard
Talk to those who work with human trafficking victims, and you’ll realize it’s not a crime that preys only on society’s marginalized. In the United States, human trafficking is at the point where no socioeconomic class, demographic or community is safe.
Dottie Laster, who’s helped human trafficking victims and assembled a team for this purpose under the umbrella of Laster Global Inc., defines human trafficking as “anyone held in service of another through force, fraud or coercion, and that coercion can be psychological coercion, which is what we most often see … for the purposes of commercial sex or forced labor.” The Polaris Project says human trafficking “is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.”
“I live in a little town of 48,000 people,” Laster says. “I have so many cases here that I accidentally bumped into, I can’t even count them.”
Laster says she noticed about a year ago she was working with more U.S. citizen victims than immigrant victims. She’s also currently working on several high school and college cases.
The average entry age into the sex trade in the United States? Twelve, according to Kathy Wilson, a spokesperson at New Day for Children. New Day is a nonprofit that provides a home for victims of sex trafficking who are 10-18 years old, helping them heal and eventually reunite with family members, if that’s an option. All of the children New Day has worked with so far have been U.S. citizens, with the youngest being 11 years old.
Families can spend thousands of dollars hiring investigators and lawyers when a loved one is in a human trafficking situation. In the violinist’s case, a private investigator Laster had previously trained on human trafficking indicators was hired by the family. When the investigator noticed those indicators in the violinist’s case, the individual reached out to Laster, who is now consulting on the case.
Such assistance provides clarity for families who may know something bad is going on but can only see their daughter acting in a way foreign to her normal self.
“These families are doing great. They’re doing everything they’re supposed to do. But nobody understands what it is until we get involved,” Laster says. “It really makes the case go better when you can finally identify what’s going on.”
The ways by which these victims become entrapped in the industry are legion, ranging from snatch-and-grab (Wilson knows of one victim in her area who simply stepped outside of an Old Navy, her friends inside, to talk on her cell phone, and sex traffickers happened to be cruising by) to a method often referred to as “Romeo.”