By Rachel Hoeing and guest blogger Krystin
My friend Krystin is a board member of Lily Pad Haven, which is a nonprofit organization that provides housing for survivors of human trafficking. She has shared bits and pieces about the organization with me, but I wanted to know more. Human trafficking is something that many of us assume only happens in other countries and to other people. Never here. Not in our own backyards, and not to our own kids. But that is wrong. I reached out to Krystin to see if she would mind sharing more about this horrible crime. Our TMoM team compiled questions for her, and the answers are below. The only way to stop human trafficking is to spread awareness. Our hope is that today’s blog will do just that. Please share and help make an impact! …. Rachel
What is Human trafficking?
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery and a federal crime. Human trafficking is the trade in humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation induced by force, fraud, or coercion. It is the fastest growing business of organized crime. It is estimated that more than 30 million people are enslaved worldwide today.
Is this happening nationwide? Is it a big city problem?
Human trafficking happens in every single state in the US and is done in rural, suburban, and urban locations.
What impact are we seeing from human trafficking in NC?
Human trafficking is an estimated $32B / year industry (that is almost $7B more than McDonald’s 2015 revenue) and is ranked as a top 3 form of organized crime (with drug smuggling and arms dealing being the other two). Human Trafficking is comprised of labor and sex trafficking. For the purposes of this post, we’ll speak specifically to sex trade.
The appeal for human trafficking is for a number of reasons:
- You can sell a person over and over (as opposed to a drug or gun which has a 1x sale price); the average human trafficking victim is sold into sex trade 25-48 times per night
- Human sale can easily be set up with a smart phone and a bed – so there is low overhead for the trafficker
- A trafficker can make $150,000 per victim per year and may have multiple victims “working” for him/her – they may also be part of a larger pyramid of a trafficking organization
North Carolina is a Top 10 state for human trafficking violations, with Charlotte being the top destination. There are many reasons why our state is highly ranked:
- Proximity to major interstates and ports (ease of travel)
- We host many large sporting events and conventions (for which victims will be brought in)
- There is a large migrant work population (which leads to labor and sex trafficking)
- We have military bases, around which pimps will set up trafficking rings
Its estimated that 1,700+ girls are trafficked in NC each year (the vast majority of them are US-born citizens).
Where do they find their victims?
Everywhere. Someone can become a victim at any age and at any place.
2M people are estimated to be trafficked annually in the US (and those are all domestic citizens). 600,00-800,000 are estimated to be brought across our boarders. This shows you that much of the trafficking is of our own children/sisters/mothers/brothers.
There are over 2,200 homeless children in NC and statistics show that 1 in 3 will be picked up by a pimp and sold within the first 48 hours of becoming homeless. But it’s not just social economic status that affects victims. Traffickers are savvy and they prey on victims who are isolated, insecure, underprivileged, lonely, or innocent. Basically human trafficking doesn’t discriminate on geography, social status, gender, age or education level – if there is a weakness to be exploited, a trafficker can find it.
Human trafficking isn’t just about “force.” Fraud and coercion play a large role in why victims remain with traffickers. For example, a victim may believe that if they leave, the trafficker will hurt their family. The victim could start out in a romantic relationship with the trafficker, which then evolves into the trafficker convincing the victim to enter into sex trade. (These types of situations often evolve into the trafficker taking all their belongings, leaving the victim with no way out.) Traffickers will also use drugs and travel to keep their victims disoriented so they do not know where they are and will become dependent on the trafficker for their drug needs. Victims may even become fearful of law enforcement. There are many emotional controls employed which makes it easy to become a victim, yet difficult to be rescued.
Is there a certain age or gender that is targeted?
Victims can be as young as 2 and as old as 60. The difficult thing about human trafficking is that it doesn’t discriminate. We see husbands trafficking wives, uncles and aunts trafficking relatives, sisters/brothers trafficking siblings, “boyfriends” trafficking girlfriends, and captures trafficking captives… the list goes on.
What can we do to recognize victims of human trafficking in our communities?
There are many signs (listed below) but what I tell people is trust your gut. You know when something doesn’t seem right. We should all do our part and report ANY type of suspicious activity, but please never intervene (a trafficker is never far from their victims and you should never place yourself in a dangerous situation). The best thing to do is take account of your surroundings and report in detail what you see.
- Multiple cell phones – might not have their own cell phone
- Do not have any ID
- Live and work in the same location
- Not allowed to keep money they earn
- Hide money from trafficker/employer
- No freedom of movement
- Has been branded by a trafficker – tattoo of trafficker’s name or symbol
- Acts scared around people
- Won’t provide her name
- Use of lingo or slang relating to individual’s involvement in prostitution
- Referring to boyfriend as “daddy”
- Speaks of “the life”
- Individual is dressed in inappropriate clothing
- Discrepancies in behavior and reported age
- Impaired judgment
- Emotional exhaustion
- Unfamiliar with their surroundings
- Claim to be “Just Visiting”
- Has numerous inconsistencies in their story
- Exhibits a loss of sense of time
- Exhibits hyper-vigilance or paranoid behavior
- Threatened with harm if they leave their job
- Foreign Born who worry about being deported due to threats
Are there certain warning signs that parents or kids should be aware of (if/when encountering someone involved with trafficking)?
- Change in the group of people they associate with. (Know who your children are talking to.)
- Change in the types of activities they are interested in or places they want to go. Traffickers look for victims who are vulnerable: lonely, insecure, low self-esteem, easily influenced, etc. and unfortunately for teenagers that describes many of them. We all go through these stages and traffickers try to capitalize on those feelings.
- Increased usage of drinking/drugs/staying out late
- Any change in emotional behavior
What is being done to combat human trafficking-what organizations are in charge of monitoring this problem?
There are area rescue organizations which help to identify victims, but mainly rescues are dependent on local law enforcement, homeland security and ICE. There is also regional human trafficking task forces which have been formed to try and combat human trafficking in our state (Lily Pad Haven is a member of the Charlotte Metropolitan Human Trafficking Task Force).
What is Lily Pad Haven?
Lily Pad Haven is a nonprofit organization that provides housing for survivors of human trafficking. We maintain a network of safe houses which can each house up to two guests. Our guests are referred by Government and Non-Government Organizations that work with victims of human trafficking. We do not limit the length of stay of our guests as each of their stories and needs are very different. We work with our community partners to provide the services needed for our guests to transition back into society.
How does your organization help victims or even find them? What resources are available to them?
We receive guests from referring agencies (local law enforcement, homeland security, the FBI, ICE, etc.) and we provide emergent and long term housing for victims who are 18+ years old, and coordinate trauma care and transitional services. The ultimate goal is to help our guests transition back into society and feel good about themselves. We cannot erase the past, but we try to help them learn how to move on in their lives. Goals for each guest are different, it could be as small as being able to sleep in a bed again or as big as independent living. Each guest’s journey with us is their own and we help find ways to support them in their healing.
There are many community partnerships we’ve formed to help guests in a range of needs (medical and psychological care and treatment, trauma care, beauty needs, activities and community engagement, employment services, life skills coaching, vision and dental needs, legal resources, social services, etc.)
Are the victims in danger after they’ve been rescued?
All of our homes are safe houses. We’ve designed each house to accommodate two females and have made it feel as if they are moving into a home of their own. But, there are house rules that all must follow in order to protect the safety of our guests. Local police know of the homes, but no one else in the community does. Guests are not allowed to have any unauthorized visitors and are not allowed to discuss their living arrangements with anyone outside of Lily Pad Haven. We also have security monitoring of each home. If a victim’s trafficker is still at large, that victim typically isn’t housed in an area that is close to where the trafficking occured to help protect their safety.
What can I do to help?
Monetary donations are always a great way to help out, but sometimes people are interested in ideas that make them feel more involved or that they are giving something more substantial than funds.
I always tell people the best way to help is to be aware of your surroundings. If something doesn’t look right, report it. We all have a shared responsibility as a global society look out for each other. The only way human trafficking will ultimately end is if the discussion is taken out of the shadows and people are made aware. Education and awareness are simple ways we can all help prevent trafficking. If you see something that doesn’t look right, report it. Victims are everywhere and often in plain sight: at a bus stop, in a store, on an airplane, walking down the street, in a hotel lobby. There is never a downfall to overacting, but there are HUGE consequences if something goes unreported.
If something doesn’t look right:
– Call 911
– Call the national human trafficking hotline: 888-373-7888
– Discrete texting: 233-733 [BEFREE]
There are also other ways to be involved with Lily Pad Haven which do not require a monetary donation. We are always in need of volunteers to do activities with guests or serve as a mentor for a guest. We also look for physical donations for our homes and for people to donate their skills (dentists, eye doctors, graphic designers, printers, recruiters, event planners and fundraiser, grant research and writers, accountants etc.). You name your skill and we’ll find a way to use it whether you are in Charlotte or the Triad!
Should we explain human trafficking to young children? If so, how do we do that without scaring them?
That is a personal decision every parent should make on their own for their children. There is a level of innocence we all want our children to maintain, but there is also a reality that predators prey on children. Social media has been a game changer and serves as an easy access point for traffickers to find victims. My advice is to provide as much information as you are comfortable sharing with your child, but be extra aware of who they are associating with, both in-person and online. There are countless cases of traffickers befriending victims online, meeting just off school campuses, forming a relationship, and then before the victim knows it they are in the sex trade.
I can’t thank Krystin enough for the time she took to answer these questions. This is a tough, tough topic and honestly breaks my heart makes me a little sick to my stomach when I truly try to comprehend this crime and understand that it is happening right here. I hope that today’s blog can not only help all of us become more aware, but maybe, just maybe, we can save a life.