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Each year sex trafficking claims an estimated 100,000 new victims in the US and in various forms enslaves as many as 400,000 young people. Shockingly, the average age of enslavement of girls is 12-14 years. While public awareness of sex trafficking is growing, sadly most Americans have yet to comprehend just how deeply its ugly tentacles have infiltrated American society. Sex trafficking is literally all around us—hiding in plain sight, if we know what to look for.
Abortion is crucial to keeping the sex trafficking industry humming. The abortion industry knowingly participates by looking the other way when pimps or other representatives of this underworld trade bring pregnant trafficking victims to abortion facilities. Of the three to five girls a pimp controls, at least two will have an abortion; many will have more than one.
I recently interviewed four women who have intimate knowledge of sex trafficking. Two were victims; all four now actively work to end human trafficking, which can involve prostitution or slave labor.
Marlene Carson was a teenager from a solid family when she fell victim to sex trafficking. Her dad, who played saxophone for BB King, and her mom, who stayed home with the kids, had built a stable Christian home for Marlene and her four older siblings.
The predators, Richard and his wife, moved into the neighborhood and set about befriending nearby families. They became trusted friends.
The process of victimization began with day trips that gradually ventured farther from home until Richard and his wife proposed a Labor Day weekend in New York City. There the couple revealed their true intentions. They effectively isolated the children so they could not contact their parents and the fun trip quickly turned menacing. Marlene and the other girls were forced to perform sex acts for money. Richard threatened to harm or kill Marlene and her family if she ever told anyone what was happening to her. The psychological control such predators hold over girls, and sometimes boys, is very powerful and alarmingly effective.
Marlene’s brainwashing came full circle. She moved up in the hierarchy of sex trafficking and became the “bottom girl”—usually the girl who has been with the pimp the longest and makes him the most money. She has status and power over the other girls and is responsible for a variety of activities such as the “recruitment” of additional sex slaves, collecting the money, monitoring law enforcement activity and running things while the pimp is away. If something goes wrong, the bottom girl is held accountable and punished. Marlene wasn’t too concerned about police officers because they were their number one buyers of time with the girls.
Marlene also was responsible to arrange abortion appointments when the girls became pregnant.
A hired “parent” would take girls to Planned Parenthood for abortions. Marlene says the staff would be well aware the girls were being victimized, but they consistently looked the other way to avoid losing a paying customer in the lucrative business of abortion. By doing this, they functioned as criminal enablers or partners with the pimps, allowing the victimization to continue.
Even though Marlene arranged for other girls’ abortions, she wouldn’t have one herself. She is now the mother of four children, two the result of prostitution. Marlene begged her pimp not to force her to have an abortion and was spared, but it cost her dearly. She was repeatedly beaten during her pregnancies because they disrupted her pimp’s income. Marlene’s aversion to abortion was so strong that she once secretly had the house raided to rescue a pregnant girl inside.
The pro-life group Live Action documented that Planned Parenthood routinely partners with sexual predators who victimize girls through sex trafficking. They conducted undercover video investigations at seven Planned Parenthood facilities in four different states. Four were in the state of Virginia: Charlottesville, Falls Church, Richmond and Roanoke. Three others were located in Washington, DC; Perth Amboy, New Jersey; and the Bronx, New York. According to Live Action, each was willing to aid and abet the sex-trafficking of minor girls by supplying confidential birth control, STD testing and secret abortions to underage girls and their traffickers. The video and details are available at our sex trafficking resource page.
Marlene reports that it is very hard for a victimized woman to leave the sex trafficking industry, in part because of the control the pimp has over her life and the considerable material possessions he lavishes on her. Added hurdles include drug and alcohol addiction. As a result of these combined challenges, the chance of relapse is 21 times higher than with drug addiction. After many years, Marlene’s healing has come full circle. She no longer feels guilty but says she will always have remorse.
Marlene now uses her past to help rescue young girls and women from the enslavement she endured for many years. She founded and runs Rahab’s Hideaway in Columbus, Ohio, to provide a safe place and practical help for girls to cope with their past experiences. The girls can stay up to two years at no cost, during which time she and the staff train them for a promising future free of sexual enslavement.
Nita Belles is a regional director for Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans. While never a victim of sex trafficking, early on she was moved and horrified by what this criminal activity is doing to women. She says human trafficking is the second-largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world, next to drugs. One of every three runaways is approached within 48 hours by someone in the sex trafficking trade.
It is a lucrative business. The dollar value of a young girl to a pimp is immense. Each can generate $150,000 to $200,000 per year and the average pimp has three to five girls. The typical price paid by sex buyers is $100 but can and often does go much higher. The traffic is not exclusively female; Nita estimates that boys account for 20 percent of victims.
Nita and nearly all who are familiar with sex trafficking believe that a vast majority of the population has no idea how rampant sex trafficking is. It’s all around us. Nita has written a book called In Our Backyard: A Christian Perspective on Human Trafficking in the United States.
The biggest threat to sex trafficking, Nita says, is awareness and public discussion. The only thing pimps want from us is silence so they can conduct their reprehensible business in total anonymity. Awareness will result in fewer victims, laws against sex trafficking and, most important, enforcement to end this modern-day slavery. According to Nita, churches can play an important role in educating the public. They also can be a refuge for victimized girls and provide spiritual healing.
Nita has taken part in sting operations at five Super Bowl games, a prime event to victimize girls and “recruit” others. The undercover work consistently results in several arrests. During a recent Super Bowl, she and others were able to intervene on a street corner before a pimp could enslave intoxicated girls trying to get back to their dorms at a Christian college.
The prevailing opinion by experts is that cultural grooming by Planned Parenthood has paved the way for widespread sex trafficking. They consistently isolate teens from their parents regarding sexual activity. Then they promote a promiscuous environment and provide contraception and abortion to facilitate more sexual activity by teens and young adults. Experts say online pornography also feeds the sex trafficking industry.
Melinda Haggerty is Director of Children’s Initiatives for the Ohio Attorney General. Her personal background as a child in foster care, she says, has given her helpful insight into her job of protecting young women from sexual predators. In Ohio alone about 1,000 girls are victimized each year. They are “recruited” by parents or caregivers, other girls, pimps and older boyfriends. There is no typical sex buyer because they come from all walks of life and every profession. Melinda’s office has found that social networks play a crucial role in the growth of human trafficking.
One of the biggest misconceptions about sex trafficking is that it generally affects lower income girls who are recruited by pimps unknown to them. The reality is that victims represent all income brackets and are often enslaved by people they know, love and trust. Another false impression is that girls are somehow being chained or forcibly restrained. In reality, they are psychologically traumatized and made to desperately fear their traffickers should they be tempted to flee or speak out.
Sula Skiles was an aspiring model when she was unknowingly spotted at a legitimate Los Angeles event by the girlfriend of a billionaire owner of a clothing line. She was offered a dream modeling job in another country. Sula did her research and everything appeared to check out, but with stars in her eyes and visions of making it big, she didn’t want to find red flags. She missed a crucial one: the plane ticket they gave her was only one-way.
When her plane landed Sula was quickly dressed and taken to “the event,” which turned out to be nothing more than a nightclub. The evening turned ugly when she was ordered to fulfill the sexual desires of the billionaire. If she refused, she was told, the same thing would happen to her that happened to another model who disappeared without a trace. What followed was degrading and humiliating as she became a slave to his every sexual whim. Eventually she convinced his girlfriend to let her go home to tie down some loose ends, promising to return.
Plagued by constant nightmares of rape and self-medicating with alcohol, it was four years before she began her road to normalcy. The emotional healing took a long time, but she is now married to a pastor and a mother of two children. Her warning to other women is that this can happen to anyone.
These four experts say you can help protect women who have fallen victim to sex trafficking. They advise to always be aware of your surroundings and look for key things. Something out of place should be a red flag. For example, if a young girl becomes a chronic runaway, suddenly has large sums of money and expensive clothes, is seen with a hotel card key or in the company of an older man, she is likely involved with sex trafficking. If you see a young girl alone at a truck stop or interstate rest area, that is another red flag. Allow common sense to direct you.
If you see a situation that concerns you, don’t approach the girl. She may not want to be rescued out of fear that she or her family would be injured or killed, or she may be under the psychological control of her pimp. Instead, call the national sex trafficking hotline. It is an easy number when recalled this way: 888-3737-888. Relay your location and what you observed and they will take it from there. A law enforcement official will investigate.
The biggest mistake parents, teens and young women make is having a false sense of security—that they are immune from the sex trafficking industry. Marlene recently conducted a demonstration to dramatically prove this point. She went to a local mall and quickly zeroed in on three girls who appeared to be from upper-middle-class homes. She needed only 17 minutes to get all three into her car.
Traffickers are highly trained and will stop at nothing to victimize young people to make obscene amounts of money. Teach your children to be watchful and aware of their environments. Make sure the entire family understands the potential dangers of the society we live in.
There are many resources to help educate the public and provide safety and healing for those who have been victimized. Visit our sex trafficking page, where we have compiled these resources for you.