The recent Herald Journal article about Utah Tourism Conference speakers addressing the issue of sex trafficking with local hoteliers and the hospitality industry coincidentally came just a day or two after I’d finished reading the book "Stolen," by Katarina Rosenblatt, a gripping story of how the author naively became entrapped in, and eventually escaped from, the dark world of sex trafficking in the United States.
There are many terrible stories of women and children from abroad who are kidnapped or lured into this country under false pretenses such as promises of employment, a good education, or marriage, but Katarina was an American child who was meticulously groomed in her own neighborhood in her early teens, by a young woman who sensed her insecurities and unstable family life and pretended to give her the love and friendship she longed for. After gaining her trust, she led her into demoralizing and dangerous situations filled with threats and drugs that weakened her resistance and kept her entangled — even after she realized that those people, and others like them, weren’t really her friends. She didn’t know where to turn for help, so her downward spiral continued. She says:
“(My groomer) used the techniques most human traffickers employ to steal and destroy the lives of ignored and sexually abused young people. I was an ideal candidate. It didn’t take much time for (her) to notice my vulnerability and exploit me. She knew what she was doing, but I was blind to the multimillion-dollar industry of the sex trade that was going on behind the scenes.”
Later, she writes: “Most human trafficking victims don’t survive (or escape). Many die from disease, drug overdose, or murder (or) see that their only way out is through suicide.” And of those who do survive, most have given up hope for anything better and are stuck in the mire of prostitution, drugs, and “adult entertainment.”
She explains organized trafficking as working like a pyramid scheme: “The top people are highly respected, some are even in politics. … And the traffickers go from the top down to the lower-level drug dealers and street-level pimps. I’ve also learned that child protection workers, those within the school system, and even retired detectives have been involved in selling children into the sex trade. Everybody profits except the girls and boys and their families whose lives are ruined.”
For some of us it may not be quite so hard to imagine awful things like slavery in Third World countries or big, bustling, impersonal cities across the globe, but the thought of innocent women and children literally being bought and sold to satisfy the lusts and greed of depraved individuals right here in America, and possibly even in our own peaceful communities, might be a little harder to grasp.
In the book “Woman, Child for Sale,” by Gilbert King, it states: “Every ten minutes, a woman or child is trafficked into the United States for forced labor (including sexual activity). Around the world it’s estimated that twenty-seven million people are living in slavery, and human trafficking has become a $12 billion a year global industry.”
The enslavement of displaced, deceived, abducted, or just desperately-poor people is a worldwide problem and a global tragedy, and to our collective shame as a nation, the United States reportedly has one of the highest rates of human trafficking (and particularly sex trafficking) in the world! Thankfully, though, there are some brave and selfless individuals who are doing everything they can to bring these atrocities to light, fight the perpetrators, and free their victims — just as abolitionists did in the dark days of our country before the Civil War.
Timothy Ballard, who founded the organization he fittingly named Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.), is one of those people — and one of my heroes! His book SLAVE STEALERS is a moving and informative source on the subject of slavery in the United States, both past and present, as well as in Haiti after a terrible earthquake there in 2010 left many children orphaned and vulnerable to predators.
While most of us are appalled at the thought of human trafficking, there might seem to be little we can do to fight it in our normal, everyday lives. But here are a few suggestions:
1.) Send monetary donations to O.U.R. or similar organizations that do rescue missions and/or provide vital aftercare services.
2). Let our local and national representatives and leaders know that this is an important issue to us, and we want action taken against it!
3.) For those who feel so inclined, pray — for both the abused and for their would-be rescuers. Both Rosenblatt and Ballard related several inspiring stories of the power of prayer in some of their most gut-wrenching and dangerous experiences. I also remember a conference I attended many years ago at which Tim Ballard was to have been a guest speaker. He’d canceled because an important rescue opportunity had materialized, but partway through the day the message came in that his team had run into some serious problems. He requested that everyone at the conference offer a prayer in their behalf. It was a riveting moment as the meeting was promptly stopped and hundreds of people joined their hearts and faith in asking for protection for those men and help them succeed in their efforts. A few hours later we received word that all had gone well — the mission had been successful — and quiet prayers of gratitude were sent heavenward.
4.) Keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open to children and others around us who might be secretly suffering in an abusive situation.
And of course 5.) show unconditional love and support to our own children and others over whom we have a stewardship of some kind, and teach them (in age-appropriate ways) how to avoid taking risks that might lead to them being enticed or coerced into any dangerous predicament.
Dena Rock is a Cache Valley mother and retired teacher who has an interest in many things that affect the health or well-being of people — especially children and those struggling with mental health issues.