“The buyer is just another guy in that long line.”
This was the opening quotation to the two-hour episode featuring Sex Trafficking on America’s Most Wanted.
This was spoken by a survivor of domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States.
That survivor was me.
Today, I advocate for stronger anti-trafficking laws and greater protection for survivors of all forms of human trafficking. And this is why I commend John Walsh and Lifetime for taking on this crucial topic in their most recent episode of America’s Most Wanted, which aired February 24th, 2012.
John begins the segment with cold, hard facts. He explains that the United Nations estimates that “27 million men, women, and children are victims sold into slavery for cheap labor, for domestic servitude, and for sex.”
John goes on to say that “while all forms of human trafficking are deplorable, sex trafficking, especially when it involves children, sickens (him) to no end.”
He describes a trip to Cambodia in which he and his undercover team haggled with human traffickers. Just when the traffickers thought they would be unsuccessful in “closing the deal,” John says they produced “a real young, naive girl (who) had to be fourteen, possibly younger.”
“It’s appalling,” John continues, “100,000 children in America are caught in the sex trade and what’s most chilling of all- the average age in which children enter the commercial sex industry in the U.S. is between 12 and 14 years old.”
Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador to the U.S. State Department, explains that sex trafficking is a growing problem in the United States.
“The important thing to remember when you’re thinking about human trafficking,” he states, “is that the victims are just like us; it could be anyone.”
I was fourteen years old when I met a man at my local shopping mall in Ocean County, New Jersey.
It was 1992.
I was on summer break after eighth grade middle school graduation, and my friends and I were hanging out at the mall- an activity we did most weekends.
After exchanging numbers, this man called at night while my unknowing parents watched television in the living room.
We talked more than once.
Convincing me to runaway with him was not an overnight accomplishment. He took his time. He got to know me. He analyzed my troubles, and he asked me my dreams. I wanted to be a songwriter. I wanted to meet Julia Roberts. I wanted to see Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris, France.
Within hours of running away with what turned out to be a manipulative and menacing pimp, I was forced to work in Atlantic City, NJ until dawn the next day.
This was a story I had known for twenty years. It was a deep, dark secret I had hidden away. I believed that this story only happened to me; that I, alone, had experienced this. But then I learned that not only had this, indeed, happened to other young girls but that it was still happening today.
Luis CdeBaca explains in the program that “human trafficking is, sadly, a very large problem here in 2012.”
He goes on to say the following:
“The traffickers are very good at exploiting not just fear on the part of their victims, but hope…they tell the girl that they love them; they tell the woman that they’re going to have a better life and a better opportunity. That’s how they start; how they end, though, is through force, through violence, through coercion, to make sure that, once in the trap, the woman or the girl can never leave.”
John Walsh pushes for Safe Harbor laws in each and every state. Safe Harbor laws, John explains, allow “all trafficking victims to come forward without being prosecuted themselves.”
Actress Mira Sorvino also advocates for Safe Harbor laws. She explains that this law “decriminalizes the child or the teenager, it gives them access to social services, and really establishes that the child in prostitution is the victim of a trafficker- the pimp is the trafficker, the child is the victim.”
Thank you John Walsh and Mira Sorvino for highlighting the need for these critical laws.
I’d like to end with a final quote from Luis CdeBaca: “Slavery was not made illegal in the United States because it was good policy; it was made illegal because the people of the United States rose up and demanded that slavery be abolished.”
Does your state offer a Safe Harbor law?