“Human Trafficking Prevention” is Part II of my two-part series that began with, “Modern Slavery is Alive and Well.” It was first written as one long (too long) post, so in honor of January being National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, I broke it up into two easier-to-read posts and am re-running it. Read on to find out how modern slavery happens, who it happens to, and what you (yes you, and virtually anyone!) can do about it.
Perhaps the Most Surprising of All…
It happens in schools. Even in the US and other “progressive” western countries. Even in the “good” schools in the “nice” neighborhoods. But here’s the kicker — your own child could be being trafficked right under your nose, and you may never know it!
But how could anyone not know that their child was being pimped? Usually, the victim continues to attend school and acts — or tries to act — as if everything is normal. Take a look at the article the fellow students link above brings you to and you’ll find a lot of helpful information, including many of the signs that a student is being trafficked, and what to do about it.
For teachers, this article in US News may be helpful, offering ways to work lessons on modern-day slavery into history lessons, and here is information on how Baylor University did a study on the effects of a five-lesson curriculum for high schoolers designed to raise awareness of human trafficking. They used “Bodies are Not Commodities,” lessons developed by A21.org.
Personally, I can enthusiastically recommend the book, The Slave Across the Street, by Theresa L. Flores and PeggySue Wells. It is Theresa’s own story of how she, as she puts it, was a white, upper-middle class, all-American track star and Catholic girl who at age 15, ended up as a victim of human trafficking for two horrendous years.
A heart-wrenching, shocking tale to be sure, yet so eye-opening and informative! Theresa has an organization called TraffickFree.com, where she shows how we can help educate and broaden awareness of this insidious evil within our communities, as well as SOAP — Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution.
Another great eye-opener is Renting Lacy: The story of America’s Prostituted Children (a Call to Action), by Linda Smith, founder of Shared Hope International, and author Cindy Coloma.
A Chosen Life?
But wait — don’t many of these so-called “victims” of human trafficking choose to do what they do? If they’ve made these choices, then they’re not victims, especially if they were adults when they made their choice, right? Or if they were suckered into a job where they’re being treated like slaves, they can always leave.
It’s true that there are desperate people out there who are so horribly addicted to drugs, booze, sex, gambling, or whatever other expensive vices are out there, that they are foolishly willing to sell an organ or body part in order to continue feeding their addiction.
But most of those who go this ghastly route, or seemingly willingly enter into the sex trade or to work as indentured servants, do so out of sheer desperation to just survive. At all costs.
Others were duped into becoming modern-day slaves, by cunning traffickers posing as legitimate business people (many really are legitimate business people, albeit fraudulent, treacherous ones).
These foul creatures lure them in by offering them jobs, a place to live, a new and better life, love and companionship, and a sense of belonging. Perhaps even a support network of others like them, people who care.
But hey, once these victims realize they’ve been bamboozled and betrayed, they should simply leave!
Only, it isn’t that easy. Slave traffickers are masters of deceit — not to mention violence. They excel at exploiting people’s vulnerabilities, keeping their terrorized victims in line not only with guile and deception, but with threats, beatings, and even imprisonment in chains or cages.
One victim of sex trafficking I saw interviewed for a television special about the Los Angeles Dream Center, said that after having been sold to a certain man, she was kept in a cage like an animal. She was regularly beaten, tortured, and cut off from all contact with others when she wasn’t “working.”
The whole time, her cruel captor kept up a running commentary on how ugly, stupid, and worthless she was, how she would never survive without him, and how lucky she was to have him to “take care” of her.
He claimed the beatings and torture were to correct her bad behavior and teach her right from wrong, and that he only did it because he cared about her.
She said that after a while, he had her convinced that he loved her, and was the only one in the world who did or ever would. She came to associate his treatment of her with love, and to believe that this life was good, and what she needed.
I don’t remember the exact details on how she was rescued, but that devil’s home was raided by police and possibly a trafficking rescue team.
But even once she was rescued, given a place to live at the Dream Center, given therapy, showered with real love, etc., it was a long time before she learned what real love was.
In other words, oftentimes the captives become brainwashed, aka Stockholm Syndrome.
Stockholm syndrome is when people who have been kidnapped or taken hostage inexplicably develop a bond with their captors. Psychologists believe that the bond is formed when the captors threaten to kill the captives, then after a time of thinking about it — or pretending to think about it — decides not to kill the captives.
The victims’ relief at having been spared is so intense that they feel gratitude toward the captors for allowing them to live. It is a sort of subconscious survival mechanism that kicks in, drowning out the initial feelings of hatred toward their captors.
The victims are so dependent on their captors for everything, including life, that they may begin to look upon even minuscule acts of “kindness” like being allowed to use a bathroom, being given a filthy blanket, or even not being beaten or tortured, as being treated well. Or as we saw in the story of the woman kept in a cage, as being loved and cared for.
These captives may become hypervigilant to the demands of their captors and link the captors happiness with their own, often progressing to the point where the captors become convinced that the police or other authorities, or the rescue team sent in, are the bad guys, bent on ruining their wonderful, budding relationship with their captors.
Psychologists say that this attitude is especially prevalent in hostage situations where the hostages know they are of no use to their captors, except as leverage against a third party.
Cut off from friends, family, the police, or any help or support and immersed 24/7 in a violent, turbulent sea of threats, lies, beatings, torture, and random acts of “kindness”, it’s no wonder so many of these captives additionally fall victim to the mind games of their captors.
They may not realize it on a conscious level, but playing the game along with their captors becomes a means of survival.
But Stockholm syndrome isn’t just present in hostage or slavery situations. It rears its ugly head in many abusive relationships, such as with abused children, abused spouses and domestic partners, or any relationship where one person is in authority or more powerful — or perceived to be more powerful — than the other.
For more eye-opening information on Stockholm syndrome and how it works in any relationship, check out this excellent article by Dr. Joseph M. Carver at counsellingresource.com.
The Cleveland Captives
Not all captives experience Stockholm syndrome, however, as this 2015 interview with two of the three Cleveland Captives shows.
The so-called Cleveland Captives are women who were abducted one year apart, at ages 17 and 14, and held captive for 10 years before one of them managed to escape. The younger of the two, Gina DeJesus, said that although she couldn’t stand their kidnapper, she pretended to like him.
Survival without Stockholm syndrome.
One interesting thing to note about this case: Ariel Castro, the kidnapper, was a school bus driver and friend of Gina DeJesus’ dad. And Gina DeJesus herself was good friends with one of Castro’s daughters. The older victim, Amanda Berry, was also friends with one of his daughters.
You just never know.
The abolitionists from past centuries when slavery was legal, whom we so admire, may be long gone, but their spirit lives on in the abolitionists of today. These are the people whose eyes have been opened to the appalling truth of modern slavery, and whose hearts are open to doing whatever they can, in whatever big or small way, to free the slaves and keep others from the same fate.
For others, that might mean battle on the front lines in the form of being part of a rescue team that invades the slaver’s dens and sets the captives free, or working the hotlines, taking the desperate calls and texts and sending that rescue team.
For others it may be the role of the front-line or behind-the-line medic, counselor, or chaplain, providing medical, psychological, and spiritual help to those who have escaped or been rescued.
It may be volunteering in any way with one of the many anti-trafficking groups out there, from office work to cleaning, cooking, helping with food or clothing drives, child care — you name it.
Even if you don’t live near the location of any of these groups and so cannot physically volunteer, that’s okay. There are many other ways to help, even right from home, or in conjunction with your church or synagogue.
You could even help raise awareness of slave trafficking by writing about it! And for those who believe in the power of prayer, please pray. That reminds me of a huge banner I saw once on a church that read, “Prayer is the most powerful weapon on earth. Use it.”
Here are some links to get you started, or to learn more: