On Friday Night the Lifetime Network aired a two-hour America’s Most Wanted special on Sex Trafficking in America. For those who missed the episode, below are some highlights of a very moving, relevant, and compelling episode.
The show featured actual sex trafficking victims and their painful stories. Although the way in which these individuals were forced into the sex trafficking trade differed, one sobering thought was clear after hearing all of their stories; sex trafficking can happen to anyone.
One young girl who was being abused by her grandfather “met” a man on a social networking site. He promised her that he understood her pain and offered to fly her out for a visit. She was tricked and then forced into becoming a sex slave from then on until she managed to runaway one day.
A 14-year-old girl from Mexico was lured into the sex trafficking trade based on a lie that she was being taken to the U.S. for a job at a restaurant in Texas. Her “pimps” were not stern on birth control, which meant her “Johns” would impregnate her and the pimp held her responsible for her own abortions.
One particularly chilling story was that of a 19-year-old from Northern California who was approached in a retail store and asked if she might want to be involved in a fashion show. The young girl had multiple meetings with her potential “bosses” and felt good about the offer. Once she started having a gut feeling that something was wrong, she attempted to remove herself from one of their public meetings. At this point, the young girl was held at gunpoint and forced into the sex trafficking trade. The girl’s parents had no idea anything was wrong because she was forced to call them occassionally and pretend she was safe. Meanwhile, all the calls to her parents were happening while she was being held at gunpoint. Her “pimp” told her that since she was so beautiful she was on their “top ten platinum” list and would be shipped off to Japan, never to return to the United States. She managed to get a hold of a phone and was rescued. Her “pimp” was eventually arrested, only to serve two years in prison.
Many things in common amongst the cases were: the “pimps” or perpetrators threatened to kill the victim’s family if they tried to run away or call the police, they created the online profiles for these victims and made it seem like the victims were prostitutes and not trafficking victims, the pimps kept all or most of the money, and the pimps made the victims feel as though they were the only people who would accept and love the victims after what they had done. These stories consisted of endings where a majority of the victims were able to run away and return to their families. Many victims do not get to experience this, however.
The episode also talked about some very important trafficking resources that everyone should know about. The Polaris Project has a national hotline that victims can call and they also are involved with advocacy efforts, victim’s services, outreach and awareness, and training for future leaders interested in anti-trafficking efforts. Girl’s educational and mentoring services (GEMS), which is located in New York, provides victims services, awareness, and advocacy. GEMS has also been known to help victims through the process of starting and/or finishing their GED, high school, or college degrees. Shared Hope International aims to prevent sex trafficking as well as helps with victim’s services and advocacy at multiple levels.
One very important thing the episode highlighted is the Safe Harbor Act. Safe Harbor legislation is critical in the fight against sex trafficking because it allows law enforcement to treat commercially sexually exploited children as victims instead of criminals or offenders. Yes, in the majority of the country, child victims of this horrendous trafficking trade are penalized and many times prosecuted since they are viewed as committing a crime (prostitution). Safe Harbor allows children of the trade to be exempt from this, and gives law enforcement the option of dropping the victims off immediately to private centers (aka “Safe Harbors”). Kristi House of Miami is actively involved in the fight against sex trafficking. Their site lists two additional advantages of the Safe Harbor Act: Pimps are punished more severely for exploiting children and law enforcement will receive specialized training when working with sex trafficking victims.
This important law is only enacted in less than 10 states in the country. Examples of these states are Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Illinois, Washington, and New jersey. Unfortunately, Florida has not been on this list. Until now. The Safe Harbor Act was passed in the House last week and the legislation is going through the Senate and is expected to pass there as well. The House Bill was sponsored by Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami and the Senate bill by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle and her Miami-Dade office have also been very active in helping these bills come to fruition.
This is wonderful news for the state of Florida and the city of Miami. However, the fight has only just begun. Sex trafficking is growing faster in the United States than any other country in the world, and is the fastest growing criminal offense in our country. Spread the word to your local legislators and encourage friends, colleagues, and family members in other states to speak to their legislators. Do what you can to raise awareness and to enact laws to protect our innocent children from having to endure the pain and suffering that results from sex trafficking.