Child trafficking advocates raise awareness on behalf of the helpless
by Hannah Deane
The Human Trafficking Hotline defines human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against his or her will.” Over 40.3 million people are trafficked globally every year.
Trafficking can take many different forms: child soldiers, labor trafficking, sex trafficking and organ trafficking are just a few. Children are among the most vulnerable to trafficking.
Child trafficking is not something that only occurs overseas. It’s tragically common right here in the United States. UNICEF USA says trafficking occurs in every state in the U.S. Over 1,000 children are trafficked each year in the state of Ohio alone, according to a study done by the University of Cincinnati.
Gracehaven is an organization based in Columbus, Ohio, that has joined the fight against human trafficking by providing victims with case management and housing. Brooke Pollard, Gravehaven’s community engagement coordinator, remembers being amazed at the extent of trafficking when she first started learning more about this problem.
“I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that this was so prevalent, this was so normal,” Pollard said. “There’s so many people preying on our most vulnerable in the world and they don’t have a fighting chance.”
Trafficking is a more complex issue than what is often portrayed in the media, according to Marci Gabrielse, the International Justice Mission (IJM) chapter president at Cedarville University. Trafficking is not always a dramatic kidnapping with an obvious villain.
“We all think of the white van with ice cream or candy,” Gabrielse said. “That does happen, but there are a lot of other forms that are much more common that we don’t necessarily think of right away.”
According to Pollard, trafficking is more of a slow, methodical process in which the trafficker manipulates the victim. Trafficker will usually target their victims and begin to try and coerce the girl or boy in a process known as grooming. This is meant to isolate the victim from his or her friends and family, Pollard said.
“He is doing things for them,” Pollard said. “Buying them things, getting their hair and nails done, giving them enough money to get by, making them feel like they’re grown up or independent or making these choices on their own.”
This process may be appealing at first, as the trafficker continues to sow more seeds of manipulation in the child’s mind. The trafficker will start to tell their target that their family doesn’t love them, but they, the trafficker, do.
Eventually this manipulation progresses into frightening the child so that they will be too scared to tell anyone what has happened.
“There’s a lot of coercion and the threat of force,” Pollard said. “Like, ‘If you don’t do this then I will go after your little sister.’ Or ‘If you don’t do this, I am going to shoot your dog in its head.’”
The trafficker is skilled at setting this trap. They know how much and what kind of bait to use. Once that child has entered the trap, it is difficult for them to get out. The trafficker will even use drugs to further control those that he or she is working to traffic, according to Pollard.
“At first drugs are recreational, then later on they become habitual and addictive,” Pollard said. “It’s very much a long and slow process.”
Contrary to most media portrayals, perpetrators are rarely strangers to the child. Most of the time, children are victimized by the very people that should be protecting them, according to Pollard.
“We see a lot of children who are living at home and getting trafficked by their parents or their grandparents for drugs or drug money and there’s nobody there to report it,” Pollard said.
While trafficking often goes unnoticed, evidence is often manifested in the behavior and appearance of the victimized children.
“Some signs to look for,” Pollard said, “are exhaustion, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, oversexualized behavior, so dressed kind of scantily clad, possessions outside of their family’s income or tattoos of brandings, like men’s names or gang insignias.”
Often these children have had multiple abortions, STDs, miscarriages, can’t give straight answers, seem lost, don’t know where they are, or are hanging out around truck stops or motels, among other peculiar behaviors.
If you see someone that you suspect is being trafficked, you can act. You can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center 24/7 at 1-888-373-7888. You can also report any suspicions or emergencies to local authorities.
According to Gabrielse, most victims experience chronic effects from the trauma they endure, long after being removed from the situation.
“Almost everyone that I have either encountered or talked to who has been trafficked comes out with major anxiety and depression,” Gabrielse said. “It will take years and years for them to overcome and actually feel like themselves again.”
For this reason, Gabrielse is passionate about both prevention and rescue.
“Everyone has value and worth as a person,” Gabrielse said. “They forget that when they are told that they are trash and they are told that they are an object. That is what they are told and how people act toward them all the time when they are in trafficking.”
However, there is hope for these children. Organizations like IJM, Gracehaven and countless others are fighting against trafficking. However, taking a stand against trafficking requires dedication, Pollard said.
“It’s really hard work and it really takes a toll on everything in you. It becomes a lifestyle to fight this,” Pollard said.
If you are interested in learning more about human trafficking, you can go to the websites of Operation Underground Railroad, Human Trafficking Hotline, and many other coalitions. The Operation Underground Railroad website even has a free self-led course on identifying the signs of trafficking.
If you are interested in actively joining this fight, there are ways that you can get involved.
“The best thing to do is either donate your money or volunteer your time to the organizations who already have traction,” said Pollard.
One such organization is IJM, which has a chapter at Cedarville University. If you are interested in joining, you can email ijm@ cedarville.edu.
Hannah Deane is a junior Journalism major and the Off-Campus Editor for Cedars. She loves going on adventures, riding horses, and is definitely a fan of the Lord of the Rings.