*This is a guest post by my friend Steve Moses from Palisades Training. Despite the extent of the problems with human trafficking, I haven’t addressed it much here on my blog. I dealt with it a bit during my police career (note Columbus, Ohio is one of the top trafficking cities), but I don’t feel like I’m an expert on the subject matter. Steve sent me this article and I instantly recognized it for the quality information and value it provides. If you want to learn more about human trafficking, read this piece.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”) of 2000, as amended, has defined sex trafficking as a commercial sex act in which a person is induced to perform a sexual act due to force, coercion, or fraud, or in which that same person has not attained the age of eighteen (18) years. Despite the term “trafficking” the victim need not be physically transported from one location to a second location in order for the criminal action to fall under the definition of sex trafficking.
I met Sherri Tomson at the third annual Better Beginnings Brunch benefiting Cross Timbers Family Services (“Cross Timbers”) held on January 28, 2023 in Stephenville, Texas. My wife Kerry works for Cross Timbers as their financial director. Cross Timbers is a non-profit non-residential family violence crisis center that provides direct assistance to the victims of violent crime, family violence, and sexual assault that services Erath County, Texas and seven adjacent counties. Victims are eligible for free service whether male or female, adult or child. Assistance can come in the form of emergency and long-term housing, transportation, and basic needs. Cross Timbers works hand-in-hand with local law enforcement and healthcare with the goal being both the victim’s recovery and early participation in the criminal justice system. They have a 24-hour emergency hotline number (866-934-4357) as do many other local crisis centers.
Sherri retired from the Fort Worth Police Department as a sergeant assigned to supervise the Sex Crimes/Human Trafficking Unit. She now works with the Tarleton Police Department and investigates crimes that may involve Tarleton State University employees and students. Tomson was part of a five-person panel that gave a presentation during the Cross Timber Brunch on the subject of Sex Trafficking along with panel facilitator Sara Vanden Berge, Sophia Stice (Cross Timbers counselor), Evie Monrreal (Cross Timbers bilingual advocate), and Cindy McCarthy (chief nurse officer of Texas Health Resources). The presentation they gave was both enlightening and disturbing. While driving home after the presentation I was concerned not only about the safety of children and young adults that I thought would never be at risk but saddened that so many children and young adults through no real fault of their own were living lives that can best be described as nightmarish and often end up living in the streets or dead.
Concealed carriers who, as the late, great William Aprill said, possess a “fully-formed mental map of the expected terrain” and heightened sense of awareness can take actions that reduce the chances that the persons they love and care about ever become sex trafficking victims. In addition, we can become quicker to recognize the signs of other person or persons that we do not know become sex trafficked and take actions that may result in getting law enforcement involved and ultimately rescuing the victim or victims that end up with the victim receiving assistance from a crisis services program such as the one offered by Cross Timbers Family Services where the goal is recovery and an opportunity to live a full life. The rest of this article is dedicated to providing readers with at least a partially-formed mental map to what sex trafficking is and is not based upon the above-described panel’s presentation on Human Trafficking.
· There is a difference between prostitution and sex trafficking. Prostitution by definition involves a voluntary engagement in commercial sex while sex trafficking may involve force, coercion, fraud, or deceit. Some prostitutes may enter the industry willingly but may eventually become victims of sex trafficking.
· Human trafficking (including sex trafficking) is highly lucrative and estimated to generate $6.5 billion dollars annually just in the United States.
· The cities with the highest sex trafficking rates are:
o Los Angeles
o Las Vegas
o New York
o Washington, D.C.
o New Orleans
o St. Louis
o San Antonio
o Baton Rouge
· A victim who has been trafficked has most likely been abused and lived a life that included neglect, trauma, disability, homelessness, violence, poverty, and/or family breakdown. This often leads to the victims possessing compounding vulnerabilities.
· A large number of sex trafficking victims are believed to be children in the foster care system.
· There is a strong demand for sex with minors and children are bought and sold daily.
· While the average age that a child enters into prostitution is twelve to eighteen years, the youngest victims can be no older than four years of age.
· Survivors of sex trafficking often claim that the person or persons that trafficked them were romantic partners, spouses, and other family members including their own parents.
· Sex traffickers may use one or more of the following tactics to lure, recruit, or take advantage of their victims:
o Promise a better life by offering a job that sounds (and is) too good to be true.
o Employ a technique sometimes referred to as “boy-friending” to win the intended victim’s trust and then isolating that girl or boy from their friends and family and then turning them over to a trafficker.
o Target the most vulnerable by preying on children and teens that are homeless, have substance abuse issues, or are living in poverty.
o Using drugs as “bait” and forcing the victim to work off their debt by engaging in commercial sex against their will.
o Attending sporting events, clubs, bars, and even parties in order to take advantage of and transport elsewhere persons who are intoxicated or unable to resist. This may include spiking alcoholic drinks with rohypnol or gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
o Using social media (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Messenging, etc.) to find victims and arranging a meeting in person for the purpose of trapping them and taking them elsewhere.
By this time all of us should be aware that sex trafficking cuts across all racial, gender, ethnic, and socio-economic lines, and almost every family has at least one person or knows someone or will know someone who might become a sex trafficking victim someday. What we can do is be aware of our surroundings and if we spot what is commonly called a “red flag” write down what we see (cell phones will work just fine for this) and contact 911 and tell them what we have observed. Some of those sex trafficking red flags may include the following:
· Few or no personal belongings
· Suspicious tattoos, branding, or jewelry
· Limited knowledge of where they are
· Repeatedly running away from home, including foster homes
· Injuries and reluctance to explain what happened or explanation does not seem plausible
· No money or identification
· Multiple cell phones or hotel keys
· Unusual number of unexplained school absences
My stepsister Kellylynn McLaughlin is a professional driver and an Advisory Council Member for Truckers Against Trafficking (“TAT”) whose website is www.truckersagainsttrafficking.org. I spoke to her at length on this subject and learned that readers who want to know more can take a short course on sex trafficking on this website. Furthermore, in addition to the time truckers are on the roads they also frequently deliver goods to businesses and residences and perhaps are even more likely to see evidence of sex trafficking than the average concealed carrier. Set out below are some additional red flags that these trained truckers look for:
– Any time they believe they might be witnessing someone under the control of a pimp, regardless of the age or gender of the victim
– If a passenger vehicle pulls into the truck parking area of a rest area or truck stop and multiple people (usually females) get out of the vehicle and begin going from truck to truck
– Any time they might hear a suspected victim mentioning that he or she has to make a quota
– If they observe someone whose communication appears to be restricted or controlled, or if they are unable to speak for themselves
· Lots of traffic (different cars and typically men) coming in and out of one particular residence or business
· Extreme security measures on homes and businesses that appear out of place
· Barred or covered windows
· Barbed wire
· Exterior cameras covering multiple angles
· Locked front doors with entrances in the alley
· When approaching a residence or business, they pay attention to what they are hearing. Are they hearing shouting, threats being made, or someone asking for help?
· They pay attention to possible victims in view. Do they look upset or distressed, and are they fearful or crying?
One cautionary note: concealed carriers owe it to themselves and the ones that love and depend upon them to go home at night. The smartest and least dangerous thing we can do is act upon our “gut feeling” and contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 unless it is an obvious emergency, and then that first call should be to 911. The Hotline takes calls twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week in more than 200 languages. All calls are confidential and answered live by trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates.