We've all had a moment where we've wondered if our life can make an impact on the world. Where we've grown discontent with the status quo. We watched headlines and news channels talking about human trafficking but never considering being part of the solution.
That was me nearly ten years ago, unaware of stories that made up the second-largest criminal industry in the world. A collection of stories changed that for me; first, it was the documentary I saw, and then it was sitting knee to knee with survivors of exploitation and trafficking in my hometown of Dallas, TX, and throughout Southeast Asia.
Their stories changed me as I began to see a market driven by demand for paid rape, cheap chocolate, and fast fashion was violating people's human rights around the world.
So, I set out to educate my community about the underlying social issues that led to trafficking and exploitation. But, the stories of survivors of trafficking worldwide have been silenced and overlooked for too long; without them, there would be no shift in culture, so I decided to do what I do best: pour a cup of coffee and invite people to tell their stories. It was time to stop being a spectator and start being a changemaker.
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The Abolitionist Collective is a grassroots force against trafficking, focused on educating the next generation about exploitation's harms and providing vital support to those in the sex industry.
How widespread is the issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation globally?Human trafficking for sexual exploitation is a big problem all around the world. It's a type of organized crime where people are forced into selling sex and sex acts. This injustice is actually the fastest-growing criminal activity worldwide. It makes a lot of money, about $99 billion every year. Unfortunately, women and girls are the ones who suffer from this the most. According to a group called UNODC, 94 out of every 100 victims of this type of exploitation are women and girls. Even though there are rules in place from the world community and the laws of 158 countries that say trafficking for sex is against the law, the places where this crime ends up happening—the places where people buy and sell sex (strip clubs, escort agencies, truck stops, porn sites)—are still seen as okay by many people in our world.
What does The Abolitionist Collective do to counter trafficking and exploitation?The collective does two things; first we make educational digital resources for communities in cities, towns, and the rural areas to prevent trafficking before it starts. Teenagers are especially at risk for this, and exploiters are trying to make them victims. It’s sad, but a lot of kids who are in school in the United States are victims of this injustice. Second, we reach out to women and girls who are are currently in strip clubs, porn, escorting, and the institution of prostitution. We want them to know that they loved & purposed. We also let them know that there's resources available to them. Even if women ended up in this situation by “choice”, studies show that they have a harder time with things like drug addiction, diseases, getting hurt by others, and feeling mentally well compared to other people who are not in the industry.
Who are traffickers and what tactics do they typically use?Just like people who are forced into sex trafficking, there isn't just one kind of person who traffickers or exploits someone. These people who exploit others can be anyone – most commonly family members, “friends” online, or people from gangs. They might pretend to be a boyfriend/girlfriend and manipulate someone to exploit them. Traffickers might even use violence or threats to make people do what they want. They could also offer fake opportunities to deceive someone. People who are trafficked are often talked into it by someone they know. A recent study showed that 25 out of every 100 victims were convinced by friends, who might also be being trafficked. One-third of those victimized were talked into it by someone they thought was their boyfriend. This happens a lot. Right from the start, the people who exploit them act like it's a normal relationship to gain their trust. When they first meet, the survivors in the study used words like "charming," "kind-hearted," and "smart" to describe the people who later trafficked them. Survivors told us that the people who trafficked them often act like they care, both emotionally and practically. They might make them feel liked just for being themselves, listen to them, and promise to take care of them. Even though the ways they manipulate people can be different, these exploiters often follow a similar pattern of power and control.
What are the psychological and physical impacts on survivors of trafficking and sexual exploitation?When people are forced into selling their bodies, they experience really extreme physical, sexual, and mental harm. This doesn't just cause short-term problems, but it can also make them mentally ill for a long time. This can make it really hard for them to thrive in everyday life. They might get sick with HIV, have issues with their bodies, turn to drugs or alcohol, and deal with the pain from their physical and emotional injuries. This kind of trauma can also lead to problems like feeling anxious, sad, hurting themselves, and having a condition called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can make them relive their exploitation in a never-ending loop. This hurt can also make them not trust people who try to reach out to them, like doctors or counselors. It can stop them from getting the help they need. When someone is traumatized like this, it messes up their relationship with trust and safety. They might have relied on their traffickers for things like food and a place to stay, but to get those things, they have to do sexual things they don't want to do. The people who manipulate them give with one hand, but hurt with the other. Because of all this, these people might have a really hard time feeling good about themselves and exiting an exploitive situation. After being kept away from others and forced to do things, they might feel like they can't do normal things anymore. They might feel ashamed about what happened to them, and angry about missing out on school or job training. Many of survivors have taught us over the years it’s a struggle to find who they are and what life means. It's also tough for them to handle their feelings and relationships with others. Being sexual exploited or trafficked has big effects on the human spirit, and these effects can last a long time. Sometimes, the signs that they're hurting inside might not fit into categories that most people know about, and they might show these problems in ways that only those with lived experience or expertise in anti-trafficking understand. Well, anyone can be trafficked data shows who is most likely to be targeted for trafficking, and often one risk factor they face makes other risk factors worse. Groups of teenagers who are at higher risk share things like not having much money, problems in their families, being hurt physically or sexually, and going through really tough times.
Are there specific demographics that are more vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation?For example, in some places, more than half of all teenagers who are victimized are African American. This is true for a lot of girls. Girls who are Ingenious, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander are much more likely to be trafficked compared to their white peers. Hispanic girls are also at a higher risk, especially when it comes to being forced to work. Here are some statistics to show how serious this is: In some areas, African American minors (most of them girls) make up 50% or more of all victims of sex trafficking. Girls whose ethnic background is Indigenous, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander backgrounds are more likely to be sexually exploited than girls from other backgrounds. Hispanic youth are disproportionately affected by trafficking, especially when it comes to labor trafficking.
Does human trafficking always involve moving, traveling, or transporting a person across borders?People sometimes mix up human trafficking with something called human smuggling. Human smuggling is when people are illegally taken across borders. But human/sex trafficking is different – it doesn't always involve moving people across borders. Actually, those victimized by trafficking don't need to move at all. They can be coerced right where they live, like in their own towns or even their own homes.
Are most people being trafficked are physically unable to leave their situations/locked in/held against their will?Sometimes that's true. But usually, people who are in trafficking situations stay for reasons that are a bit harder to understand. Some don't have the things they need to leave, like a way to get away or a safe home. That’s why The Abolitionist Collective believes that meeting people in the Sex Industry, the very industry people are trafficked into is vital. Many are scared for themselves. And there are some who have been coerced so much that they don't even realize they're being controlled by someone else.