The Price of Modern Day Slavery: Part II
I can recall my first trip to Amsterdam nearly seven years ago, and how naïve I was about the issue of human trafficking that was and is happening in all parts of the world. I was excited to go see the Red Light District, the world renowned area for prostitution, or as I had labeled it in my mind – a “tourist attraction.” At the time it seemed so glamorous to me, seeing the beautiful girls standing in the windows with their red lights on as the famous song “Roxanne” by The Police played in my head. I didn’t think twice about the fact that these girls may not have chosen that lifestyle, that they were being forced to be exploited by strangers, being given the message that they are only worth as much as they could sell their bodies for over and over again – learning through each experience that they are a commodity, instead of a valuable human being.
Upon my return to Amsterdam about five years later I had a very different outlook on the Red Light District, and refused to even visit it because it had become such a devastating place in my mind. Despite my strong desire to avoid it, I learned I am not the best at navigating my way through the capital city and accidentally found myself right in the heart of the district on my quest to find the Anne Frank House. Although I did not intend to ever return to that place, I am glad I had the opportunity to revisit with new eyes. I no longer saw the glamour but, instead, was terribly aware of the darkness – the pure evil – of this industry; the hurt and trauma in the faces of these beautiful girls behind their seductive grins, and the heaviness of the district.
Despite being surrounded by this aura of despair, I was able to find a glimmer of hope – a small light shining in this dark place. As quickly as I found myself stumbling into the district itself, I stumbled into a little store set up by a familiar organization to me called, “Not For Sale.” This is an anti-slavery organization fighting to end human trafficking, which was right in the middle of this trafficking district. Their store was fairly new and was actually a brothel before they moved in. This to me was a huge move in the right direction, as nothing like that seemed to be even thought of during my previous visit.
And yet I see that ignorance, the lack of knowledge, and either the glamorization of “escort services,” or the stigma and illegal activity of prostitution right here in my own comfortable city in Orange County. Growing up with the movie “Pretty Woman” made prostitution almost seem romantic. The more recent movie “Taken” seemed more accurate, except for the fact that Liam Neeson’s character was able to single-handedly track down and rescue his daughter in less than a week. Unfortunately these movies do not accurately portray the realities of the victims of this atrocity. I feel like most local residents aren’t even aware of the fact that sex trafficking is happening all around us – right here in Orange County. It is easy to imagine it happening in distant places like Amsterdam, The Philippines, Thailand or India, or maybe even Las Vegas – but even that is too close to home for us. But did you know the city of Anaheim is one of the largest trafficking areas in the world? This is because it is home to one of the largest tourist attractions, Disneyland, as well as the Anaheim Convention Center which also draws many potential “clients” for this industry. Because of the number of visitors the city attracts, the amount of surrounding hotels creates an ideal atmosphere for the “business.”
Sex trafficking is prevalent around tourist destinations as well as large gaming events attracting mostly males such as Super Bowl Sunday. Although statistics are difficult to gather, the media has named the Super Bowl as “the biggest weekend for U.S. prostitution.” Such environments draw large crowds which increase the demand and make it easier for this activity to go unnoticed. Because of the fact that sex trafficking is a multi-BILLION dollar industry just in the U.S. alone, it is safe to assume that sporting events such as the Super Bowl just highlight what is already happening every hour and every other day of the year.
Who is in danger?
Children are a huge target for traffickers because of their natural vulnerability, and are recruited or kidnapped through outlets and places that seem innocent and safe. Many recruiters take the role of a charming “boyfriend,” “friend” (male or female, and sometimes through the use of social media), or even “father” figure with offers of love, a better life, provision, or care. They also may solicit other children or women to recruit for them. Social media has become a place for pimps to prey on young children. Many parents nowadays love to post photos of their children, along with other details in their profile such as their hometown, current location check-ins, and even the name of their children’s school, without even being aware that traffickers may be collecting all the information they need to track down children they have already determined to be aesthetically pleasing for their “business.” They can be found lurking around the children’s aisles in your local Target, near schools and playgrounds, malls, movie theaters, amusement parks, and various other hang-out spots such as bowling alleys.
It is well-known that females, children, runaways, those from a marginalized population, growing up in abusive homes or living in poverty, are especially susceptible. What is not as evident is that victims of human trafficking also come from stable homes, healthy upbringings, and comfortable socioeconomic statuses. The first step in protecting yourself and your children is simply becoming aware and staying alert. Just as my experience in Amsterdam was drastically changed from my first trip to my second, so will your awareness of daily life and the dangers of human trafficking in our own communities. Always be aware of what kind of information you are publicly sharing on social media, and make sure your child is never left alone in public places, no matter how “safe” they might seem.