The Topic No Parent Wants to Think About But Should

“Modern slavery.” That’s the phrase used to describe the hell in which the victims of human trafficking live.

And please, don’t think for a second this isn’t happening right now, right where you live.

The victims aren’t always adults. The sick truth is that many young girls and boys are lured into, then trapped by, this horrific way of life. And often times, the entrapment isn’t as dramatic as you see play in popular movies like “Taken.” In reality, most often these young victims are lured into the hands of their “jailers” with gifts and promises of a luxurious lifestyle.

Scrolling through Instagram one day, I came across the account for Florida Abolitionist, a group committed to ending this horrific practice. Being that January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, this is the perfect time to spread awareness about this nightmarish practice, and to hopefully bring our society one step closer to ending it once and for all.

As parents, we have to be aware of what’s happening to children everywhere in order for us to help create a safer world for all kids. I hope you’ll read this article, pass it on, and help other people recognize the signs of human trafficking, and to stop any child—or any person—from ever hurting in this way again.

Below is my interview with Blair Pippin, from Florida Abolitionist. Please, please take a few minutes to read it, and pass it on. You never know. You could end up saving someone’s life.

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What is Florida Abolitionist, and how did it come into existence?

Florida Abolitionist exists to end to modern-day human slavery. Sadly, men, women, and children are bought and sold for sex in our community while others are forced into slave labor. Florida Abolitionist is rebuilding the lives of victims while preventing the crime from taking place.

Often the crime is called human trafficking in order to not be confused with the trans-Atlantic slave trade abolished in the 1800s. However, while the slavery has changed somewhat, it has grown significantly. (This is why I use the terms interchangeably). There are more slaves in our world today than any other time in human history. The most conservative estimates set the number at 20 Million slaves worldwide.

FA was founded 7 years ago by Tomas J. Lares. After working as a social worker and then a human trafficking victim advocate for 6 years, he realized an organization was needed in Orlando to give focused attention to the growing issue. Since then, FA has been the leading agency in Orlando raising awareness, providing services to victims, and giving leadership to the collaborative efforts to prevent human trafficking and bring healing to victims.

Why are you passionate about this cause?

First of all, I care about this issue because all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. No one should ever be someone else’s property. According to our Declaration of Independence and the Holy Bible, it should be self-evident that all men (and women) are created equal. Human traffickers twist this truth to demean, use, abuse, and exploit others.

Even more so, as a parent, I can only imagine what it would be like to have my daughter trafficked and enslaved. When I considered what it would be like to have a loved one affected by this crime, it made me stand up and do something. Over the years that I have been involved, I have met courageous survivors and this has only grown my empathy and passion to end human slavery.

What DON’T people know about human trafficking that they should?

It happens here too! It’s not just a problem plaguing far off lands like Cambodia and Thailand. It’s happening in Orlando, home of “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Girls and boys are trafficked for sex in our hotels, people are used for labor in farms and restaurants. Also, trafficking victims in our community are most often Americans, not people brought here from other countries. They are our children being trafficked.

Modern-day sex slavery is usually very different than what is portrayed in the movie Taken. While occasionally kidnapping occurs in these cases, more often young, vulnerable people are lured and seduced by their traffickers. Once the trafficker is able to gain their victim’s love and trust, they pull them away from other sources of safety, often get them hooked on drugs, and slowly ask them to do them “favors.” Once deeply manipulated, the victims do anything to keep the trafficker’s love and affection – even sell their bodies for money. The traffickers will often threaten their victims with violence if they do not earn a set quota for the day. The victims are typically held by the invisible chains of manipulation, fear, and substance abuse.

Is this something that the “average Joe” needs to worry about?

Everyone needs to be aware that this is happening in our community. Recently an Uber driver from California realized he was transporting a victim and her traffickers. Locally, we had a limo driver do the same thing. They reported the crime and the victims were recovered. If everyone knew how to identify victims, then it would be much harder for traffickers to get away with.

Parents must be diligent to educate their children. Traffickers do not fit the stereotypical child molester profile, they are often other young people and they are online. [Emphasis mine.]  Many victims are lured into the open arms of a trafficker through chat rooms while their parents were in the very next room.

Are both adults and children targeted?

Yes! Traffickers prey on vulnerability. This is why children are most often victimized. The majority of victims have been previously sexually abused, are runaways, foster children, or have a drug addiction. However, while this is the majority of cases, more subtle vulnerabilities like kids looking for love and low self-esteem can make them prime targets for traffickers.

While young people are often the most vulnerable, an adult with a drug addiction, lack of money, mental illness, or who is simply starved for love could become victimized.

We have all read horror stories about how attempted abductions happen even in the most typical of places–grocery stores, theme parks, etc. How common is this in reality?

Modern-day sex slavery is usually very different than what is portrayed in the movie Taken. While occasionally kidnapping occurs in these cases, more often young, vulnerable people are lured and seduced by their traffickers. Once the trafficker is able to gain their victim’s love and trust, they pull them away from other sources of safety, often get them hooked on drugs, and slowly ask them to do them “favors.” Once deeply manipulated, the victims do anything to keep the trafficker’s love and affection – even sell their bodies for money. The traffickers will often threaten their victims with violence or the withholding of drugs if they do not earn a set quota for the day. The victims are typically held by the invisible chains of manipulation, fear, and substance abuse more often than physical restraints.

Image via www.FloridaAbolitionist.org

How can we identify possible victims of human trafficking?

[Editor’s note: These signs appear here in full on Florida Abolitionist’s website. I will summarize below.]

Look for poor mental health or abnormal behavior. The individual:

  • Exhibits unusually fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid behavior
  • Reacts with unusually fearful or anxious behavior at any reference to “law enforcement”
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Exhibits a flat affect

Poor Physical Health: The Individual:

  • Exhibits unexplained injuries or signs of prolonged/untreated illness or disease
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

The individual may also have what can be described as a lack of control of his/her life:

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, and/or has no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (e.g. ID, passport, or visa)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for him/herself (e.g., a third party may insist on being present and/or interpreting)
  • Has an attorney that he/she doesn’t seem to know or to have agreed to receive representation services from

Lastly, the individual may appear to be in unique working circumstances:

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 years of age and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp/manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours

How can we identify possible perpetrators?

They could be [from] all walks of life. The stereotypical pimp may or may not be the case. They are many times young men and sometimes women are used to recruit. The trafficker will enlist a victim to recruit others. Often this allows that victim to receive more praise and favor from the trafficker.

A trafficker would be controlling, may speak for their victim, will often withhold personal identification, but may not always be present with their victims. Once victims are deeply manipulated, traffickers can trust them to meet clients and return without running. Victims are afraid to run.

How can we protect ourselves and our loved ones?

Get educated. [You can] attend the 9th Annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day at Calvary Orlando 1199 Clay St. Winter Park, FL 32789 from 11-4 on January 28. Schedule is here.

Help spread the word. Talk to your friends and family to let them know that this is happening here.

Parents, talk to your children about the safe use of the internet. Talk openly, and talk often. Young children should never talk with people online they do not know. You should especially never agree to meet someone you have only met online. People can pretend to be anyone they want over the internet.

How can we help end human trafficking?

Pray: If you are a person of faith, pray that God would help bring an end to this horrible crime. A problem so vast and evil requires God’s intervention!

Share: As mentioned above, help spread the word. Forward this article, follow Florida Abolitionist and share their content on social media, talk to others about it.

Give: Give your time and finances. Volunteer with Florida Abolitionist or other organizations fighting human trafficking and serving youth. Become a mentor or foster parent for an at-risk youth by clicking here. Florida Abolitionist depends on the generous donations from the community to serve victims of human trafficking. Invest in freedom. www.floridaabolitionist.org/donate.

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For more information on how to prevent human trafficking, please visit the website for Florida Abolitionist.

Image via www.FloridaAbolitionist.org

If you live in the Orlando area, a powerful and informational day is on tap in just a couple weeks, on January 28. One of the seminars is called “It Happened to Me: A Survivor’s Story.” The summary alone is harrowing:

“You may have seen a documentary on human trafficking and heard from survivors but have you ever looked someone in the eyes who has been there? Hear firsthand from a local trafficking survivor. Find out what it was like and learn about the long, difficult road of healing.”

This seminar, along with other educational sessions, is happening this January 28 at Calvary Orlando, 1199 Clay Street, Winter Park, FL. Please check their schedule for a full list of events here.

A big thank you to Blair Pippin for taking time to answer my questions, and for helping to spread the word on this worthy cause.

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