Race for Dignity

 

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Race for Dignity Speech
by Jesse & Liz

General background

Human trafficking, also known as modern slavery. It’s a fact that there are more slaves living today than ever before in history, an estimated 40 million worldwide. It generally encompasses two major areas – forced labor and sexual exploitation. It’s a common misconception to consider that human trafficking happens elsewhere, in poor or lesser developed countries and other cultures that hold differing values, but the truth is it takes place as much in the U.S. as anywhere else. In fact, no country on earth, regardless of economic status, military might, or belief system, is immune. It’s a $99 billion/year industry, which equates to four times the combined revenue of the NBA, MLB, and NFL annually. Our organization is focused on battling domestic sex trafficking of girls under the age of 18. While we are not confined to this demographic, it is by far the largest at-risk group. 

 

One of our primary goals is to help shatter some of the common misconceptions revolving around this topic. It’s a common aphorism to hear that prostitution is the oldest profession. Another great misconception lies in the generally held belief that this lifestyle is a personal choice, when it overwhelmingly can be shown to be the opposite, often taking root in a young life before that person has had the opportunity to grow and understand what is even happening. The simple truth is that prostitution is sexual violence, equating to the forced surrender of the God-given rights to control one’s own body. To clarify, by U.S. law a child cannot consent to prostitution and any third-party controlled act involving a minor is illegal and deemed sex trafficking, which carries severe penalties in the U.S. legal system.

Sex trafficking involves third-party control over a person by a trafficker (another name would be a pimp), who will coerce and manipulate a young girl into exploiting her body to a buyer or “John” for the trafficker’s profit.

Most women, who are not minors, are lured into this world by deception and trickery with tales that cater to their difficult situations and circumstances, such as the draw of romantic love and acceptance and/or opportunities to make money with little to no work, in an effort to obtain consent. To people suffering or lacking in emotional maturity and life experience, these promises can be very alluring, though most have little idea what they’re getting involved in. Time and studies have a shown a very clear pattern in would-be human trafficking victims and the traffickers themselves. Liz will explain a bit more about that shortly.

 

Among survivors who have been fortunate enough to break away from this circumstance, they use a term when referring to it, calling it “the life.”

“The life” is a perspective that convinces victims that they are nothing more than what they are manipulated and convinced to be by their trafficker, be it a purchasable object of pleasure, a servant, or a slave. The victim’s path to this mindset follows a fairly typical progression. Generally it begins with a trafficker, who is trained in manipulation, selecting a victim that shows signs of vulnerability. Trafficking does not center on random kidnappings in white windowless vans as portrayed in the movies or on TV. It happens to everyday people that you see on the street, and it’s often perpetrated by those closest to the victim, such as family members, neighbors, community leaders, or friends.

In 2017, in the U.S., it’s estimated that 41% of child trafficking was facilitated by family members and caregivers.

 

The way of the trafficker often relies on the innocence of children unable to discern or realize that what is happening to them is wrong, and their methods are far more sinister and subtle to leverage a victim’s vulnerabilities to create an emotionally based dependency, which is why adolescent girls are a prime target. Children are only looking for the natural desire for attention and love without the ability to determine what is and isn’t appropriate. The trafficker’s motivation is to create this dependency so he can use his true weapon, control. This control takes many damaging forms, commonly including physical and emotional abuse, threats to the victim and their loved ones, economic abuse, and, in particular, isolation from friends and family. Under the guise of love and caring, these deceivers see victims as prey and products, not people.

 

The first step in any problem is to admit and acknowledge it’s existence. Once admitted, we can begin to understand it better to develop an opportunity to address it. This is the highest overview of this horrific subject. To hone it in a little, Liz is going to speak more to the essence of some these issues.

 

Major Issues

Sex Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.  As of 2012 it was second only to Drugs as the largest syndicate of organized crime. The difficulties and challenges of the sexual exploitation industry strike at the very essence of our society at large, the heart of our local communities, our families and us as individuals; that is traffickers prey on the child’s belief in what it means to be human, her identity as a person. 

            

As you heard from Jesse, our children are being targeted by those who seek to manipulate and coerce them into a position of subjugation, one that we would be horrified to think of even an animal being subject.  The main tactic utilized by traffickers and the Johns is to twist the girls’ beliefs about themselves.  To distort their self-image into believing that the abusive words, actions and overall treatment perpetrated against them is what they deserve and ultimately what they were made for.  

 

This complete reversal of the truth serves multiple purposes for the traffickers.  It both ensures the child’s compliance during her forced interaction with a John, which I am sure you can imagine why is necessary for the John to pay for the experience. This increases the traffickers revenue. 

 

Also, this submissive attitude reduces the child’s likelihood of running away, which he reinforces by threats to her life, sustained by the regular physical abuse he inflicts on her. Additionally, the child’s belief that she belongs in This Life, serves to protect the trafficker from any legal action.  The child does not believe that she is in fact the victim of any crime and therefore does not self-identify as a victim.  Complete blind obedience combined with the psychological effects of grooming that begin from the moment of the child’s encounter with the trafficker, where he either personally or through the use of what is called a “Romeo”, typically a man between the ages of 18 and 21, who pursues the child i.e. buys her gifts, affirms her, shows her physical and emotional attention and affection, for runaways “rescues” her from sleeping on the streets, ultimately results in the child believing he is her boyfriend, i.e. a lover who “cares” for her.  It isn’t until a specific point in the grooming process that his behavior shifts and he “asks” her, in other words requires her in order to avoid beatings and other threatened actions, to perform sexual acts with others. 

 

It is standard across the board that sex trafficking victims are in love with their first traffickers and will never testify in court against them or even turn them in.  These girls continuously lie to law enforcement and to others in order to protect the very persons who are abusing, using and selling them.  This is what is known as Stockholm syndrome and this along with the psychological effects of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), which is the result of continuous traumatic experiences, is the greatest challenge that we face today. This is also the crux of the misunderstanding between choice and coercion.  It.is ultimately what is thwarting any legitimate means of both taking down these traffickers and helping these children get out of The Life. 

 

Last year I attended a federal trafficking case in Raleigh.  The girl was trafficked when she was 17, but by the time the case went to trial, was 20 years old and had two-year-old twins.  The major hurdle for the Federal Prosecutors was overcoming a written and signed testimony by the child when the trafficker was arrested that stated that she lied to the trafficker about her age and that all of the tricks she performed were by her own volition and the desire for money.  The prosecutor played a prison recording of a phone call between the trafficker and the victim at the time of his initial arrest which recorded him telling her he needed her to lie for him and you hear the child saying that she would do anything he asked of her in order to protect him.

 

In a unique turn that is far too uncommon, after years of being away from him, having children of her own and because he hadn’t physically abused her yet, she was able through the support of advocates to testify against him and he went to prison, but a case like this is extremely rare. It is the only one I have witnessed of its kind. It was his first victim and he didn’t know how to defend himself intelligently. Gangs and criminals who make sex trafficking their prime focus, are extremely well versed in how to handle the legal system and manipulate their victims.

 

Traffickers additionally prey on another aspect of human nature, that of belonging. Calculatedly the child is made to feel as if she belongs to a “family” a “community”.  The traffickers have the victims call them names such as “daddy” they make the girls refer to each other as “sister-wife”.  This is key in the psychological control and manipulation used by the traffickers but is also the crucial element in how we can help them.  How WE as a community can love and support them. 

 

 It is true that I have dignity apart from my family, apart from my town or community.  That I possess a dignity merely by virtue of being a human person.  But it is also true that I have an innate desire to be in relationship, to belong to others, to be part of a community of persons.  This is also an essential aspect of who I am and is directly correlated to my awareness of my own dignity.  The traffickers prey on this innate desire of the child.  Many of these children are from foster care and have been passed from home to home where too often they are victims of abuse of all kinds. Others are from homes where there is little to no stability or a present adult who gives the child the needed attention and focus she requires.  In a very twisted and distorted way the trafficker fills this void.  He is “there” for her when all others have abandoned or failed her. He is the only one who desires her, who needs her.  This is where people of good will that are aware of the needs of the children in their community come in.  That is, aware of not only the child’s physical needs, but also her emotional and psychological needs. Her need of being wanted, desired. Her desire and need to belong! 

 

The damage caused from hours, days, months and years in The Life is devastating.  It takes years for these children to heal and come to even some semblance of normalcy, but it is possible!

 

IoSEW’s primary goal is to establish the foundation to begin meeting the needs for these girls in a real and tangible way.  

 

Dignity home, our mission 

Liz had been working on this idea for several years, establishing the legal status of the organization,  and introduced it to me about a year a half ago. I joined immediately. One of the particular ideas that stuck with me was that, as despicable as human trafficking is, it’s a close second to see the inaction and lack of help from nationally established, well funded organizations that claim they want to do so but seem to come up short in actual action.

In my own exploration of this topic, there is a stunning lack of needed resources, something we’re trying to help address. These resources include advocacy programs and large-scale funding for them, quality physical and mental health care, job training and placement, life skills training, legal services, and public awareness – just like what we’re doing here today.

 

On a more detailed note, IoSEW’s founding goal and primary effort is the development of a safe haven in the form of a restorative home and safehouse for rescued victims of human trafficking. This home, which we term Dignity, will be a full-service, therapeutic environment, providing all the services needed for victims to safely recover from their former lives and move forward as successful survivors.

This idea is directly inspired by a 2007 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report on human trafficking. This report (available on our website) details a primary, critical concern in the national lack of safe, effective services and resources available to rescued victims, such as those mentioned above. It is estimated that approximately 50,000 Americans fall prey to human trafficking each year, which has only increased during the Covid pandemic. Conversely, the few organizations that provide inpatient-type services for them totals out at approximately 65 available beds nationwide. Needless to say, this is a staggering shortage.

With our Dignity home, we strive to change that number by establishing a privately held property that offers all the security, training, and facets of recovery needed to help victims become survivors as we walk beside them toward personal independence.

 

Our goal is simply stated: IoSEW’s purpose is to furnish rescued victims of human trafficking with all the tools and support needed to re-establish themselves and guide them toward viable, independent lives, restoring dignity through freedom, which is our tagline on the back of today’s event shirt. And thanks to all of you, we’re closer to this goal today than we were yesterday.

 

So now that you know a little bit more about us, please accept our humblest thanks in helping support our mission and showing support for those who do not have a voice. There’s one more big element to this battle we’re waging, and Liz is going to tell you about it.

 

The solution – Community

When I first moved back to NC, I attended a small ant-human trafficking event in Charlotte. One of the speakers was the FBI agent in charge of the Sting operations in this area for apprehending traffickers. After her talk I went up to her to introduce myself and began telling her how I had moved back to NC to start a home for victim girls under the age of 18.  She interrupted me saying, “give me your number, I’ll be calling you in the middle of the night because after we complete a sting, I have to put these children in jail because I have no where to take them.” 

 

The theme today is not fundraising, it’s community. Yes, it’s true that we seek funds to establish our Dignity home and meet the goals we’ve set. But Love, respect, and above all, community responsibility are what are needed to properly end this atrocity. You may have heard the quote that “Evil can only prosper when good people do nothing.” 

 

This sad truth is how something as devastating as human enslavement and child torture can exist in today’s world. One of our hopes is for communities to raise their own awareness and sensitivity to such an extent that, victims would recognize that help is available and take the initiative to escape their circumstances; that they would self-identify as victims and be driven to seek help.   If a child knows that she is to never be treated as a means to end or an object of use and abuse.  If she recognizes who and what she was made for and that the only proper response to her is love, she will not easily be manipulated into This Life. We need to change not only the status quo, but the stigma associated with children and young women we encounter on our streets, in or children’s schools, at church, at airports and in our grocery stores. When you see a young girl behaving or dressing in a way that you may normally have marked her as a delinquent as…….. names that we can’t say in front of our children and in my opinion should never be said about any woman and especially about any child…ask yourselves what is going on in her life? Does she have the support and care she needs? Is there anything I can do to help? 

 

In interviews with survivors, nearly 90% say they wished to leave the life if only they could find a way. 

 

Within a properly informed and aware community, this kind of injustice would be unable to take place nor sustain itself, by setting a community standard that this action is intolerable and providing a safe environment for victims to heal, our communities can make a difference. 

 

People from this community have already begun willingly to offer their time, energy and talents to grow this foundation.  The people you see in grey with Volunteer printed on their backs and countless others who made today a success are people just like you, small business owners, mothers, fathers, nurses, high school students, business managers, engineers, police officers, artists, therapists, waiters, teachers, IT professionals and more, who have rallied together for one reason, the belief that every child has dignity and also the commitment to ensuring that she receives what she truly deserves, a life lived in freedom a life full of hope. These people and yourselves are also the reason Dignity home will be a success and who will create a community where a criminal enterprise of this kind will not be tolerated!

 

Thank you!

Marie Miller

Marie Miller is a singer/songwriter and mandolin player from the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Her favorite performance was for Pope Francis and 700,000 attendees in Philadelphia, PA. 

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