"Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." - The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
Somewhere in a hotel ballroom, a small business seminar begins:
Good evening, gentlemen. Thank you for coming today to hear about this extraordinary business opportunity that is exploding globally. We're glad you made it here today to hear about this amazing way for you to make piles of money, all of it tax-free.
Do we have enough chairs there in the back? Everyone get coffee? Bagels? Good. Let's get down to business, shall we?
If you will direct your attention to the PowerPoint slides here on the screen, I would like to introduce you to our CEO, Daniel. That is not his real name, of course. I think you will agree that Daniel is a shrewd businessman, a tycoon in the making. Here is what Daniel has done - what you, too, can do if you choose to get in business with us today.
Daniel is a trafficker. He takes women, girls and young boys from impoverished villages and towns and brings them to metropolitan areas for special events. He has underlings who drive his crew from place to place. He has a real gift for spotting talent in the raw. Maybe it's a runaway girl, a child sold for adoption by poor parents, or unemployed Russian women looking to buy a way to bring their families over. Daniel spends most of this time enlarging his crew and counting his money.
Daniel works in a market that is rich with resources and thin on law enforcement. The non-profit groups that are in the areas working against him are all underfunded and ineffective. He has set up operations in South Africa, in Thailand, in Brazil. Daniel is a world traveller, he drives fine cars, and he makes loads of money, all of it cash, all of it untaxed. During the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, Daniel made more money in two weeks than most people in this room will make in two years. He used to have a regular job, just like most of you. Now, he's his own boss.
If you choose to take advantage of this opportunity today, we can set you up with a village territory of your own. You can buy as many as you like. Daniel has brothels in all these areas, all servicing customers and in need of kids. Most people who work with us recoup their initial investment within two weeks. After that, you're making easy money. If you also choose to help Daniel staff global special events like sporting events, international conferences and the Olympics, you can make car loads of money in a short time.
Now, if you'll open the information packet that was on your seat when you came in, we'll show you Daniel's unique system for making the most out of your investments. It is a multi-tiered approach that begins with high-end sex trafficking, progresses through sweatshop labor, drug muling, and finally begging. We'll show you how to squeeze more money out of each kid than you thought possible. By the time we're through, you'll be lining up to purchase regions. For those of you who get in on the ground floor, we'll even show you how to do this in the United States, right under the nose of the police. Please turn to page three.
No one builds their sex trafficking business through seminars in hotel conference rooms. But, much of what that pitchman said is true. Sex trafficking is big business. Clients are easy to find. Kids and women are easy to get. Large events are great places for traffickers to make loads of cash. And, those organizations who are fighting against sex trafficking, who are trying to build safehouses for kids and women to go to once freed, are almost all underfunded.
And, lest we think that this is only a Third World issue, there is trafficking going on right under our noses here in the United States. We'll tell you where it is. We'll show you who is doing it. And, we'll tell you what you can do to help stop it.
What It Is
Sex trafficking is one form of human trafficking. Trafficking in general is simply the illegal trade of human beings for the purposes of forcing them to do something that they have not volunteered to do. It can include forced labor, general slavery in the classic sense, or even organ harvesting. When trafficking involves prostitution, stripping, child pornography and the like, it falls under the heading of "sex trafficking". It is considered organized crime.
There are many ways that victims of sex trafficking come to that life. Women from poorer countries are offered fake jobs as maids or factory workers. Once they arrive in the city they think they will be working legitimately in, saving to bring their family, they are coerced into prostitution. This may be done by threatening their families back home, by drugging them, by claiming they have to work off a debt, or simply through physical beatings.
Children may be bought from poor parents, promising opportunities for them. They may be kidnap victims, runaways, homeless. They are forced to service multiple clients nightly, contracting diseases and wounds. Some reports indicate that this is not an all-girl victim set. About 45% of trafficked children are boys. In a U.S. Department of Justice study [PDF link] conducted in 2007-2008, over 30% of the trafficked victims discovered were children.
Large Event Business
In January 2010, E. Benjamin Skinner did a piece for Time Magazine about the sex trafficking business in South Africa before and during the FIFA World Cup. He spoke with traffickers who were looking forward to the event. Traffickers bought children for as little as $45, but made $600 a night off of them during the games. Even before the event, construction workers prepping the stadium were regular customers.
The Wall Street Journal warned against inflating the numbers of trafficking victims during these events, but acknowledged that the crimes are generally unreported and the victims unknown. Eyewitness reports, like those who serve in rescue organizations, tell the tale.
Unearthed Pictures is an organization based in Lexington, Kentucky that uses ministry contacts and funding to shed a media spotlight on activities like those during the World Cup.
Until governments in areas like this have laws and enforcement that stop this, organizations like those who partner with Unearthed are the first line of defense against the sex trafficking pandemic.
In The United States
While it seems to be tougher for classic methods of exploitation and trafficking to work in the United States, increased awareness of the issue is revealing that trafficking is going on right under the public's nose here. One scandal that has revealed a lot about this is Backpage.
Backpage is a website maintained by The Village Voice. It is similar to Craigslist in that items for sale, job listings and personal ads are available to peruse. But, Backpage has come under heavy fire as a place for traffickers to pimp out sex slaves with impunity. Their "Escort" and "Body Rub" sections are outright sex solicitation sections, and investigators are saying that some of those are unwilling or even minors.
In January of 2012, The New York Times did an article that featured a girl called Baby Face. That article stirred lots of attention to the problem of trafficking on Backpage. Here is an excerpt from that story:
In November, a terrified 13-year-old girl pounded on an apartment door in Brooklyn. When a surprised woman answered, the girl pleaded for a phone. She called her mother, and then dialed 911.
The girl, whom I’ll call Baby Face because of her looks, frantically told police that a violent pimp was selling her for sex. He had taken her to the building and ordered her to go to an apartment where a customer was waiting, she said, and now he was waiting downstairs to make sure she did not escape. She had followed the pimp’s directions and gone upstairs, but then had pounded randomly on this door in hopes of getting help.
Baby Face said she hurt too much to endure yet another rape by a john. She told prosecutors later that she was bleeding vaginally and that her pimp had recently kicked her down a stairwell for trying to flee.
That 911 call set in motion the arrest of Kendale Judge, then 21. Judge has pleaded not guilty to charges of sex trafficking, kidnapping, rape and compelling prostitution. He is in jail, and we haven’t heard his side of the events yet.
The episode also shines a spotlight on how the girl was marketed — in ads on Backpage.com, a major national Web site where people place ads to sell all kinds of things, including sex. It is a godsend to pimps, allowing customers to order a girl online as if she were a pizza.
This was not the first time attention had been called to how The Village Voice was profiting from sex trafficking. They reportedly earn $22 million a year from these ads.
There was a time that Craigslist was faced with such adult-services ad scandals, and they have since discontinued those. Backpage is fighting it every step of the way, accusing the attorneys general who have asked them to stop of playing politics [PDF link]. They have gone on a counteroffensive, demonizing investigators and questioning why they are singled out.
The great cause for concern is that The Village Voice is defending its involvement in ruining the lives of children, whether they think those figures are accurate or not, all for the sake of making money. That is like arguing that you pimp fewer kids than some do, so you should not be taken to task. They like to cast the evidence against them as overblown, even made up entirely.
However, in this report from CNN, you can see within the first three minutes an example of a thirteen year-old girl who talks about being sold on Backpage.
Sites like Backpage are making lots of money selling girls. They have been called out about it, but are publicly fighting the pressure to stop using the lives of girls as a way to profit.
There has been a renewed call to fight against Backpage and other entities that profit from sex trafficking. Helping in this fight falls into two categories:
1) Supporting international efforts, via donations and personal involvement
2) Opposing domestic business, via boycotts and name-and-shame campaigns
Earlier, we introduced you to Unearthed Pictures. That is a great place to start in terms of learning more about the international sex trafficking fight and how you can donate and get involved. Many organizations like Unearthed are ministry-based. That is who is doing this work now.
As for Backpage, that is owned by Village Voice Media. Efforts are underway to put an advertiser boycott in place against anyone who advertises anywhere with The Village Voice until they stop using Backpage to sell sex services. A visit to VillageVoice.com shows a few to start with. But, even better than that, the site has an advertiser index, putting all the targets in one place. Note that these people are not advertising on Backpage, but with the parent publication.
A good plan of action would be to look through each ad there. Visit their websites. Find their Twitter feeds - including those of owners, managers, board members and employees. Scout out the company's About Us pages. And compile lists and contact sheets. Tell your friends. Tweet out notices with their handles in plain view. Many of these companies may be unaware that their ad dollars support a media agency that is also profiting from child sex trafficking. Help them find out. If they don't respond, tell the public.
Child sex trafficking is not just a Third World problem. And, even to the extent that it is, we all have a responsibility to fight it.