Human Trafficking in the United States is an incredibly complex problem in relation to other problems such as drugs and gangs. Local, state, and national laws are not written to truly address the issue, and in some cases, the laws are restricted because of ethnic and religious sensitivities about the age and familial relationships related to marriage. Local, state and national law enforcement agencies are also at a disadvantage as their training does not go into great detail on human trafficking, and departments do not have the staff to give due attention to the problem. Nonprofits and private investigators often augment law enforcement efforts and are able to focus on the trafficking problem better than law enforcement can. In many cases, law enforcement will not touch a case until they can establish that a crime has been committed. NGOs who work to help victims of trafficking are usually understaffed and under resourced to deal with the realities facing the victims they try to help, and communities have limited resources to offer.
One of the key problems with domestic trafficking cases, which is similar to international cases, is the “Sympathetic Client” syndrome. In many cases, the victims of human trafficking come from abusive homes, are runaways, have substance abuse problems, and are easily dismissed as missing persons or, if over the age of eighteen, are dismissed as career prostitutes. Community and state governments, like officials in our overseas embassies, must determine where resources are allocated, and upon what community problems they will be focused. The lack of prioritization and the prostitute-runaway paradigm often dehumanize victims of human trafficking, making it difficult to escape, and lack of resources make recidivism among victims extremely high.
Who are the victims of Human Trafficking?
International trafficking often starts with the promise of a job and a better life in a big city or western country. We often think of this problem solely in terms of sex trafficking, but labor trafficking is as great a problem as sex trafficking. In some instances labor trafficking feeds into or runs parallel to sex trafficking. The mail order bride industry is another venue where trafficking is prevalent. Potential mail order brides are often promised a dream home and well-to-do husband, only to find themselves in an abusive relationship or to find themselves in a new country under the control of a pimp. These victims are most often deceived, conned, set up, or forced into Human Trafficking. The victims are then worn down psychologically to prevent them from escaping their captivity.
The United States has its own unique problems with trafficking. It is easy to place these victims in the category of abused run-away, or drug addict. Perhaps even the mature woman who genuinely wants to work for an escort service. It is much easier for the everyday American to label the outward manifestation of the problem with terms like prostitute, street walker, migrant worker, ho, mail order bride, or a host of other de-humanizing terms. Unfortunately many of the victims of Human Trafficking in the United States come from affluent homes and find themselves trapped in a tangled web of manipulation, psychological control, and threat of force. Sadly some of these victims are trafficked right under the noses of their parents, while living at home.
Who are these invisible victims? Do you know an awkward teenaged boy or girl who has trouble making friends? Do you know a teenaged boy or girl who is mad at their parents and looking for adventure? What about the girl or woman who is attracted to the bad boy? What about the college student who is strapped for cash, failing out of school, or lost their job? The obvious targets are runaways, kids in dysfunctional homes, or those with drug or substance abuse issues. Pimps, spotters, and recruiters are always looking for their latest acquisition. It can often start with the victim being befriended by someone if the trafficking world and then developed for recruitment. This process may take weeks, months, or even years. The victim is often showered with gifts, romance, and the promise of love. The victims are then set up for the recruitment. In many cases the recruitment begins with a violent rape where compromising media is taken. The victim’s life, and the lives or their loved ones are often threatened. Pimps use psychological manipulation to create a condition known as “Learned Helplessness”, which is a key component in Battered Wife Syndrome and Stockholm Syndrome. It is not uncommon for these victims to develop Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
In a world where the sex industry is growing and pornography is part of an easy internet search, it is easy to dehumanize these victims. It is much more palatable to repackage and assign a different label to people trapped in this world. In every case I have researched or victim I have interviewed, the victim was coerced, duped, or set up and did not enter the Human Trafficking world of their own accord. Once the victims were in the trafficking world, they found it almost impossible to get out, and once out, found it nearly impossible to reconnect with the “normal world”. Recidivism is incredibly high in trafficking because of this inability to adjust to being back home. The devil you know often makes more sense than the system you do not understand.
In our next post we will discuss “Learned Helplessness” and why it is so important to understand in Human Trafficking, Kidnapping for Ransom, or any other form of Human Exploitation.