I preparation for the upcoming human trafficking education and awareness series I am organizing in Greensboro, NC, I have participated in a couple radio spots. As I learn and speak more about the issue, people want to know, “What can I do about human trafficking?” The first response is: Educate yourself, Share the information with friends, Pray, Pay Attention, Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) when there is cause for concern, and be a source of encouragement and support for someone who has been rescued from human trafficking.
I am pleased to welcome Beth Bruno to A Sista’s Journey for the first time. Beth is taking this issue of human trafficking, specifically sex trafficking personally and she is asking important questions: Do we understand the connection between the vulnerabilities of our impoverished citizens and trafficking? In the fight against trafficking, where are the men? Welcome, Beth.
Recently, I spent an afternoon with the financially poor, waiting for food and clothes and a bus pass. Two weeks prior, the young girl with whom I sat had been relocated from another state, fleeing an abusive pimp. She had already found a job at a fast food restaurant, but lived with family friends in a derelict house with little food.
From poverty she fled to the streets, found drugs and sold sex in Vegas before her “boyfriend” took over her body. Sold her. Beat her. Sold her. Beat her. But someone noticed. And knew. They called the FBI who labeled her abuse sex trafficking and got her out. But to poverty she returned.
I wonder how long she will stay.
I am but a passing moment in their lives, neither participating in their recovery or restoration. I bridge the two, connecting girls from police encounters to long term care. But I meet them. I hear their stories. I gather names and faces so that I can solicit prayer. If they only knew how much prayer covers them! But there are days… I wonder if it’s enough.
The cycle of poverty is brutal to our kids. And too many, far too many, are sexually exploited as a result of their vulnerability. (Note: Please also add the www.missingkids.com number to your phone contacts, 1-800-843-5678 and follow @AMBERalert on Twitter.) The proliferation of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) often takes a back seat to the attention given to children in Southeast Asia. In fact, I am asked nearly every day if sex trafficking really happens here.
DMST is defined as the commercial sexual exploitation of anyone under 18. This includes pornography, strip clubs, fake massage businesses, online sex sites, and prostitution. One doesn’t have to be kidnapped to feel like they can’t leave. In fact, anyone 18 and over, who through force, fraud, or coercion is induced to perform sex acts is a victim of sex trafficking.
January is the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Many churches and organizations will host trainings, film screenings, and awareness events. Mobilization is happening around the country and communities are starting to wake up to the problem in their own backyard. However, despite increased awareness, most of these events will be populated and led by women. Where are our men?
As an injustice primarily perpetuated by their gender, many men feel shame and uselessness when it comes to engaging in the battle against sex trafficking. And many more don’t believe it happens here. They don’t see how trafficking exists to satiate the demand pornography creates. And of those who want to do something, they don’t know how.
Recognizing the need for a male specific tool to educate, equip, and empower men to launch a response in their community, my husband and I teamed up to write END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking. Loaded with stories, group discussion, a game plan and tangible action steps, our goal is that men will join their sisters in the battle to end sex trafficking.
Does it happen here? Yes! It is happening in every small town across America. And you can do something about it today.
Want to read more? I recommend starting with Renting Lacy by Linda Smith, a short primer on DMST from the (fictionalized) perspective of a victim, pimp, john, and police. To learn more about how your state is doing with its human trafficking laws, visit www.sharedhope.org. For training materials, policy updates, and a list of anti-trafficking work in your state, visit www.polarisproject.org. You can find a list of resources, including books, documentaries, and other websites at www.bethbruno.org. And, to purchase END visit www.restorationproject.net/end.
Where do you see vulnerability in your community? Have you encountered creative approaches to prevention and protection of vulnerable youth?
Beth Bruno battles sex trafficking in her small town through a non-profit she founded, A Face to Reframe, which uses photography to prevent exploitation in vulnerable youth. Additionally, she leads the local initiatives of the U COUNT Campaign and is the co-founder of the Fort Collins Anti-Sex Trafficking Community Response Team. She lives in Colorado with her husband and three children and can be found at bethbruno.org.