The sex industry is as old as the Bible and as epidemic as the plagues of Egypt during Moses’ day. Tamar of the Old Testament gave herself to her father-in-law, Judah, one of Jacob’s sons, and a woman caught in adultery in the New Testament was thrown at the feet of Jesus by self-righteous men who condemned her.
In today’s culture, prevalent with sex via pornography, strip clubs, prostitution and human trafficking, pregnancy centers can and do see the ramifications of the sex industry. Those working in pregnancy centers need to know how to respond when a woman who is involved in these businesses comes through the door.
“Many domestic traffickers do not have their girls utilize contraception, but (instead) depend on abortion as a method to deal with unwanted pregnancy,” stated Dr. Jeffrey Barrows, director of U.S. training for Hope for Justice, an international organization dedicated to ending human trafficking and slavery. “Because most pregnancy centers offer free pregnancy tests, a trafficker may allow or even bring a girl/woman into the center for pregnancy testing.”
Human trafficking was once thought to happen only “over there,” in countries like Thailand or Cambodia. But the plague also infects the U.S., both in smaller communities and in large cities.
During the third week of September, media in Orlando, Fla. area headlined “21 Arrested, 8 Rescued in Human Trafficking, Drug Bust.” Orlando is well-recognized for the sex industry, including human trafficking.
“We're a huge convention city; single men and married men staying at these conference can get online and order a girl like a pizza,” Laurey Nelson, founder and coordinator for Orlando-based Boundless Human Trafficking Awareness and Advocacy, said.
“I was first exposed to the issue of human trafficking in mid-2012, when the pastor of our church was approached by a man who brought the local human trafficking issue in Orlando to light,” she said. “I had no idea how prevalent it was in our city and was under the impression that most (people) are at first—that a woman chooses to be involved in prostitution and is not trapped.”
Nelson made a concerted effort to learn about the issue and became so passionate that she founded Boundless Human Trafficking Awareness and Advocacy, an outreach of her local church. The program helps women in a variety of ways and also helps law enforcement by providing backpacks filled with items such as hygiene products and snacks that are given to officials to provide to rescued women.
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Ohio is also known for its issues with sex trafficking. A recent report from that state’s Attorney General’s Office indicates that about 1,000 young people (those 18 and under) annually are forced into the sex trade in Ohio, the McCain Institute points out.
Headed by Sen. John McCain’s wife, Cindy, The McCain Institute references a study in the American Journal of Public Health, which states an estimated 30 percent of children in homeless shelters and 70 percent of street youth have been victims of the sex trade.
Shared Hope International promotes awareness and education on the subject of human trafficking, particularly relating to its impact on youth. The organization has found the average age of an American child exploited through prostitution is 13 years old. Both girls and boys are trafficked. Many factors make a child or teen vulnerable to trafficking, including homelessness, abuse in the home, and the child’s age.
According to the Polaris Project, another organization working to fight human trafficking, the number of sex trafficked victims in the United States is unknown. However, what is known is that hundreds of thousands of American youth are at risk for commercial sex exploitation and that trafficking is economically beneficial to the purveyor.
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In a report issued in May 2015, the Polaris Project cited a study by the Urban Institute, which indicated the revenue generated by the sex slave trade brings a trafficker at least $40 million and often as much as $290 million, depending upon which U.S. city the trafficking takes place. Other organizations cite human trafficking as a $9.8 billion industry in America alone.
“Trafficking is a lucrative business with a high demand and a big return on investment,” Jamie Chavez of Wyoming’s Attorney General Office said. “A pimp can re-sell his victim multiple times, plus it’s low-profile and a person is much less likely to be caught than if trafficking drugs.”
Although Wyoming is the least populated state in the nation and the last to pass a human trafficking law, it’s not immune to sex trafficking of minors and young women. In 2006 a 13-year-old girl was exploited in Jackson, a small town located in the western part of Wyoming. Chavez says she cites the case whenever she conducts training programs on human trafficking and prostitution.
Such trainings are important for pregnancy centers and other organizations that assist women, experts say.
“The staff of a pregnancy center should learn the basics of human trafficking … the definition of human trafficking and the common indicators that may tell the staff that a client is potentially a victim of trafficking,” Dr. Barrows, who has been involved with the issue of human trafficking for more than 10 years, said. “Depending on the location of the pregnancy center, some will have the potential to regularly encounter victims of trafficking. Therefore, training and preparation for that potentiality is absolutely critical.”
Tomorrow, learn the specific signs of human trafficking you and your pregnancy center can watch for in the final of this two-part series.
Heartbeat International offers a webinar on this issue here.
Another online course, which is free and specific to healthcare providers, can be found here.
Learn what some organizations are doing to help combat human trafficking and the sex trade at these sites:
Find out about red flags for human trafficking here.
Talk to your local law enforcement agency or state attorney general’s office about training for your center’s staff.
Report human trafficking concerns to your local law enforcement agency or contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888 or texting BeFree (233733).
Find additional resources here.