By Rasheda Kamaria
The road to end human trafficking can begin with a conversation…
They wait nearby like vultures, ready for you to show any sign of weakness. They prey upon the most vulnerable – children, runaways, those living in poverty – waiting to exploit them for personal gain. They are traffickers and they are everywhere – even here in Detroit. Once thought to only be a problem overseas, human trafficking – which includes labor and sex trafficking – is on the rise in the United States.
Luckily for me, my vulnerability wasn’t exposed. Instead it was protected by what I call “real talk.” I could have been a statistic – one of more than 100,000 women and children trafficked and exploited in the US. But my intuition and upbringing made me an unlikely victim for the pimps who were recruiting at Fairlane Mall that Saturday afternoon.
At 13 years old, I was charismatic, yet guarded; slightly naïve, but street smart. My uncle would have random conversations with me, reminding me that there were men who preyed on young girls and women. “They will offer you the world and once you give in, that’s it,” he stressed. My aunt, who had been a teen mom, warned me of the good-looking, smooth-talking older men who would try to wine and dine me only to control me.
I believe their constant talks saved my life. When I was approached at the mall by a fairly handsome man who appeared to be in his early 20s, I denied his advances. I even questioned his intentions courting a child. My instinct told me that he had ulterior motives.
Now, at 35 years old, I am well aware that the predators often pose as boyfriends. They lure girls and boys under the pretense of an intimate relationship or friendship. I’ve participated in enough awareness trainings to know this.
Recently, I had a chance to attend a forum and panel discussion on human trafficking at Wayne State University. The event was organized by the President’s Commission on the Status of Women along with Soroptimist International of Grosse Pointe and WSU student organizations.
A group of panelists explained how through force, fraud, and coercion, the predators control their victims.
Sex trafficking is a business, and women and children are hot commodities. After drug and gun trafficking, the sale of humans is the largest form of organized crime. Blanche Cook, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at Wayne State, said that trafficking doesn’t always involve chains and beatings. “Traffickers are master manipulators and profilers,” she said.
Any of us could be victims. But the traffickers specifically target children.
Though our culture tends to believe that all “women of the night” or “street walkers” willingly sell their bodies to random men, this isn’t the case. Many of the women who are prostitutes today were forced into the sex industry – from pornography to exotic dancing – as children. The vicious cycle of exploitation often continues for years and years until the victim is physically and mentally broken.
So what does this all mean? And how can those of us who care about children ensure that this doesn’t happen?
For starters, we have to acknowledge that human trafficking – especially sex trafficking – exists in our communities. It’s also imperative that we address and eliminate the demand.
Education is key.
Several local organizations, like the Michigan Abolitionist Project, offer trainings to recognize victims and support survivors of human trafficking. For the past two years, I’ve volunteered with the S.O.A.P. (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution) organization during its “S.O.A.P. up the Auto Show” campaign. But more needs to be done to educate men, who are the largest consumers in the sex industry, on how they can end this global travesty.
In addition to awareness, it is vital that we have conversations or wellness checks with our children and young relatives. Many victims of commercial sex exploitation report experiencing some form of sexual abuse or trauma. It’s important to have these talks with young people. Just like the random conversations that my aunt and uncle had with me, they can prove life-saving.
If you suspect that someone is being trafficked or if you believe that you are a victim, please call the human trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Rasheda Kamaria is a youth advocate, mentor, and the chief empowering officer for Empowered Flower Girl LLC. She also is member of Soroptimist International of Grosse Pointe.