None of us would claim that it is okay for a middle-aged businessman to have sex with an abused 13-year-old girl. Yet it happens, in any American city, every day.
According to the FBI, the sex trafficking industry in the United States is a multibillion-dollar industry, in which traffickers target, manipulate, and torture a steady supply of vulnerable children into submission. The average age of those forced into trafficking is 12 to 14 years old. The industry is actually growing because of the ease with which the Internet connects buyers to their “menus.”
As one police officer said, “ordering a child [for sex] is as easy as ordering pizza.”
The increasing demand leads to greater efforts by traffickers to increase supply. Since the life span of trafficking victims is about seven years — the death rate is incredibly high — traffickers are continually looking for new vulnerable youth to exploit.
Trafficking is considered the second most lucrative crime behind only drugs, and is the fastest growing. And yet… it is barely a topic of conversation.
- Why isn’t there a bigger outcry when a 45-year-old youth minister is arrested for going to a motel to have sex with a girl advertised as a 14-year-old prostitute?
- Aren’t we horrified to learn that a family network of men and women targeted homeless and mentally challenged girls and forced them to have sex with an average of five men every night?
- Why did no one tell when an employee at a technology firm found 30 young girls over three years to sell to coworkers for sex?
The basic facts are available for people to be outraged and inspired to act — but, as with most overwhelming and complex issues, people must be drawn to the story if those facts are to do some good.
Why We Need New Storytelling to Help Spread the Word
- Some believe trafficking only affects youth in other countries… other states…. other cities.
- Some believe trafficking only occurs in tough urban neighborhoods but “not here.”
- Some believe sex buyers are “men being men,” or are a narrow group of depraved, uneducated and lonely men — and have a hard time believing that businessmen and politicians and laborers and doctors at conventions and sporting events and oil fields are using victims.
- Some believe youth “choose” to prostitute themselves for “easy money” simply because they want to support drug habits and “there is nothing we can do for them.”
- Some believe runaways, homeless individuals, mentally/emotionally vulnerable, and impoverished mothers make a conscious decision to use “survivor sex” as a legitimate method to get food and shelter.
- Some believe those who “choose” this “profession” have other options if they only looked harder… and that it is not society’s job to stand up for their health and welfare. The thinking is, “if they wanted to get help” — or escape from an abusive home environment, or trust an adult with the shame of being trafficked by an adult they mistakenly trusted first — they could.
Sex trafficking is a very unpleasant but ‘normalized’ aspect of our culture. It is easiest for most of us to expect the victim to be responsible for what happens to them — without understanding how it happens, and who knows how to manipulate them to make money from their servitude.
Even legislators and law enforcement have to be trained to understand this issue if they are to step in and act.
What Is the Collective Impact : ME campaign?
This project explains how traffickers do what they do, in order to help undermine the societal ignorance, misperceptions, and silence that enables the industry to thrive under the radar.
I am based in Minneapolis/St. Paul, one of the U.S.’s top centers of trafficking — where a strong coalition has come together to better understand survivor stories; train advocates, hotel workers and police officers; and create best practices — and deal with difficult complexities — in this fight.
The mission of the Collective Impact ME campaign is to further empower the critical mass of individuals and organizations now gathering to combat trafficking, using skilled story-tellers to share the stories of survivors, traffickers and buyers — as well as the people who are learning how to rescue, help and empower victims.
Goals of this Collective Impact : ME campaign
1) raise consciousness about who traffickers are and how they do what they do;
2) help reduce demand by spotlighting the conditions victims are subjected in order to feed their need;
3) make members of the general community much more aware, so it becomes harder for trafficking victims to be hidden and transported in plain sight;
4) enhance funding and outcry by the public so survivors can be served far better than they currently are.
“This country has more animal shelters than shelters for exploited children.”