One of the reasons human trafficking, and particularly sex trafficking, is so difficult to combat is that the systems–and people–who perpetuate it operate in the shadows. Though, if you know what you’re looking for, they’re hidden in plain sight.
From the hotel employees who turn a blind eye, to the people selling women online for sex, the whole enterprise exists because most of us don’t know what we’re looking for. Or, if we see it, we aren’t sure how to help.
That’s why we are focused as much on education as we are on rethreading the lives of our survivors. If our city understands what sex trafficking is, and how it works, we’re making it much less possible for traffickers, and the system they rely on, to hide.
This piece will help you, and anyone you share it with, to know enough to be dangerous, in the best way possible, in the fight against sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking is often invisible
Because of the way sex trafficking is often depicted in pop culture, the public has been largely deceived into thinking trafficking starts with a violent kidnapping in a dark parking lot.
This is a dangerous myth, which makes many cases of trafficking completely invisible to most people who have better intentions than information. In fact, only 5% of trafficking cases involve a kidnapping. The rest of the time, the tactics are much more subtle, relying on psychological manipulation rather than physical abduction.
That means victims may be trafficked while still living in the same cities and even the same homes. On the surface, their lives may not appear to be significantly different.
For instance, more than half of surveyed minor survivors still attended school, at least some of the time, while they were being trafficked, and many participants still have a social media presence and even contact with family and friends.
The reality of many trafficking cases is that the victim almost always knows the trafficker that recruits and then controls them, and they are groomed for quite some time before the actual exploitation begins.
What is sex trafficking?
Trafficking comes in many forms, but it always involves the use of fraud, force, or coercion to compel someone to perform a sex act for profit. It happens in hotel rooms, college dorms, and even in private homes.
But trafficking starts way before a survivor is placed in that situation. It typically begins when a trafficker, or someone who is involved in recruiting (sometimes by force) women for a trafficker, meets a minor or a woman who is vulnerable in some way.
The vulnerability may be an addiction, homelessness, a mental health condition, an abusive romantic relationship, justice involvement, foster care participation, estrangement from family and friends (a runaway, for example), or a similar situation that leaves someone feeling isolated and with few good options left.
Traffickers see these vulnerabilities, and they make promises to help. Once that help starts coming, whether it’s access to a safe place to sleep, or drugs or alcohol to feed an addiction, the survivor sees–often too late–that the “help” has come with strings.
But once someone is trapped in a sex trafficking web, it’s very hard to leave. Traffickers use those vulnerabilities over and over again to maintain control. Plus, after a survivor has committed a coerced sex act for profit, traffickers often threaten to report them to law enforcement.
Because prostitution is illegal in the United States (with the exception of a few rural counties in Nevada), and the law is not yet nuanced enough to recognize instances when someone has been forced into the situation, it’s a criminal offense.
For someone with an existing record, an illegal addiction, or fragile custody of her children, the threat of justice involvement is often enough to keep her compliant and quiet.
What are the signs that sex trafficking may be taking place?
Just because sex trafficking is often invisible to the untrained eye doesn’t mean it’s impossible to see. Taking away this business’s power starts making it more visible, so we can all see it, when it’s happening.
Here are some possible signs of sex trafficking:
- People of any gender or age approaching young men and women promoting a “modeling” agency, a talent search, or traveling employment opportunities.
- Crimes, like theft or a drug exchange, happening under the watchful eye of a third party.
- Young people with a lot of cash, prepaid credit cards, or hotel key cards.
- Numerous people (particularly men) entering and exiting the same hotel room.
- Minors who are clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and who are not with a group of peers. An intoxicated young person with older companions is a huge red flag.
- Someone who seems lost or unsure of his or her destination, with an inconsistent story.
- A minor who appears to be traveling alone.
Is sex trafficking happening in Jacksonville?
If we look closely, and we know the signs, we’ll see that trafficking happens in our own city. We have a lot of work to do, right here at home.
Jacksonville is a beautiful place to live, with pristine beach communities and soaring property values, but we have a serious problem that we, as a community, must address.
Underneath the glistening sands and vacation properties, there’s a hidden sex trafficking market that, together, we must stop.
- Florida ranks third in the United States for reported cases of human trafficking.
- Jacksonville ranks 48th, of all cities in the United States.
- The highest activity is along I-95, around the Baymeadows and JTB interchanges.
- 100% of the women at Rethreaded are United States citizens who have been trafficked right here in Jacksonville.
What can we do about it?
The first step any of us can take is to become educated about trafficking, so that we’re able to see it when it’s happening and know how to report it.
By reading this blog, you’re much more ready than you were yesterday to properly identify and report an instance of trafficking.
Your next step is to look out for the signs of activity, when you’re in hotels, at gas stations, or even at major sporting events or other activities that draw participants from all over the area.
If you see something that looks suspicious, then you can report it either by calling the police, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or texting the letters “befree” (or the numbers 233733) to reach the trafficking resource center.
Your final step is to be part of the bigger solution: We invite you to take our challenge, completing a one-hour video training to learn how to effectively spot and report suspected human trafficking.