Monday, February 22, 2016

Identifying Children at Risk of Being Trafficked

Recently during Operation Reclaim and Rebuild law enforcement took into custody almost 200 trafficking suspects. This begs the question, how do that many people find their victims? 

Traffickers know how to identify vulnerable children and teens from a wide variety of backgrounds, and to fight human trafficking, we should too. Do you know kids like: 

Matt? Spending most of his free time in his room playing video games, Matt seemed depressed but his parents didn’t know how to help. They didn’t realize he’d started frequenting a video chat room. His self-esteem became dependent upon his prowess at the game, Desperate to get to the next level and completely unaware of the dangers, he asked the guild manager for help. Agreeing to take Matt to the next level, the manager requested a naked photo in exchange. Matt complied.The problems escalated from there. Within minutes the perverted manager distributed Matt’s photo to a porn ring. Blackmail involved expectations of increasing sexual content, then an actual sexual encounter. 

Brad? Hating his step-dad for unreasonable expectations and demands, fifteen-year-old Brad decided he could take care of himself and ran away from home. When he made a new friend who invited him to share his apartment, Brad eagerly accepted. He didn't realize how soon he'd be expected to pay his way. His new "friend" would show him how.
Boys like Matt and Brad are at risk for being trafficked.
Ashley? Her parents worked long hours and never had time to interact with her. When Ashley's beloved grandmother died, the girl needed a friend and a charming young man started paying attention. He listened and made Ashley feel special. She became increasingly dependent upon his approval. 

Tracey? No one cared about her feelings when her parents divorced. Though Tracey's dad often gave her money, he spent all his time with his new girlfriend. Her mom was grouchy all the time and constantly talked about money. When Tracey met a new guy online, he asked questions and genuinely seemed to care. He wanted to meet in person and suggested she bring along a friend--just to be safe. Once they got to know each other better, there would be plenty of time to be alone.
Kiera? When her dad got laid off from his job, she could no longer afford a dress for prom. When she mentioned her plight to a good-looking guy at the mall, he offered to buy it for her. She refused. But he seemed so nice, they started texting. His growing generosity led to increasing involvement.
Lori.? A college freshman looking for work, Lori’s new friend convinced her to take a modeling position. Before she realized it involved much more than she’d bargained for, Lori was in too deep.
Melissa? Providing food and shelter for her little girl, Melissa couldn’t do it alone. When she met a guy willing to help with expenses, survival sex helped pay the bills. Additional money started being offered by his friends.
Ashley, Tracey, Kiera, Lori, and Melissa are all at risk for being trafficked.
Each of these scenarios are entry points for victims of human trafficking. Girls longing for love are at risk. Boys lonely and insecure are at risk. LGBT kids kicked out of their homes are at risk. College students needing a job are at risk.Traffickers share tips on how to groom these kids to get them to comply. A "pimps' bible" also offers insights into that grooming process.
Knowledge is power and the more we understand the problems, the better we can help young people recognize the lies and avoid the dangers. After-school programs are one of the most significant ways to fight human-trafficking. Volunteering to coach sports, tutor, be involved at YWCAs/YMCAs or in Girl/Boy Scouts, church youth groups—all offer opportunities to mentor children/teens, who may need someone to listen to their hurts and dreams. When a mom offers her home as a “safe place” for children-at-risk, they may find the support and encouragement necessary to keep them from listening to a trafficker, who intends to exploit them. Many nonprofits offer volunteer opportunities to mentor kids at risk and perhaps your church does, too. 

The more the community meets the needs of at-risk kids, the fewer victims there will be. For now, they live among us and it's up to us to care enough to be there for them.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Anyone Can Fight Human Trafficking

Last weekend, pinstripers came from all over the country to participate in raising funds for Every ONE Free, an anti-trafficking group in Pomona, California. Over three days, at the 2016 Grand National Roadsters Show. they raised $35,000.

These guys might not have known much about modern-day slavery, but they knew enough to want to contribute. So they flew in at their own expense and used their talents painting art objects of all kinds--a surfboard, signs, skateboards, a megaphone, a bike and on and on. Then Richard Westlake and his wife, Janice from Westlake Auction Services auctioned off the items to the highest bidder. Not only did the audience win pieces from notable pinstripers, they put their money to work to fight modern-day slavery.
Every ONE Free is grateful. The pinstripers raised enough money to make a tremendous difference, a difference that will change lives. The artists demonstrated how any one can use their profession in a way that matters. Health care workers and teachers are often the first line of defense in identifying victims. YWCA/YMCA and Boys and Girls Club volunteers can help lower the risk for those kids most apt to be groomed by traffickers. Business people of all types can supply goods and services. The businessman who owns the Grand National Roadsters Show chose Every ONE Free to be the recipient of this charity auction.

And now Every ONE Free can develop a strategy to renovate a building located on Holt Blvd just west of Garey Avenue. The goal is for this care center to be used for victims who need services and help to leave "the life." Once construction crews, landscapers, and many others get to work, this property will become a safe place for law enforcement to bring victims to interview them and refer them to appropriate services. Most of all this community center will be a place where people care. Isn't that really what this fight is all about? To tell girls and boys that they are valuable and not to be sold in a way that uses them up and puts them in mortal danger.

There are an endless number of creative ways to get involved--and it can even be fun. Our team had a blast. Even better we know our efforts will improve our community and save those young people being brutalized. With efforts like these, everyone wins.