|Photo Courtesy of FBI|
Masses of people are flooding in and out Cleveland this summer with the NBA championship and the Republic National Convention. The flocks of people bring excitement but also the concern that there could be human sex traffickers and victims amidst the bustle. To raise awareness, the Cleveland VAMC Social Work Professional Development Committee held Not For Sale: Probing the Depths of Human Trafficking symposium June 24. Amongst the speakers were Brian Vigneaux, former FBI agent and senior investigator with Cuyahoga Country Prosecutor's Office, and Theresa Flores, a local human trafficking survivor and founder of Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution (S.O.A.P.). Here are three things you should know about human trafficking.
1. Human trafficking takes places everywhere — even suburban neighborhoods and schools.
“I was trafficked out of my own suburban home for years,” Flores recalls. After being raped by a classmate and manipulated by his older brothers, she was forced into sex trafficking every night. After her parents fell asleep, the traffickers would take her from her relatively safe neighborhood and return her in the morning. “If my parents would have checked my bed at night, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she explains. The traffickers began taking her out of school during the day but no one noticed the warning signs. “I was exhausted from sleeping two hours each night and my grades dropped to C’s, D’s and F’s,” she remembers. All she needed was an adult to see the red flags, but no one did.
2. Traffickers do not have to be strangers.
Often times disguised as boyfriends, traffickers lure in victims through romantic connections and flattery. Flores was conned into human trafficking by her freshman-year crush. “All it took was three words from him, ‘I like you,’ ” Flores states. The prevalence of social media in younger generations today has made it increasingly easier for traffickers to target young girls today by flirting with them online. “Kids have so many friends on social media, they assume, ‘Oh, I must know him,” she explains.
3. Most prostitutes are victims.
On backpage.com, local prostitutes post daily advertisements to offer their services, but these girls are often the victims of human sex trafficking. “Pimps want to give the impression that the girls are acting independently, but I personally have never seen a case where a girl is just earning her way through college,” Vigneaux says. In reality, these young women, most of whom are underage, are compelled by traffickers to use prostitution to avoid abuse, protect their family or feed a drug addiction. “It’s a constant manipulation, and they never get the money” Vigneaux adds.