Understanding Human Trafficking from a Survivor's Perspective

Understanding the dark world of human trafficking can be challenging. By listening or reading stories of human trafficking survivors gives us a glimpse of what modern-day slavery is. In this interview, I spoke with Sarah, a survivor of child sex trafficking or as she describes it, "rape trafficking," which we discuss later on. I ask you to read this, even if it becomes uncomfortable. Without exposing ourselves to the truth, we will never understand how horrible and evil this crime is. 

Question #1: "If you could, please introduce yourself to my audience."
Answer: "My name is Sarah. I live in the state of Colorado, but I grew up in San Diego. I have three children who are all adults. 20, 22, and 26. They all live in the same town as me. I was a stay-at-home mom for many years. I went to college with the intent of becoming a prosecutor or lawyer, but life took a different turn. I've always stayed in an advocacy role, so I made it a point to help others when it is possible."
Question #2a: "Can you explain how you got forced into the world of human trafficking? 
Answer: "Well, there are several ways someone is forced into human trafficking. The kind that I experienced, which is quite common, was familial trafficking. It's harder to detect. There's a lot of secrecy behind closed doors. There are often children involved. My parents were divorced, and my mom was very sick for many years. She had 13 major surgeries in seven years, so she became addicted to drugs. When she was home, she was often passed out on the couch or in her room. There weren't many eyes on me, which provided the opportunity for me to be trafficked. I was in a dysfunctional home situation. It's a sad situation. I was born into this world. It started at a young age for me. This was the norm. A very evil norm."
Question #2b: "How did you manage to leave?"
Answer: "At some point, when I was 9 or 10, my mother decided to switch religions and became Catholic. One of her doctors was Catholic, and that led her to become Catholic. The people selling me and trafficking me did it on the weekend. I was sold, raped, and tortured every weekend. My mother would attend Mass. I noticed that on the weekend she would be at church, while I was left to be sold and trafficked. I thought that if I could be with her, I wouldn't have to be trafficked. I should mention that she never knew I was trafficked. I never told her. I started to beg her, nag her, and ask her to let me go to church with her. It took about a year before she did. I guess she thought I was a religious child. She began to take me, and that meant I wasn't left with all these bad people on Sunday. The blessing I had from the Catholic church was that Mass wasn't only on Sunday, it was Saturday too. I figured if I went to Mass on Saturday too, I wouldn't be with those bad people on Saturday either. I became Catholic and didn't have to be with those evil people again."
Question #2c: "What was the healing process like?"
Answer: "It was very long. This happened to me at a young age, like three or four years old. I can put a timeline together and remember what happened to me. For example, I remember being sold and raped at 5, because I can also remember my kindergarten teacher's name and wishing she could care for me. The reason this took so long, and I want people to understand, is that it's the destruction of your soul. Your body is not your own. You are no longer seen as a unique human being, but as an object to be sold numerous times. Getting back to the question, I had incredible friends in high school because I didn't have a good home life. Unfortunately, in my 20s, I met the wrong people. I was involved with a bad, but influential man, which led to two separate court trials, causing more damage and trauma to me. I couldn't take the time to heal, as I was so busy in court. That's why victims get lost. People think we appear normal or healed when we aren't. I also, unfortunately, married the wrong person, because I went back to my original victimhood mentality of trying to survive the only way I could and by going with men I was familiar with. Once I filed for divorce, I began searching for a good counselor who specialized in trauma counseling. I found an EMDR counselor, which worked for me. I also think being in the right environment, with the right people, is very helpful in healing. I got a job and worked with some amazing people. I had a huge support network. The final component in my healing journey was God, who is the ultimate physician. I was more focused on the fatherly aspect of God, as my earthly father was an evil man. There was spiritual healing as well. I never spoke up for myself, but now I have great empathy and compassion to help others. I also dare to speak up for myself and stand up for myself against threats."

Question #3: "What tactics did your trafficker use to control you?"
Answer: "I remember being in first or second grade, and my father took a knife to my throat. He told me to open my mouth, which I did. He moved it around my mouth. Picture that! I was a child with my father putting a knife in my mouth. I remember him telling me, 'If you say anything, I will cut your tongue out,' and I believed him. I never told anyone about my experience, and I didn't start talking about it until five years ago. I even remember someone threatening to kill my family, and that's something Elizabeth Smart shared that happened to her. When you threaten a child's family, they are completely compliant. Some other tactics used to control me were what you'd hear a prisoner of war experience. I would be held underwater, to the point of drowning, and be pulled up to hear 'Have you had enough?' I'd be tied down and tortured with knives and icepicks. It's a terrifying experience and a sadistic method. People need to understand that there is brainwashing involved, as well as manipulation, threats, coercion, and even torture. Human trafficking is the slow dehumanization of a person. It isn't anything like in the movies. It's not some stranger kidnapping another person, although that can happen. It usually involves some familiarity, and we walk among other people appearing as if nothing is wrong."
Question #4: "How did you realize you were a victim of human trafficking?"
Answer: "That's a great question! Human trafficking is a recent term, like in the last few years. I'm a grown woman with adult children, so I always knew I was sold, tortured, and raped, but I never knew the term or name for it. It wasn't until the media described this crime, that's when I realized "That is what I experienced." I never knew the name for it. I had experienced it and heard it happen to other girls my age. I remember I walked in on that happening. A young girl I knew. Once I read about the three aspects of control involved in human trafficking (force, coercion, and manipulation), and compared them to what I went through, that's when it clicked for me. I experienced human trafficking, which is what the media and police call it, and it's a federal crime. I was trafficked. There's no statute of limitations, thank goodness."
Question #5: "As someone who experienced trafficking, what do you want people to understand about this issue?"
Answer: "For starters, I don't like the term 'sex trafficking.' I don't think the word 'sex' belongs there. Sex indicates consent, and there's nothing consensual about being coerced or forced into sex. I also think that there are laws that should be made to protect victims, and that won't happen until society wakes up. This isn't to criticize anyone who doesn't understand the issue. I just think the term should be more fitting, so 'sexual assault trafficking' or 'rape trafficking.' I think people's eyes gloss over sex trafficking, and think of prostitution or sex work, assuming it's a choice when it's not. People don't understand the horror of this crime. That's why I speak out about what happened to me because that's how we raise awareness of this issue. Nobody will understand why we all have to fight. This goes for all people, from the FBI to the local police. Victims should be treated with respect, compassion, and dignity. If you don't, that person will never testify or help investigations. We should fight for victims' rights."
Question #6: "You shared a post stating that sex trafficking shouldn't be called sex trafficking, but instead, rape trafficking. Could you explain your view on this?"
Answer: "Several years ago, when I learned about sex trafficking, my heart got so sad. Not just for the victims, but regarding the term itself. It doesn't explain what happens. People will casually mention sex trafficking as if they were talking about a normal topic. I always thought, 'Oh my gosh, wake up! Children and adults are being raped.' I felt like if this was described bluntly and honestly, people would realize how awful this crime is. Nobody would be okay with allowing this. If this media delved into what happens to the victims, people would be more open to fighting this issue, but that's not happening. Calling this 'rape trafficking' or 'sexual assault trafficking' is more descriptive and accurate. A 13-year-old cannot consent to sex. It's rape. Sex is between two consenting adults. Anything less than that is sexual assault or rape. Until the public recognizes this crime for what it is, victims of rape or human trafficking are never going to think they have a voice. And if we don't understand what this issue is, we won't be able to help a victim heal and become whole again."
Question #7: "Do you think the porn industry has desensitized consumers of human trafficking and the victims?"
Answer: "I absolutely believe that. What many people don't realize is that porn stars are forced into this world. They're trapped and cannot get away. These videos and images stay on the Internet forever. They feel like they cannot get out. On the consumer side, people don't think that what they're watching is probably a victim of rape or trafficking. If people understood that, I would like to think fewer people would consume porn. If you go to PornHub (which I don't recommend at all), you can search for '5-year-old girl screaming while being raped' and there will be numerous videos or images showing that. What's concerning is the people who are watching that sort of content. Only pedophiles enjoy that sort of content. Educating people on the truth about porn goes hand-in-hand with fighting human trafficking. Human trafficking is a big part of porn. While you're in your apartment watching a video of sexual intercourse, you could be watching a crime happen without knowing. It's a crime against humanity. We cannot eradicate the entirety of pedophilia. But if we could get people to understand that pornography is the dehumanization of a person, that makes a major impact. I would tell someone, 'Imagine someone putting a gun to your head and telling you to make a pornographic video and let us put it online, or we'll kill your mother. How would you feel now about watching that video?' Pornography desensitizes you and messes with your mind. Countless studies are proving that. Porn kills your soul and kills relationships."

Question #8: "Why do you think it's important for survivors, like yourself, to share their stories? Why do you think it's important for people, like my readers, to listen to your stories?"
Answer: "Because this isn't a topic you can learn in a book. I think that if people who have experience with this speak out, it could make a big impact. If I speak up, I could give someone else the courage to speak out. If more people speak up, then more awareness will be raised in law enforcement and our community. It's a ripple effect. What you don't know, you won't know. If you don't understand how violent rape trafficking is to another person, how is there going to be light shone on this issue? If we don't use our voice, there won't be help that exists. I share my story to give people a new perspective on this issue. Regarding your readers, it's the reason is fairly similar to the previous question. If they see something suspicious, they'll know what to be aware of and to report it. Also, there are many jobs where you come across human trafficking. When I was a child, none of my teachers knew the truth about what I was experiencing. They saw I would be vomiting daily, and assumed it was because of my mom being sick when it was something more traumatic. However, that didn't stop them from treating me with compassion or kindness. My teachers saw a small child who was very sick and wanted to help her. Knowing what is happening with this crime could be a major impact on the victim's life. One person can make a huge change. The more we know, the more compassionate society can be. Victims and survivors cannot remain invisible. We were invisible when we were victims, we cannot remain that way."
Question #9: "What do you want people to remember from your story and our conversation?"
Answer: "I want people to remember that when you hear that someone was victimized by sex trafficking, please know what that means. Their journey isn't over after being rescued or manage to escape. The road to healing is long. We didn't experience this once. It's happened numerous times. Don't wait to get help. Get it early."
Question #10: "What can people do to join the fight against human trafficking?"
Answer: "There's a lot you can do for free. You can gain a higher sense of awareness. That's why we are doing this interview. Awareness is critical in this issue. It's a key part of fighting this issue. You can vote. Ask candidates about how they will fight human trafficking. You can screen that person. If they're not willing to fight for the little people, they're not worth voting for. You can get involved with nonprofits or churches that help survivors. You can donate if you don't have the time. Know which ones to donate to though. Make sure they are solid organizations. There are a lot of things that can be done to fight this issue. We can help survivors. It's not only the therapy they need. Sometimes they need help with getting their life back (i.e. getting their license or important paperwork). We can make an impact in this dark world."

Thank you, Sarah, for sharing your story with me. This has truly been an honor, and I hope everyone learned something and understands why this fight is so important. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Looking forward to reading your comment! Side note: If you are using Safari to read/comment, you will have troubles commenting. Use Google Chrome for comments!