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SHE WAS JUST 12 when she met him--an older guy, he seemed to understand her, to like her, and that made her feel good. When she ran into him at the local Starbucks or Safeway, she thought it was fate. They really connected!
One day, he confessed he needed help. He was going to lose his home and his car. But she could help. She could make a lot of money just for dancing, he said.
And so "Lacey" got into his car for the first time. And went with him to the club. And on that first day, he sold her to five men for sex. He told her if she tried to leave, he'd come back for her, or for her younger sister, or her mother. He'd tell her "churchy friends" what she'd done. And the police would arrest her for being a prostitute.
This is a true story, one shared by the Hon. Linda Smith, former congresswoman from Washington and founder of Shared Hope International, one of the organizations fighting human trafficking across the world--and in the United States.
Most Americans think that trafficking happens somewhere else. Yet here, in the home of the brave and the land of the free, over 100,000 minors are being exploited through prostitution and pornography (prostitution's theatrical equivalent) every year. According to the State Department, the United States is a "source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children--both U.S. citizens and foreign nationals--subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and sex trafficking."
Moreover, while most of us reflexively assume that trafficking is a risk mostly for the "others"--kids from chaotic or impoverished households or those troubled in other ways, the story of "Brianna" should dispel those thoughts. She was a star student, with lots of family support, a "good girl" from a safe small town in the Northwest. But she made a foolish mistake and went off to Seattle with an older guy who had befriended her at her part-time job. Within days he had her stripping; only the wise actions of a friend back home saved her from a worse fate.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The first step in fighting this scourge is becoming aware that it exists, that it is unjust, that it is stealing lives, and that it is causing intense suffering all across the world--possibly even in our community.
There are things you can do to end it, and those will be subjects of upcoming editorials. But for now, for all the "Laceys" and "Briannas" of this world, just become aware: Slavery didn't end 150 years ago--it just changed and became a new form of human exploitation, one that's taking our girls, our women, and even some of our boys and men, down a dark, dark road.