Human trafficking 101 – A Survivor’s Story. Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. At least 10 million adults and children are sold worldwide into commercial sexual slavery. Read below…
Theresa Flores, a trafficking victim who wrote a book about her experience, addresses the crowd at the Feb. 25 forum at Central High School. From an upper-middle class family in suburban Detroit, she was forced into a sexual exploitation ring at age 15.
Human trafficking is not just something that occurs in third-world countries. Modern-day slavery occurs all over the world, including North Texas.
That was the message of the Eyes Wide Open Human Trafficking Forum at Central High School last week.
About 400 people attended the Feb. 25 program that featured speeches by law enforcement and human rights experts and trafficking victims. It was hosted by two student groups – Central Impact and the Junior World Affairs Council.
“It most impacts people our age,” said Hayley Bupp, Central sophomore and a member of Central Impact. “I always thought it was other countries; I didn’t realize it was happening in the U.S.”
Central teacher Steve Patty, a sponsor for Central Impact, a group that encourages students to become involved in global issues, said club members decided to make human trafficking their emphasis for the year after hearing some victims speak about the topic.
Human trafficking involves forced labor in a range of venues – from sweatshops to homes – and activities – from prostitution to farming. In many cases, victims are smuggled to different areas and work in servitude to “pay off” an insurmountable debt to their smugglers.
Human rights experts estimate that 27 million people are enslaved in such circumstances around the globe, as human trafficking is the second-most lucrative criminal activity, next to drug trafficking. In the United States, 300,000 children – many of them runaways – are at risk of sexual exploitation by traffickers.
Theresa Flores, a human trafficking victim who spoke at the forum, said she was an upper-middle class girl from a Catholic home in a Detroit suburb who was forced into a sexual exploitation ring at age 15. The perpetrators threatened to kill her family if she ever told anyone. She got out of the situation two years later when her family moved.
Flores wrote a book about the experience, The Sacred Bath, and now works as a counselor to help other women and children caught in human trafficking.
Today’s traffickers often target runaways. They sometimes kidnap children or lure them through Internet social sites. Most are not known by their future victims, but they can also be older boyfriends or even family members, Flores said.
“We have allowed it to happen by not keeping our eyes open for this,” she said. “We don’t like to think it can happen here.”
Another former trafficking victim, Given Kachepa, came to the United States at age 11 as part of the Zambian A Cappella Boys’ Choir. Kachepa, an orphan living with his siblings in his aunt’s home in a poor rural village, was told that he would be given money, an education and help for his family if he would travel abroad with the choir.
Shortly after arriving in this country, the boys were singing four to seven concerts a day for no pay and were threatened with abuse and deportation if they reported their condition.
Kachepa and the other choir members were rescued by federal immigration authorities, and he was adopted by a family in Colleyville.
Kachepa, now a senior at the University of North Texas, wants to warn about trafficking.
“Traffickers get rich by exploiting innocent victims,” he said. “It’s big profits and cheap lives. People become disposable.”
Fort Worth and Dallas police officials also spoke at the forum about local trafficking.
Kathleen Murray, a licensed social worker with the Fort Worth police’s human trafficking unit, said that in the last year the unit had found 24 victims, all but two of them women. Seventeen of them were involved in illegal sexual activities, six were forced laborers and one was both.
Dallas police Lt. Christina Smith, commander of the vice unit, said law enforcement officials are changing their approach to prostitution by looking at ways to help women get out of the sex trade.
“For many years, we put prostitutes in jail. We’re not going to arrest ourselves out of a problem,” she said.
Smith said that Dallas police offer resources to victims to help them stop abusing drugs, find housing and learn job-interview skills.