What leads someone to go from a normal nine to five job, to selling themselves for sex in a very dangerous underground industry? Please note, I am not talking about the adult entertainment industry. I am talking about men and women who have sex with multiple unknown partners in one day, for financial gain. A person who may have sex with up to 15 partners, in order to afford a living, sustain a drug habit, or even worse, may be pimped out by another individual profiting from their sex acts.
After interviewing a veteran law enforcement resource in the Rochester Police department (who has asked to remain anonymous) on the subject of sex trafficking, it is clear to me that there is a lot more then just sex that plays a role in these situations.
In some cases, sex workers may appear to look and seem as though they are free to come and go as they please, living a life they have autonomously chosen. However, it is imperative to know that individuals involved in sex trafficking are under extreme control and in very real danger. There is a common misconception that these individuals are acting completely on their own free will.
"Sex Trafficking" can be defined by the fallowing:
Sex trafficking is human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery. A victim is forced, in one of a variety of ways, into a situation of dependency on their trafficker(s) and then used by said trafficker(s) to give sexual services to customers.
Sex is a very lucrative business. If you are selling your body for sex, chances are you would be making a lot of money. But for whom? The sex workers in this case do not have much money to take home when all is said and done. They are generally working for, or get their orders from, an under boss. Popular belief is that the under boss, or anyone directing sex trafficking, is male. Ironically in many cases, she happens to be female. She in turn reports to the head boss who is generally male, who would most commonly be known as a pimp. It doesn't always happen like this, the investigator I interviewed said this is quite typical. These pimps and bosses are not like how they are depicted in the movies; living in luxury penthouses, enjoying the finer things in life. They can very easily be your neighbor, your coach, your elected official, or even worse, a family member. Like many things in life, outer appearances, race, or socioeconomic status, does not exclude individuals from participating in such criminal attacks.
So why do some individuals subject themselves to a life in sex trafficking? Why don’t the sex workers who are treated so terribly just leave when there is a chance for escape? When law enforcement encounters victims of sex trafficking, there may be barriers for them to get help, due to fear instilled by their bosses. They worry if they cooperate with police, they may lose their drug connection, or fear the consequences of their pimp, or others in the same network. Speaking up for your own protection is not that simple.
The majority of victims first get caught up in the business due to a relationship with highly addictive drugs, and then in many cases individuals are groomed by the pimp to partake in it. Often, part drug addiction is what's preventing them from leaving. When someone is hooked on drugs such as crack cocaine or heroin, it is not just your pimp holding you prisoner, it is your insatiable need to continue to use because of the high, and/or to prevent the nasty effects of withdrawal from not having the drug. Addiction causes changes in the brain to the point where people are unable to simply stop. Their ability to utilize logic or practice sound decision-making, is completely jeopardized. It has such a control over your body, your psyche, and your life, that a person may choose to perform sex acts in exchange for cash in order to feed their drug habit. Pimps use this to their advantage with sex workers who have drug addictions. They will use fierce intimidation tactics, withhold money if he feels you are acting out of line with him or his business. The victims are threatened not only verbally, but also physically, and often beaten into submission.
What’s worth noting is that we have a tremendous drug epidemic in our society. Not only is it happening on our streets, but it’s in our own homes as well. What happens to people when their addiction spirals out of control?. They experience psychological, social, and biological negative consequences which may or may not motivate the person to get well. If they do not have access to proper counseling or lack a strong support network, those consequences continue to add up, and may result in legal issues, health deterioration, loss of jobs, family, property, and people choosing to do things they would have never done in a sober state of mind. A major contributor to intensifying addiction is secret keeping. Secrets can be hidden for quite a while before it becomes obvious.
In many cases, sex workers have nowhere to go once drugs take over their lives. This vulnerability becomes easy pickings for those running illegal prostitution rings. They often prey on the most vulnerable. They scout out those they know have nowhere to turn and have no protection. Also something most people may misconceive is that it’s not just women being trafficked. It was estimated by the detective that up to fifty percent of the victims are transgender and identify as women. Anybody can be victimized by this. Once they have their grip on you, they will not forfeit the industry. Once you get caught in the cycle it is almost impossible to break free.
Back in 2015, there was a case of nine sex trafficking accounts that included minors in the city of Rochester, NY. Andre Barnes told a federal jury that he fed his strung-out prostitutes heroin when they wanted it because it was a wise "business investment." Barnes is now facing life in prison.
In other cases of sex trafficking, drugs are never even involved because the victims are simply too young to even understand what drugs are. From abductions to someone completely controlling one's life, the amount of youth being controlled and trafficked in Rochester is a significant percentage. In the interview, the detective did not provide actual data, but from his personal experience it was estimated anywhere from ten to fifteen percent. And as mentioned earlier, pimps of these youths can be family members or non-family members. There are cases where the victim is not being exploited for sex, and the differences according to California Child Abduction Task Force is as fallows:
The motive for family abduction often results when either disputes over custody of a child cannot be satisfactorily resolved or when one parent abducts the child to express control, anger or revenge over the other parent. Children in this situation struggle with difficult feelings towards both parents including fear, guilt, shame, confusion, and divided loyalty. Many of these children are traumatized, forced into living like fugitives, or plunged into poverty, instability, and a life of deprivation and neglect.
The motives for non-family abductions are quite different. Social deviance, the need for power, and sexual arousal motivate the majority of "stranger" abductors. Receiving the most media coverage, these cases often end with the murder of the child. Media coverage is essential to recovery in these cases, because when homicides occur in these cases, it is usually within a few hours of the abduction. Due to media attention, the psychological consequences of non-family child abduction can extend far beyond the victim and family, to children and adults far removed from the actual crime.
Either form is unacceptable. These disgusting human traffickers infiltrate all aspects of life from top to bottom, and rich to poor.
It is imperative that we recognize this and speak up. One of the biggest issues is simply that we are unable to recognize the signs of sex trafficking due to lack of knowledge of the subject, our judgements and biases about victims of sex trafficking, and lack of community education about this social issue. Even if we are aware, we may be silent because we fear what could happen to us or our families if we advocate on the victim’s behalf, or try to report the perpetrators of these businesses, who may be dangerous and retaliate.
According to Innocents at Risk here are some signs to look out for in a victim.
- Have injuries or signs of physical abuse.
- Appear malnourished.
- Seem disoriented and not know where he or she is.
- Have few personal possessions and always wear the same clothes regardless of the weather or circumstances.
- Not have identification documents.
- Avoid eye contact and appear hesitant to talk to strangers.
- Be fearful of authority figures, especially law enforcement.
- Rarely be allowed to come and go independently and may be accompanied by someone who controls their every movement.
- Work excessively long hours.
We must take action, if you see something please call your local authorities. Don’t be afraid to help, I know it can be daunting but the reality is if that was someone you loved you would be very thankful that someone came forward. The inhumanity that has taken over must stop. According to World’s Children https://www.worldschildren.org/ There are an estimated 21 million worldwide victims from trafficking and some organizations have claimed up to 45 Million. Please spread the word that this is for real, and we need to stop it!
Please keep in mind this is the perspective of one professional view point and there are other reasons people get caught up in this.
Below is a list of organizations that can help. Please don’t hesitate to ever take action. Any help is always appreciated.
1 (888) 373-7888
National Human Trafficking Hotline
SMS: 233733 (Text "HELP" or "INFO")
Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week
Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages