The tip of the iceberg: Human trafficking in America

By Gregory John Campbell
Rockford Resident

This citizen journalist attended the first Rockford Human Trafficking Awareness Conference last Friday.

The event, sponsored by the Rockford Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation (RAASE) at Heartland Community Church, 1280 S. Alpine Road, was an informative conference with an excellent range of speakers from foundations, legal practice, law enforcement and the faith based community.

Each made an invaluable contribution to what is an undeniable human tragedy in our nation.

The reality and scope of human trafficking in America is staggering and shocking. And many Americans have little idea of the extent of suffering caused by human trafficking in their families, communities and world. Further, many assume human trafficking does not occur in “Our town,” when that is simply not the case. It does.

Human trafficking crosses every national and international state line and boundary, and affects every community in our nation. Because wherever there are runaways or missing children or persons of any age or sex, traffickers are present if not active. And yet at the same time, it isn’t necessary for any transfer of persons to occur at all, as many traffickers operate in home or business bound situations only.

And traffickers come in all sizes, shapes and sexes. They can be gangsters, prostitutes, drug dealers and pimps. But they can also be parents, siblings, grandparents, extended family, friends, passersby, community leaders, local authorities, former military buddies or school chums, because the disturbing profitability of human trafficking attracts all kinds in the world it encompasses. But if there is one denominator common to human traffickers it is this: “If one person has thought of it, another is doing it, while others are expanding on it.” It’s that simple, that awful and that persistent.

As I learned at the conference, the commercial sex trade and indentured servitude in our nation—the two major categories of human trafficking—succeed because there is a large demand and considerable money to be made; staggering amounts of it. And shortly I’ll be laying out the “Sex Trafficking FAQ’s” fact sheet RAASE provided the conference attendees to give us a better appreciation of the extensive range of effect of human trafficking.

For as one guest speaker related, one pimp with three girls can make upwards of $550,000 per year. And as another related the start-up costs for sex trafficking are nil; all you need is a boy and girl, or a man or woman, because a trafficker can reuse them over and over again. At this point, out of courtesy, they did not delineate that sex slaves are so used until they’re dead or gone; whichever comes first.

Because unlike drugs which require manufacturing there is no manufacturing “down time” or initial “startup” costs required when one human being sexually exploits another for profit. Just entice or “groom” them; abduct them; remove them from family, friends, support and community; starve, beat and threaten them or their families with harm or murder and they’ll comply. They do so because they have no means, opportunity, support or wherewithal to get out of their situations whatsoever.

Of course traffickers don’t want to jeopardize their income chain and livelihood. But if they have to make an “example” of one of their “own” they will, because it’s “good for business” and keeps the others in line. And because traffickers are sociopaths, they have no conscience in their behavior. They are predators who exhibit no restraint in doing “whatever” to get what they want, as is the case with the thousands of victims trafficked annually within the commercial sex and indentured servitude slave trade in our nation.

Paid or unpaid, prostitution and indentured servitude is slave trafficking—the trade, transportation and selling of human beings as slaves—because that’s exactly what these despairing individuals are—slaves to their personal, social and economic circumstances over which they have no control—as others do. And those others make sure they stay in control over their slaves.

Further, many falsely assume if the slaves tried they could escape their captors. But that’s not true when they’re chained, drugged, given only a dirty mattress to sleep, rest or “work” on, have only enough food to keep them “producing,” and are kept out of sight in basements, rooms, apartments, storage units or remote buildings completely sealed from the outside world. No one knows they’re there, because no one knows they are there.

Additionally, the penalties for escape are so severe many slaves consider the “slow” sexual demise they’re involved in better than the quick beating or death meted out if they’re caught escaping. Because if the sex doesn’t kill them—which it does to many—their “handlers” will, when they outlived their commercial usefulness, because there’s no “future” in human trafficking.

And contrary to popular myth, the high stakes “escorts” glamorized by the media making thousands of dollars a night with their client “Johns” are not the real face of commercial sex. They are the exceptions, and as exceptions, they cannot discount or disprove the general rule of reality commercial sex is; that it’s a dirty filthy underpaid dangerous “business” with no benefits for those trapped in it.

In this light—more accurately darkness—are the “Sex Trafficking FAQ’S” [FACTS] RAASE provided the conference, which are hidden in plain sight in our families, communities, nation and world:

  • Approximately 300,000 children are at risk of being prostituted in the United States. (In 2013 Rockford had 667 homeless children and 127 foster children in our public and middle schools, all are at risk children.)
  • One in three teens on the street will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. (Rockford alone had 1374 runaways reported in a 15 month period from Jan. 2013 – April 2014.)
  • Average age of entry into prostitution for a child victim in the United States is 13 years old.
  • Most children who are sex trafficked no longer have a traditional “pimp.” They are recruited by familial procurers or friends known to them.
  • Traditional pimps can make $150,000-$200,000 per child each year and the average pimp has 4 to 6 girls.
  • 70-90 percent of commercially sexually exploited children in the U.S. have been sexually abused prior to entering “the life” and are runaways with a history of complex trauma that usually begins from a dysfunctional family.
  • Fewer than 100 beds are available in the United States for underage victims.
  • Chicago is the fifth largest human trafficking jurisdiction in the country.
  • Human trafficking generates $9.5 billion yearly in the United States. The average cost of a slave around the world is $90.
  • There are an estimated 27 million adults and 13 million children around the world in slavery today. This is more than at any time in human history.
  • Boys make up almost 50 percent of sex trafficked minor victims in the U.S.
  • Sex traffickers use a variety of ways to “condition” their victims, including subjecting them to starvation, rape, gang rape, physical abuse, beating, confinement, threats of violence toward the victim and victim’s family, forced drug use, and shame.
  • The average victim may be forced to have sex up to 20-48 times per day.

The more things change, the more they stay the same in terms of human motive, money and behavior, because there’s only one word that adequately describes human trafficking—disgusting. Disgusting that it exists in our country, that minors are seduced into it and that “John’s” enable it.

But we do have the means to affect positive change in our personal lives and community, if we will do so.

To report suspected human trafficking or if you need help, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 888-373-7888, text “INFO” or “HELP” to 233733, or visit traffickingresourcecenter.org.

To contact RAASE, mail P.O Box 7691, Rockford, IL 61126, call 888-823-2364, or visit RAASE.net.

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