Interview by Livier Enriquez
Human trafficking, the fastest growing illegal industry in the world, is a severely complex human rights issue. In this revealing interview, Livi Enriquez, an Abolish Slavery intern from Chapman University, sits down with Abolish Slavery staff to uncover the intricate dynamics involved in modern-day slavery, covering angles from prevention and protection to the sickening supply and demand that drives such an atrocity.
Livi Enriquez: Sex trafficking is the fastest growing illegal industry in the world principally because it is market-driven, based on the principles of supply and demand. Why is the demand so high in this industry?
Sandy Kikerpill-Leger, Board Chairman & Co-Founder: Globalization and the entertainment business, particularly the pornographic industry, cause the high demand for sex, fueling the illegal $32 billion per year human trafficking industry. Human trafficking is the fastest growing illegal business in the world and has already passed armed sales and is in the position to pass drug sales. This is because the sex industry is bigger than all entertainment combined with pornography alone bringing in $100 billion per year. Clearly, there are not enough women who are willing to go into the pornographic industry to satisfy the male demand for sex online. Sex trafficking occurs because organized crimes groups coerce women and children into sex work because there aren’t enough women willing to do this on their own. Sex traffickers coerce women and children through their vulnerabilities, subjugating them into prostitution.
Livi: What are some things people tend to not know about sex trafficking?
Sandy: One common myth regarding human trafficking is that people are only victims of human trafficking when transportation from one place to another occurs. The reality is that many victims are never transported and we cannot overlook these women and children as victims of human trafficking simply because there is not travel involved with their situation. In the United States, a large number of sex trafficking victims are domestic runaways. Teenage girls who have trouble at home runaway and pimps prey on their vulnerable state. In many cases, these girls aren’t moved from the general area where their predators found them, yet they are absolutely still victims of sex trafficking. Transportation is, however, certainly often involved. Pimps use this to control their victims, since keeping their victims in unfamiliar places means there is less opportunity for escape.
Melissa Grace Hoon, Managing Director/Case Worker: Another human trafficking myth—which is detrimental to victim identification and rescue because of its highly misleading nature—is that victims will try to find help right away or will identify themselves as a victim to authorities if arrested or rescued. Many victims do not call or ask for help, even when they have the opportunity to do so because they are afraid of the violent, oftentimes life-threatening consequences their pimp will inflict upon them if they try to escape. Pimps use brutal scare tactics to ensure their victims do not leave. For example, if a victim has a child, the pimp will threaten to kill the child. It is not uncommon for victims to have children with their pimps, as pimps use a child as leverage to either threaten or hold hostage to keep their victims from escaping. For even the slightest discrepancy, most victims endure various beatings and even forms of torture, from slaps and punches to being pushed down flights of stairs to being beaten with an aluminum baseball bat. Injuries sustained range from moderate harms to serious head trauma, broken ribs and internal bleeding. This is one reason victims often don’t call for help. Some victims don’t identify themselves as victims to authorities if arrested because they fear their fate if their pimp were to find out they confessed, and also because of the psychological affect their pimps have on them. Pimps tell their victims they deserve their life in the “game,” or the world of sex trafficking, and that they are worthless and are nothing, that no one cares about them and never could. Victims begin to believe this about themselves, and in thinking that they deserve their situation, they might actually think they are a prostitute and not a victim, even though they have been coerced, beaten and forced to have sex with strangers.
Livi: Helping victims doesn’t stop after they have been rescued. What are some of the ways victims are helped during the rehabilitation period?
Melissa: The goal for rehabilitation is to bring a victim to recovery, where she can identify herself as a survivor with restored dignity and self-respect. Getting to this point can take years and many steps are involved. Oftentimes, following a victim’s rescue, she will reside in a transitional living home with other victims of sex trafficking. This gives her the opportunity to have group therapy where she can learn about her situation and her own recovery by seeing and hearing about other peoples’ similar situations. The advantage of group therapy is the mirror effect. Many victims are in denial because they have been brainwashed by their pimp, or they suffer from dissociation where they do not yet comprehend the reality or severity of their situation. Hearing other victims speak of their situation, feelings and progress is like looking in a mirror, where they can see what their own situation is really like, even if they do not yet realize it. This helps immensely in their rehabilitation process because they begin to identify their problem, which ultimately assists in their harnessing of various solutions that will help on their road to recovery. Transitional housing also typically offers in-house individual therapy, and is, of course, a safe house, striving to ensure victims’ safety from pimps and predators. Often following transitional housing and therapy, is either vocational training or a college education. After therapy has helped a victim become safe from falling victim to her vulnerabilities, she is a survivor and often has the strength she needs to move forward in pursuing her dreams, turning her passions into reality. That is the purpose behind a rescue—giving a victim her right as a human being the freedom needed to realize her own destiny.
Livi: What new sex trafficking legislation has been enacted recently? How will these laws be helpful in combating the issue?
Richard Leger, Co-Founder: Proposition 35, or the Californians Against Sexual Exploitation (CASE) Act, is the most recent legislation in California, which was passed in the November election with the highest pass rate in state history. Clearly, the people of California are against sex trafficking and are taking measures to combat it. The law increases sentencing for traffickers, requires fines from convicted traffickers to pay for victim services, requires convicted sex traffickers to register as sex offenders, required registered sex offenders to disclose their Internet accounts and mandates law enforcement training on human trafficking, such as training to help officers better identify victims. This law has already been helpful in combating the issue, as several Prop. 35 cases are already pending and at least several traffickers have been prosecuted under new legislation.
Livi: What are some of the main efforts made by the U.S. government in preventing sex trafficking?
Sandy: Those who are involved in fighting human trafficking, including the U.S. government at state and federal levels, work to combat it from the four Ps—prevention, protection, prosecution and partnership. Prop. 35, for example, is helpful in combating the issue because it hits each of the four Ps—the harsh penalties work to prevent traffickers from getting involved in the crime, law enforcement training will help protect victims and prosecute traffickers, and law enforcement training and monies raised with traffickers’ fees will encourage and establish partnerships to further prevent sex trafficking, protect victims, and prosecute traffickers and johns.
Livi: Popular media tends to glamorize and romanticize the commercial sex industry without fully addressing the presence of sex trafficking. What are some of the ways to educate the public on the correlation of the two industries?
Sandy: The commercial sex industry is glamorized and romanticized largely because of the problem with men in our society. The relationship between the glamorization of the sex industry and the problem with men has a push-pull-relationship, as the glamorization of the sex industry also reinforces the problem with men, just as the problem with men affects the sex industry. The problem with men and the glamorization of the sex industry both create the demand for sex and forced prostitution. “The problem with men” refers to the wolf pack mentality that is central to male bonding rites, coming of age rituals and the idea that boys will be boys. Men are not policing themselves and are not strictly enough being policed by society. In terms of educating the public, these issues need to be addressed on the junior high school level. We will continue to have atrocious human rights issues in the future if we don’t address these problems now.
Livi: What can be done to better protect people from becoming victims?
Melissa: People become victims largely because they are vulnerable. One place to start the prevention of sex trafficking is in the home. Young girls need to be told they are beautiful and loved, otherwise they are at risk of developing the desire to either go out and find someone who will tell them they love them or will become vulnerable to believing the first person who tells them these things, even if that person is a trafficker. Domestic runaways have a high rate of becoming victims of sex trafficking because they are often running from situations where they were abused or neglected. As a society, we should work to educate families on the importance of the abundant presence of love in homes, illustrating the consequences of what can result from vulnerability that develops in the absence of love and the opposite of love.
Livi: What are some measures that are taken against people involved in sex trafficking?
Melissa: John schools are one of the most successful measures taken on those involved in sex trafficking. They are schools that offenders in certain areas are required to go to as part of their sentences. Perhaps the most effective element of these schools is when survivors tell their stories to johns, the men who purchase women and girls for sex. Despite the fact that many prostituted girls project a demeanor that is a clear indicator that they are not in their situation by choice, many johns are unaware that the girls they buy are coerced. When they learn of this and of what these girls endure with their pimps, such as their beatings and general terms of enslavement, they are appalled, often thinking of their own children and daughters (yes, the majority of johns in the United States have wives and children). In most john schools, 100 percent of johns never again repeat their offense, proving the success of the measure against those who purchase sex.
Livi: What are some benefits of anti-human trafficking organizations partnering with other related groups? What is the most effective partnership in preventing sex trafficking?
Sandy: Partnership is absolutely crucial in combating sex trafficking. No lone agency can fight such a force on its own. Government agencies partner with law enforcement and victim services organizations in order to provide funding and to enforce legislation. Academic institutions partner with government agencies and tech firms to provide research and establish technology that will help law enforcement track and identify sex trafficking criminals, such as the partnership with Microsoft and the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy (CCLP). Nonprofit organizations that specialize in specific areas of combating sex trafficking work with government and law enforcement agencies around the world. For example, Abolish Slavery specializes in the rescue of sex trafficking victims and their transition out of a life in human trafficking, and we use the skills that we develop and practice in the field to help establish human trafficking task forces and train law enforcement around the world. The effectiveness of combating human trafficking relies on partnerships because these collaborations help various organizations understand the complexity involved in the crime itself and in combating it, as these organizations themselves represent the intricate dynamics involved in human trafficking.