Things you don’t want to have to know, but you have to anyway
I wear two hats at Adelup: director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, and administrator of the Governor’s Community Outreach Federal Programs Office. The two positions are actually closely aligned. As BWA director, my job is to research issues that affect women and other marginalized members of our community and effectuate change. As GCO-FPO administrator, I oversee the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP) and STOP (Services • Training • Officers • Prosecutors) Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program grants that Guam has been awarded from the federal Office of Violence Against Women.
As GCO-FPO administrator, I recently attended the 24th International Summit on Violence, Abuse & Trauma in San Diego, California (my travel was funded through the STOP grant). This conference was huge – over 1,000 people attended, including several from Guam. Each time slot over the four days of the conference offered about 10 different sessions that ranged in focus from domestic violence to sexual assault to child sexual abuse to human trafficking. I attended most of the human trafficking sessions in order to learn more about this topic, as we need to address it on Guam and in our region. What I learned was eye-opening, heart-wrenching, and often sickening.
For instance, did you know that human trafficking is the third largest criminal activity in the world, right behind drug trafficking and counterfeiting? And that 38 percent of the traffickers are women?
The reason human trafficking is the fastest growing crime is because for the traffickers, it is relatively low risk with high rewards – you can sell a human (especially a girl or boy) over and over again.
Many of the sessions used different numbers for the estimates of the amount of money involved in the human trafficking industry, or the number of victims (several sources say it is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands in the United States alone, though). Several presenters noted a foundation called Project Concern International (PCI) (https://www.pciglobal.org/human-trafficking/). The PCI website states:
“According to human trafficking statistics compiled by The International Labor Organization, there are an estimated 20.9 million human trafficking victims across the world, with the majority of them being women and girls. A shocking 26 percentof total trafficking victims are children. The average age of entry into sex trafficking in San Diego is 16 years old.”
San Diego is apparently one of the most popular human trafficking cities in the United States.
The Polaris Project (https://polarisproject.org/) fights human trafficking in the U.S. Polaris statistics shared at the conference are that nine of 10 prostitution cases are actually human trafficking cases. Eighty percent of human trafficking victims are U.S. nationals, while 80% of labor trafficking victims are foreign born. Traffickers apparently get more money for boys than girls, and only one percent of human trafficking cases are actually prosecuted.
Social media is a huge tool for these evil souls. They apparently look for young adults (both girls and boys) that feel rejected or marginalized. The draw is a question like “Are you currently happy with your situation?” They see who answers, start a conversation, earn trust, and it is downhill for the child from there. Also, (warning note, parents!) tattoos are the newest trend to “brand” girls. And the average age for children to start viewing pornography on the internet is 11.5 years. Yep. Middle school.
One of the women I met at the conference, Kelli Clune, MSN, works at the Durant Children’s Center in South Carolina. She told me about an app called Calculator+ that looks like a calculator but actually acts as the password input for photos and other things kids want to hide from their parents. She says the kids are using it for sexting. She sent me the link to an article that parents with adolescents with phones absolutely need to read: “10 apps kids use that parents should know about.”
Many presenters noted that more focus should be on the demand side of this crime – on the buyers, and on outing businesses that support human trafficking, like hotels that look the other way. But that’s another column.
The bottom line is pay attention to what your kids have on their phones. Look at the apps. Read the above article. Have conversations with your children.
The experts say if you see something suspicious on the street or in your neighborhood DON’T ENGAGE. There is an increased risk of the youth being further trafficked if you do. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. Tell them what you saw and suspect. They will take it from there.
Yes, this is depressing. But it is real. And we have to stop it – on Guam and around the world.
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Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.