Tonight, the local high school had a presentation by 5 Stones, an organization dedicated to stopping sex trafficking in Eastern Wisconsin. The 5 stones stand for awareness, education, prevention, networking, and collaboration. Tonight’s presentation was to educate parents and community members about the problem of sex trafficking in our area and how we can help stop it.
What is sex trafficking? It is when a minor is commercially sexually exploited. I live in a town of 2000 people. We can’t possibly have sex trafficking around here, can we? Absolutely, we can. There is a strip club less than five miles down the road. Are all those young women of age and consenting? We are about a 45 minute drive from Highway 41, considered a major corridor of trafficking these young men and women from Green Bay to Appleton, to Oshkosh, to Fon du lac, and on to Milwaukee. Being so close to the Hwy 41 corridor absolutely places us in an area affected by sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking victimizes young people, in particular. The average age of entry into sex work is 14. 1 in 3 runaways will be approached by a sex trafficker (pimp) within 48 hours. But, sex traffickers also target young people who are in school and even who come from “good” families. The 5 Stones film, “Innocence Sold” tells the story of a high schooler who comes to be trafficked through a relationship that she developed online with a trafficker.
Sex trafficking victims are usually young. They may come from dysfunctional families and may already have been sexually abused. They may be looking for love. Or, they may come from intact homes and just looking for adventure. However it happens, they find themselves in the clutches of the trafficker who has control over them. The pimp may control the victim by pretending to be in love with them (the Romeo) or may control them using force or drugs or blackmail.
Sex traffickers usually move their girls or guys around. In the Wisconsin area, they’ll move them from Green Bay down Hwy 41 or I-43 to different cities till they get to Milwaukee. From there, they may move them to Minnesota. They don’t want the victims to be recognized. Nor do they want one of their “johns” (purchaser of sex services) to know one of the victims.
What can we do to help these victims? First, let’s know the signs that a person might be in a relationship with a trafficker before they have left home and made a commitment that they don’t want to make. Some red flags include: signs of abuse or confinement, sudden increase of expensive stuff (e.g. bought by the boyfriend), not free to come and go as they please, constantly late or absent from school, much older boyfriend, ran away from home. If you see one of more of these signs, talk to an adult, like a parent or teacher about your friend. The parents and school would generally rather investigate something and find out that there’s nothing wrong than not investigate and be sorry later.
If you see something suspicious, don’t get between a victim and his/her trafficker. Take down all the information you can, including the car license plate number and call 911. Also call the local police station since many of them now have an officer dedicated to sex trafficking cases. If you see something, say something.
If you work in an industry where you may see sex trafficking, you can contact 5 Stones or the police about setting up a way to help the victims that are coming through your place of work. For example, Fox Valley Tech is now teaching their truck drivers about sex trafficking and how they can be proactive about helping victims. The airline industry has done this as well. Law enforcement is happy to help.
What can those with kids still at home do? Know and understand social media. I know you’ve heard it before, but we parents need to know what our kids are doing on social media. We give them smartphones with ever increasing power, but the kids have less and less impulse control. We, the parents need to be the parents. Just because it’s electronic doesn’t mean that we just give it to the kids without limits.
There are good apps out there that will send you copies of every text and picture that your kid sends and receives. Seriously, consider that. And, don’t spy on your kid. Let them know that it’s out there. It’s a boundary that they know about. Take the phone away after a certain time of night. Kids need time without electronics and they need sleep. Both of these things are best accomplished by making them phone-free for at least 10 hours a day. And talk to your kids about appropriate use of social media. All those messages and pictures are out there, so they need to consider that life after high school is a thing.
And learn about the dangerous apps. There are lists of bad apps that kids don’t need. A few examples. Vaulty stores photos and videos away from where parents can see them. It also snaps a photo of anyone who tries to enter with the wrong password. SnapChat is easily used for sexting. Burn Note encourages cyberbullying. I could go on, but you get the idea. Do a search and you’ll find more than one list of the worst apps. And, again, talk to your kids about why these apps are inappropriate. We get our children for such a short period of time to inculcate these important values.
I’ll end with this. If you see something, do something. Human trafficking hotline 1-888-3737-888