america Child Sex Trafficking

Sex Trafficking in America: Interview with Nita Belles

Tuesday, July 29, 2014 Cheyenne Hendricks

America is suffering from the spread of a nationwide outbreak of sex crimes, and we don’t even know it. I had the enlightening pleasure of interviewing human trafficking expert, Nita Belles, who explained how truly dire this situation is. According to her, sex trafficking is the newest form of slavery, and its cruelty exceeds that of slavery in the 1800s. In the 1800s, the price of a slave would be equivalent to approximately $40k today, yet a victim of sex trafficking is acquired for around $100; hence, there is no motivation to keep the slave healthy. Despite how mistreated a slave may be, he or she is often traumatically bonded to the trafficker which inhibits their ability to escape, even when they seemingly have an opportunity. 

This deeply troublesome subject is too vast to cover completely in a short article, so I suggest you read Nita’s book, In our Backyard on the subject, to further educate yourself on what’s going on and what you can do to stop it. While the content is troubling, the information is eye opening and a reality that we must face in our community. The following is my interview with Nita:

  • What is the definition of “sex trafficking”?
Sex Trafficking: A Commercial sex act induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which person performing the act is under age 18.

  • Is trafficking a major problem in America?  
Absolutely. And it’s not a problem just in the big cities, it’s also in small towns and in rural areas.

  • Why do we not have consistent statistics available for the public to see how REAL child sex trafficking is in the US? 
  • True statistics are hard to come by because of the nature of this crime. Those who are being trafficked are not able to self-identify for many reasons. Many modern slaves are killed and no one ever knows what happened to them. It is a tremendously under reported crime.
  • In what states/cities is this problem most prominent?
  • Again, we don’t have good statistics on this. There are claims from nearly every large city that they are somewhere in the top of sex trafficking per capita or they have the most cases, etc.  However, most of those claims are often based on one or two national sting operations. What each city is trying to say is “Trafficking is bad here” and I would agree and support their efforts. Human trafficking is a problem throughout the United States.

  • If someone suspects they’ve found a victim, what should they do?
  • If it is an immediate and critical situation, call 911 and provide as much data as you can to help the police identify what you saw. (However do not try to intervene, it may be dangerous not only for you but the potential victim.) If it is just something that a person saw in passing they can call 888-3737-888, the national human trafficking hotline.

  • What are the physical and psychological results of being involved in sex trafficking?
  • Again, it’s difficult to make a general statement but human trafficking involves unspeakable torture and atrocities too horrific to mention. A survivor of sex trafficking may have many of the same challenges as a veteran of war who has experienced extreme torture and/or seen horrific atrocities.

  • How are victims usually preyed upon/kidnapped?
  • Although some victims of human trafficking are kidnapped, that is a small percentage. The majority are lured by a charming trafficker who discovers their potential victim’s needs and weaknesses and plays on those. The trafficker sells the victim on the idea that they are the best solution for those needs. They gradually win the victim’s trust, then isolate them, then maintain control by psychological means, physical abuse and threats to the victim or their loved ones.

  • What happens to a victim once he/she is rescued?
  • Hopefully they are not arrested and treated like criminals, although that still happens all too often. It is a long process of healing and recovery. There are some facilities (although not nearly enough) that offer services and support to survivors of human trafficking. Healing from the psychological and sometimes physical injuries sustained in human trafficking involves a long, arduous and painful process.

  • What happens to the pimps and buyers once discovered?
  • Hopefully they will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but since the prosecution of this crime is relatively new, stricter laws are needed to adequately bring justice for these abominable crimes.

  • Is law enforcement making any particular efforts to prevent and seek out child sex trafficking?
  • Yes, I am pleased that there are nationwide efforts, stings, and a move to educate law enforcement and prosecutors about human trafficking. However, there is a tremendous amount of work yet needed in this area.

  • For how long have you been involved in the investigation of child sex trafficking?
  • I have been involved in anti-human trafficking efforts since 2006. I would not call myself a human trafficking investigator, although I have often helped in investigations.

  • Has it ever affected you or a loved one personally?
  • Thankfully no, although I have some dear friends now who are survivors.

  • What brought your attention to this problem and how did it change your life when you decided to focus your efforts on illuminating it?
I was working on my Masters Degree in Theology with a Concentration in Women’s Concerns. Obviously with 80% of human trafficking victims being female this is a concern for women. 
When I saw the atrocities of human trafficking I knew I had to do something and I felt like I was supposed to write a book which was quite a challenge for me because I didn’t consider myself a writer. I began researching and some of the people I met in my research are people I still work with in anti-trafficking efforts. The commitment to do this work has changed my life completely.

  • What do you think the public needs to know about this growing issue that they currently don’t know?
  • The public needs to become aware of what human trafficking looks like and what to do if they see it. That is why I wrote my book In Our Backyard. 

  • How can the community come together to help fight against human trafficking?
  • Awareness is the key to changing the face of human trafficking in our community. There is a concept called “slave proofing” our communities. We can do it one community at a time, and eventually we can eradicate human trafficking from our communities, our nation and our world, but it will take all of us linking arms against it.

  • What are the signs that someone may be a trafficking victim? 
Common Work and Living Conditions: The Individual(s) in Question
  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)
Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior
  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact
Poor Physical Health
  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture
Lack of Control
  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)
  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

Cheyenne Hendricks
Lifestyle Blogger

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