By Paige Caine
Creative Writing Director
What Is Human Trafficking?
It’s 10:30 at night, and you’re safely tucked away in the backseat of your mom’s SUV, driving past “the strip” in downtown Baltimore. Maybe you’re on your way home from a daytrip at the aquarium, or a college visit at the prestigious John Hopkins University. You’re warm and dry, peering through the scattering of raindrops on your car window at the string of strip clubs and cheap motels. A girl not much older than you glares back, half dressed and decked out in strappy seven-inch heels, her face caked in makeup. You wrinkle your nose; what kind of poor life decisions did she make to wind up like that? You close your eyes and turn away, refusing to make eye contact.
What you don’t know is that this girl was sexually abused as a child, making her vulnerable to human trafficking. It started out innocent enough, when a cute older boy friended her on Facebook, and made her feel special and loved. He was always there for her, inviting her over to his house more and more, convincing her to stay for longer and longer periods of time, until one day she ran away from home entirely to be with him. Once her “boyfriend” had her isolated, the rest was easy. He took her on a trip, and asked her to do one or two favors for his “friends.” But now that she’s done that she’s a whore, a slut, and no one could love her. She’s in a city she doesn’t know, he’s gotten her addicted to drugs only he can provide, and her family has no idea where she is. Now she’s forced to service twenty guys a night, or else she could be physically abused or even killed. This girl has been trafficked.
Domestic human trafficking happens more often than people think. There have been recent documented cases in every county in Maryland, and Baltimore is one of the largest human trafficking hubs in the nation as a result of its airport, port, and proximity to 1-95 highway. According to the FBI, around 200,000 children are at risk of sexual exploitation each year. It's not just a problem for immigrants, and it’s not only in cities. It could happen to you.
The Samaritan Woman, a Christian Organization that helps victims of human trafficking, organizes the main methods of recruitment into three categories: force, such as kidnapping, fraud, where the victim is offered a fake job without a formal contract and then is tricked into prostitution, and coercion, which can occur through blackmail or threats against a victim’s family. Recently, however, traffickers are beginning to exploit social media as a way of locating and contacting potential targets.
Once they’ve been trafficked, the average life expectancy for a girl is six years. But even for the girls lucky enough to survive past that length, their problems are nowhere near over. Once they are no longer “pretty enough” to be useful to their pimps, they are often dropped off in the middle of a city without any money, food, or shelter. Because they were removed from the real world at such a young age, and often unable to finish school, they are forced to return to the only means of survival they have ever known - prostitution.
How To Help
Luckily, organizations such as The Polaris Project, World Vision, Youth for Tomorrow, and The Samaritan Woman offer help. The Samaritan Woman is a non-profit Christian Organization aimed at aiding survivors of domestic human trafficking, as well as eventually ending it altogether through advocacy, prevention, and awareness. They have many programs throughout the country, including a house in Maryland that helps survivors through a five stage care model that enables them to find themselves and eventually reconnect with family and establish their independence in society. The model begins at phase one, the “transitional phase,” where up to six survivors live apart from the rest of the group in order to focus on themselves and decide whether or not they are truly committed to healing themselves. The trafficking survivors are then relocated to the main house for the restorative sophomore phase which focuses on self-discovery and individual counseling. Next, comes the restorative junior phase which is centered around the survivors consistently asserting and pursuing their goals, and possibly procuring internships. This is followed by the restorative senior phase, where survivors prepare for independence and serve as a role model for the women less far along in their healing.
Finally, the survivors become “graduates” and put all the skills they’ve learned to use in the real world, while staying connected and accountable to the Samaritan Women community. Throughout these steps, many survivors choose to return to school, or to educate themselves through frequent trips to the library.
The Samaritan Woman main house is on a farm that offers volunteering, which is where we come in. In late May, a group of girls from Womxn Magazine visited the farm for a volunteer session. After sitting through an eye-opening presentation on trafficking, we were handed hoes, seeds, and shovels, and put to work planting food for the girls in the house. My group worked to dig holes and plant tomatoes and eggplants. It was an incredible experience, being able to help such a huge and abstract problem in such a physical way. For me, the best part was knowing that just by being there, we were dispelling the lies these girls had been told their whole lives: “No one loves you,” “You’re worthless,” “No one cares about you.” And yet, there we were, complete strangers, helping grow food for them to eat.
I can’t end human trafficking by myself. I can’t go back in time and stop these girls from being kidnapped and forced into prostitution, and I can’t shut down I-95 and check every single car for a victim. But I can plant an eggplant. I realized that day that even though I can’t fix everything, I can still make a difference in the lives of these women who have been through so much.