Hidden in Plain Sight

While reading the Rome News Tribune several weeks ago, and then almost daily, I became very angry, then very sad.  Unfortunately, it convinced me that a project I am working on with the Women’s Information Network, Inc. (WIN) is even more urgent than I had originally thought.

What did I read?  First I came to an article that described the arrest of a middle school science teacher and girls’ soccer coach sentenced to 15 years in prison for sending pictures of his genitalia via Snapchat to 12 and 13 year old students in his class!  On the very next page was a story about a dentist in Polk County fined for sexual exploitation of a child. The investigation of his home found images classified as child pornography. This week another man was arrested for assaulting a young girl.

The relationship of pornography and child abuse and sexual trafficking are stunning!  The arrests that are occurring literally in our back yard make the problem undeniable.  Something must be done to open the eyes of the public at large and to protect our most vulnerable population of children. For us older individuals, the mysteries of computers—never mind “Snapchat” is foreign.  This MUST change!!! As the newspaper article reported, both criminals used technology for their crimes.

Well, you may think child pornography is bad, but it’s not that pervasive.  Oh, but it is. Sex trafficking is a $32 billion industry in the United States.  The demand for children for these productions begins in communities where our innocent or desperate girls are lured with promises of modeling careers, being taken care of, or being provided affection and protection.

This stage of recruitment is called “luring.”  It has been reported that runaways and homeless girls are picked up by traffickers within 48 hours of leaving home. If you are more affluent, don’t be secure.  Homecoming queens and “nice” neighborhoods are not immune.  Your mental image of a prostitute or pimp is probably quite outdated.

Sex trafficking is the fastest growing crime, second only to drug crimes.  It is less risky and more profitable.  Unlike drugs, once a girl is lured and “broken in,” she can be sold multiple times.  She has most likely been drugged, abused or beaten and is too ashamed and intimidated to report her captor—so there is little evidence for a conviction—like a bag of weed or crack pipe.

Traffickers have been reported targeting their minor victims through telephone chat-lines, clubs, on the street, through friends, and at malls, as well as using girls to recruit other girls at schools and after-school programs.  (Georgia Department of Education)  Our children are vulnerable because they trust people familiar to them, or develop “relationships” on line that convince them to take compromising pictures of themselves that will become used as “sextortion” or abduction.

There is a demand for sexual services and pornography by members of every community in this country.  There is a profit to be made and individuals willing to use others for their own benefit.    It is called “Modern Day Slavery.”

Prostitutes (now called victims in the Georgia code) do not have to walk the streets—they can be ordered on line and available within 30 minutes.  Those in the world of pornography and trafficking say it is as easy as ordering a pizza!

We as a community must come together to denounce sexual exploitation– much like the Mothers Against Drunk Driving condemns driving under the influence. Everyone must become aware of the risk factors, signs of trafficking and hot line numbers for reporting suspicious activity.  Your observation might just save a child from a life of humiliation and bondage. I have learned that whether individuals are actually sold, or used by a trusted member of the community, the negative effects last a lifetime.

WIN has been working for several months on learning more about this problem in order to develop an awareness program for the community at large and for middle school students in particular. Waiting until high school is too late—the average victim is now 11-13 years of age. Through my work with the Georgia Commission on Women and lobbying day at the capitol last week, I now have enough solid information and resources to start the process.  I need everyone’s help.

How?  Help us gather groups together for educational programs, provide places to hold classes, post billboards with hot line numbers, work with law enforcement to get the required hotline numbers and resources posted in all hotels, restaurants and public areas. Give us an opportunity to offer the iEmpathize program to our middle school children.  This is a prevention program I just received licensing to use for a year.  It is being utilized in 19 states.  For content details go to iEmpathize.org

Schedule an educational program for all your employees.  Delta airlines just educated 50,000 of their 80,000 employees to help identify victims because they are moved from state to state.  During the recent Superbowl sex trafficking sting, 522 “johns” and 30 pimps were arrested.

We are a large medical community.  National reports say 80-90% of victims come in contact with a health professional, but are not recognized as being a victim of trafficking. Detecting the warning signs and symptoms should be in the curricula for all health professionals and part of the required continuing education.

Everyone has a role to play—hair stylists, manicurists, hotel managers, mall managers, law enforcement etc.  The list is endless. These girls are “hidden in plain sight.” Learn what to look for.  If a behavior strikes you as suspicious, ask the simple question, “Are you safe?”  Keep the National Sex Trafficking Resources hotline handy and post it anywhere you can get permission to do so. The number is: 1-888-373-7888.   https://humantraffickinghotline.org

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