When you think of sex trafficking, what images come to mind?
Chances are it’s what you’ve seen on TV, in the media, and sometimes even put out by organizations that mean well. The images probably include a scared girl in shackles, who is tied up in a dark room. But in reality, the hold most traffickers have over their victims is far stronger than physical restraint - it’s psychological and emotional.
In fact, human trafficking can look nothing like what you see in the movies. It can look like the girl next door or happen in the room next to yours at a five-star hotel. It is not a crime that solely exists in some deep dark basement, but in many cases transpires right in front of our eyes - and with it being one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, we need to learn to be aware and look closer.
“Trafficking is a very tricky crime to recognize,” notes Dre Perry, trainer at Guardian Group, a non-profit organization whose mission is to prevent and disrupt sex trafficking in the United States. “Every predator has their own unique style of control and methods for running their so-called ‘business.’”
Traffickers take a variety of approaches, some using violence to gain control and others manipulating their victims by taking on a nurturing role, buying them gifts, taking them out to eat and spoiling them in some form to create a bond and gain control. Familial trafficking can also occur when a parent or family member trafficks their child for money, to pay the rent or to feed their drug habit.
Perry stresses the importance of knowing that victims of human trafficking function and exist in society in the same manner as you and me. Victims walk into the same restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores as everyone else, and this is where opportunity exists to intervene.
“Knowing the indicators, listening to your gut and not being afraid to report what you see, will allow you to play a vital role in protecting your loved ones and your community from this horrific crime,” says Perry.
Signs to look for:
- Lack of eye contact – especially with males
- A younger person with someone that appears controlling. This may be an older male that she refers to as “boyfriend” or “daddy” or it may be a female that is acting as the Bottom (the most trusted girl a pimp/trafficker is running that is often given the task of recruiting and helping manage the other girls).
- Inappropriately dressed for age or the weather.
- Tattoos – used as brands by traffickers to deconflict their “product” from other traffickers. May be of a crown, rose, someone’s name, or words like “For Sale”
- Sudden change in appearance or behavior (such as an onset of anger or depression) – this is a key sign for caregivers, parents, and teachers.
One key thing to remember about these signs is that one alone doesn’t always mean trafficking. If you suspect trafficking may be going on, it is best to reach out to the proper resources rather than trying to directly confront the situation.
How to respond:
- Call 911 – Say the word trafficking and tell dispatch everything you can regarding what you saw and why you suspect trafficking.
- Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline – They will connect you to the local resources in your area and currently is the only way we as a country are tracking the trafficking problem nationwide.
According to Guardian Group, 44% of victims reported never being offered help while being exploited. Another 26% reported rarely being offered help. This means human trafficking is a community issue and one we here at Sheepdog Response are committed to bringing to the forefront.
Instructor at Sheepdog Response and COO of Guardian Group, Jeff Tiegs reminds us that we can’t just turn a blind eye to the issue if we suspect trafficking is going on. “Knowing is half the battle. Acting is the other half. If you know what you need to improve upon, but you don't take any action on that knowledge, then knowing is only half the result as well. Being a Sheepdog is about Awareness, Assessment and Action!”
In addition to spreading awareness of human trafficking, Sheepdog Response is working with Guardian Group to train survivors of trafficking and other forms of trauma, teaching them situational awareness, self-defense skills, and building confidence. At our most recent Sheepdog Level 1 training event in Las Vegas, we hosted Andrea, a survivor leader.
“After taking the training, I can’t help but wonder if I had taken this sooner if I never would have been trafficked. I’m not thinking about some sort of ‘Taken’ situation,” says Andrea, “I wasn’t physically kidnapped or tied up. But what if I had had the confidence of a fighter and a shooter? I wonder if my trafficker still would have picked me. I wonder if I would have picked him. I will say that this training has empowered me in a way I haven’t felt before. Now I’m not just emotionally and mentally strong. I also feel physically strong.”As a fellow Sheepdog, we urge you to join us in the fight against human trafficking. There are several ways to get involved; head over to Guardian Group’s website to learn more and start taking action.