BY WENDY M. DODD   

If someone told you slavery still exists today with more than 4.8 million victims worldwide, would you believe them? Even more, would you believe it is individuals right here in our very own neighborhoods driving that demand? Our great nation, The United States of America, is purchasing sex from VICTIMS at a rate higher than any other country on Earth.

Human sex trafficking is still very much in existence today, both globally and throughout the United States. Traffickers use force, fraud, and coercion to control other people for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex.

Sex trafficking occurs when an individual is forced, by fraud or coercion, to engage in a commercial sex act with an adult. A commercial sex act is identified by the exchange of anything of value for a sexual act.

Even more disheartening, the most common age of children entering sex trafficking in the United States is between 14 and 16, although victims as young as infants have been identified. Children. Bought, sold, photographed for CONSUMPTION on an illegal market.

For a victim under the age of 18, otherwise known as a CHILD, force, fraud or coercion need not be present for the crime to be considered sex trafficking. If a child engages in a sex act in exchange for anything of value, it is considered human trafficking. A child cannot legally consent

The hidden nature of the crime and the complexities involved with victim identification, make it essentially impossible to know with certainty how many people are sex trafficked in the United States.

While statistics vary on the number of children in the United States who are trafficked, reputable estimates determine that the number is by far in excess of 100,000 children. 

Conservative estimates project that 10% – 15% of sex trafficked children in the United States are boys, with some studies showing up to 50%. Much like sexual abuse of boys, sex trafficking is vastly underreported by the victims. LGBTQ youth are more vulnerable to be sex trafficking victims because they have higher runaway rates.

An estimated 1 in 6 runaway youth are likely sex trafficking victims. 

Florida ranks third in the nation for the number of calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and Tampa Bay consistently ranks within the top four locations in Florida. This isn’t happening in a far off third world country. This is happening in your cities, in your towns, in your neighborhood.

In the Beginning

In an information age, we must ask ourselves how this type of behavior begins. Surely no one sets out in life with intentions to partake in such behavior, let alone to become a consumer of something so inhumane.

Something as simple and seemingly harmless as viewing online pornography can quickly spiral from a secretive habit into an all consuming addiction that one must continually feed.

Pornography and sex addiction often lead to overwhelming feelings of shame, depression and sadness, only driving home the need for someone to be increasingly secretive and withdrawn when it comes to their behaviors. The need to hide these shameful feelings often pull the individual away from anyone they may normally have gone to for help or support. Again, leading to even more changes in personality and behavior as the problem progresses.

During a 60 day period – just two short months – over 32,000 online ads were placed in Pasco County for the purpose of selling or buying sex. It is important to note that only two websites were used in calculating these ads, and there are hundreds of websites on any given day selling sex in Pasco County.

32,000 ads is only a small glimpse into the dark world of commercial sexual exploitation. We have a serious demand problem. The demand to purchase sex is much higher than most people know, and even if law enforcement worked every single day, running sting operations and arresting sex buyers, they’d never be able to arrest our way out of this problem.

If you or someone you know may be looking for help in with addictions to online porn or sex the following resources are available:

NoFap

We’re here to help you quit porn, improve your relationships, and reach your sexual health goals. Science-based, secular, and sex-positive. more information log on to https://www.nofap.com/.

XXXChurch

We help men and women who are struggling with porn online break secret habits, crush shame and create a great life with a healthy view of sex through our online community and resources. For more information log on to

https://www.xxxchurch.com/ or call 626.506.2611.

Fight The New Drug

Fortify is a web-based program of short video lessons and activities designed to educate and empower individuals seeking to find freedom from pornography — developed by a team of professionals including psychologists, neurologists, therapists and other mental health experts. For more information log on to https://fightthenewdrug.org or call 385.313.8629.

More Too Life RJEDE Program (SARASOTA, FL) 

This 8-hour educational course on human trafficking, prostitution and sexual violence prevention created by Dr. Brook Bello’s Youthiasm® offers a comprehensive education to court-appointed sexual offenders or buyers, referred men at risk of committing sexual violence, and volunteer participants. For more information log on to https://moretoolife.org/education or call 941-227-1012.

Excerpt from No Safe Place by Christa Hernandez

The blonde wasn’t at the club every week. I understood that. I understood the flitting in and out of life, the reluctance to trust another person. But I kept going there, kept talking to the other girls. Every week, I asked about the blonde. The next time I saw her, I acted as if we’d seen each other the day before, not weeks before. I knew she had had enough shame and guilt in her life that she didn’t need any from me, simply because she was struggling with believing she could be loved by another person, by God.

We sat down again, with some water and a couple pieces of chicken we took in. If we hadn’t been surrounded by glitter and pounding music, we could have been ordinary friends out for an ordinary night, except we were having a conversation that was far from ordinary.

I started to tell her about the house in South Carolina that my father moved us into. I didn’t even have a bed — my little sister and I slept on a used raggedy mattress. One of the springs took a chunk out of my leg, because the mattress was so crappy. We would wake up to mounds of poop and dog urine that would soak into the old wooden floors.

I had to walk through the projects on my way home from school. Thugs would pull knives on me and I quickly had to learn to fight. I became the parent because my father and Ralph worked until late at night. It was our job to get dinner ready and clean the nasty house along with trying to get homework done. One night, my father knocked my youngest brother in the head and called him an idiot, because he didn’t get the gravy right, just like I remember happening to Mom.

Whenever we would fight, we’d call Dad at the shop. Finally, he decided he would put an end to getting phone calls at work and chained my brothers to their wooden bunkbeds, leaving only enough length for them to get to the bathroom. We were living in the worst kind of hell and there was absolutely nothing I could do to help us.

I couldn’t understand how there could be a God that would allow this. All of us felt deep shame and abandonment. We felt unlovable and that we must be horrible kids to have this happening to us. My father still had that recording device on the phone and when I talked to my friends, I’d use code words. It was so humiliating to have to tell my friends why my life was so abnormal.

In high school, I got my first job at a Waffle House. I worked the early morning shift on weekends and was finally able to purchase my own clothes. What a difference that made in my confidence. I hung out with some of the “in” crowd and was also in marching band, playing the clarinet.

We were deprived of food often, eating ramen noodles and government cheese most days. But still my father got one of the first satellite dishes for himself. He got all the channels, including the porn channels. There were no parental controls and all of us kids watched it.

That sexual abuse led to acting out, as it does for so many children. My group of friends at school were taking bets on who would lose their virginity first. Even though I had been sexually abused, I had not had intercourse yet, and was technically still a virgin. I went to the house of one of the popular boys and lost my virginity to him, just to win the bet and even to be accepted. Losing my virginity wasn’t really that big of a deal due to all I had been through. I was more thrilled about winning the bet. Word spread fast around school and the next thing I knew, one of the football players was inviting me to his house. I thought that was normal and what girls are supposed to do, so I had sex with him. I felt so accepted and like I had finally arrived, but all any of those boys wanted was a piece of me.

I remember dating a boy from church. I was still able to catch the neighborhood bus to the Assembly of God Church from time to time. On our first date, we were five minutes late getting home. My dad was waiting in the bushes outside the house. When we pulled up, he terrified that boy so bad that he went speeding out of our driveway.

But it was worse when I got in the house. He told my siblings he was pulling my pants down so he could see if I was out being a whore.When he did it, I was so mortified, but felt like it was my fault. I was a bad girl, and that was what bad girls got.

The next guy I dated, Bill, was my first puppy love. He was a guitar player in a Christian band and for some reason, my father liked him. I was allowed to go to his house and for those few hours, it was as if all my worries had disappeared. He was a senior and invited me to prom. I wore a royal blue strapless dress with white shoes. My dad took me to his house, his mom and my dad took lots of pictures, then we headed off in a limo. I felt like Cinderella. Not only was I with a guy I was head over heels in love with, but the friends we were with were some of the most popular kids in school. I wondered what they would think if they knew the real me, the hell I came from and the disgusting place I lived in, not to mention the horrible events in my past. But that night was magical and one of the best nights of my life.

His mom was great. I loved her and she loved me. I’d go out to their lake property with them sometimes, and had such a great time. I was truly away from it all with a real and normal family. I started opening up to his mom about some of the things going on in my home. They wanted to protect me but didn’t know how. I think his mom called the state one time after my father beat me, but instead of it getting better, my father found out and banned me from seeing that boy anymore.

I failed ninth grade for missing too many days and for how low my grades were, so my dad decided to make me pay for my own tuition at a private Christian school. He thought this was also a way to get me away from that boy, but we still snuck around and saw each other. One night, we went to the movies and my dad found out. He dragged me out of there by my hair in front of everyone.

At that Christian school, I made friends with a girl named Shelly. She had a boyfriend and he had a friend, who went on to become my next boyfriend. Shelly had this cute little light blue Volkswagen that we would drive all over town in. On the weekends, I spent the night with her, and we often stayed up all night, tripping on acid while watching Pink Floyd with our boyfriends.

I became more and more promiscuous. I knew I needed birth control, and tried going to the counselor’s office at school, like other girls had done. But the office called my father and from then on, I was only allowed out of the house for cheerleading practice. I got sent home for beating up the team captain one day and for some weird reason, my dad was proud of me and lightened up on my punishments.

I got caught one night for staying at a boy’s house with Shelly. My father was so angry; I was terrified he might hurt me worse than ever this time. I pleaded for him to let me go stay at my mother’s house in Florida. By this time, I was sixteen, and to my surprise, he said yes.

There was no tender goodbye with my father. He made me sign over my income tax refund to him, then had his partner hand me a pile of big black garbage bags for my belongings. He stayed in his room and told his boyfriend to take me to the Amtrak station with a one-way ticket to Florida. Part of me was relieved not to have another encounter with my father, but another part was very hurt.

It seemed appropriate that my entire life was in garbage bags because I felt like such garbage on the inside. As for God…I couldn’t understand this loving being that people in church talked about because I was feeling the opposite of love.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of human or sexual trafficking, resources are available to help.

In case of a suspected human trafficking incident or emergency call: National 24-hour Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733), To be directed to local resources.

(SARASOTA, FL) More Too Life – With our services we aim to provide the necessary tools for young adult victims and vulnerable youth to overcome extreme trauma of all forms of human trafficking and sexual violence, crime and advancing the understanding of their life possibilities through our carefully laid out framework for providing shelter. For more information log on to https://moretoolife.org/or call 941-227-1012.

(LAKELAND, FL) The Porch Light – Opened a safe home where innocent child victims could find emotional and physical healing. The Porch Light is also dedicated to prevention and advocacy efforts to help stop sex trafficking before it needlessly devastates more lives. For more information log on to https://theporchlight.org/about or call 863.687.8811.

(TAMPA, FL) USIAHT – The HERO House – Our home is dedicated to kids under the age of 18, born biologically male, and who identify anywhere on the gender spectrum.  These kids are part of a dramatically underserved population of sex trafficking survivors that are in desperate need of care.  To our knowledge, this boys home is one of the first of its kind in the entire United States. Log on to http://usiaht.org/safe-homes/our-safe-homes/ or call (813) 895-3390 for more information.

(PASCO COUNTY, FL) Pasco Sheriff’s Office – If you would like to submit a tip to help save someone’s life go to https://pascosheriff.com/tips/ or call 727-847-8102.

Help Recognize Signs of Trafficking in Your Neighborhood:

There is no single/consistent profile for a victim

Adults and children

Males and females

U.S. citizens and foreign nationals

Well educated individuals and those with no formal education

Victims can be men or women, adults or children, foreign nationals or U.S. citizens. While they share the trait of vulnerability, victims have diverse ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented. Frequently victims are lured by false promises of a lucrative job, stability, education, or a loving relationship.

Traffickers lure and ensnare people into sex trafficking by manipulating and exploiting their vulnerabilities. Human traffickers recruit, transport, harbor, obtain, and exploit victims – often using force, threats, lies, or other psychological coercion. To maintain control traffickers will use tactics such as physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault, substance abuse, confiscation of identification and money, isolation from friends and family, and even renaming victims. Often, traffickers identify and leverage their victims’

vulnerabilities in order to create dependency.

As a result, victims become trapped and fear leaving for a myriad of reasons, including psychological trauma, shame, emotional attachment, or physical threats to themselves or their children’s safety.

One reason traffickers prey on kids is because they are more vulnerable than adults. They are more naive, and at-risk kids who have experienced abuse or extreme conflict in their homes may not only be eager to run away, but may also be desperate for the love and attention of an adult. Many kids who run away from home do so because they experience abuse, or because a member of the family is an addict, is violent, or both. If runaways have nowhere to go – no friends or other family members they can rely on and trust – they need to find food and shelter someplace else, which makes them especially vulnerable to trafficking. (sharedhope.org)

USIAHT and the Trafficking Free Zone

The U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking intends to end Human Trafficking in the United States through prevention, combating demand, the rescue of victims, and providing safe refuge for the restoration of survivors. TFZ – USIAHT’s Flagship Demand Reduction Program, TraffickingFree Zone, is a year-long modular approach based upon proven practices from around the United States.

We are a nonprofit, faith-based organization anointed by God to fight against human trafficking in America with truth and integrity, showing the love of Jesus Christ to all involved.  With offices in Tampa, Washington DC, Los Angeles and Austin, we are addressing the national problem, and also doing so with on-the-ground services.

Our focus on the prevention of human trafficking in the United States is being accomplished through combating demand in new and innovative ways, raising awareness, educating our youth, disruption of trafficking activities, advocating a consolidation within the industry to maximize efficiencies, and collaborating with organizations who are expert at rescuing abducted youth currently engaged in the sex trade.  Our work is also done in conjunction with Federal, State and local government officials who sit in a position to influence policy on ending trafficking in America.

As a non-profit organization, we are committed to operate with utmost financial accountability to our donors who provide the funding necessary to carry out these activities.

The TraffickingFree Zone program’s success is credited to establishing a holistic approach; a multi-sector partnership involving law enforcement, government, businesses, schools and community-based organizations. For one year in Pasco County, the TraffickingFree Zone program will activate multiple sectors of society simultaneously, discouraging and impeding buyers from purchasing sex, while offering rehabilitation services for both victims and buyers. County-by-county the TraffickingFree Zone program is implemented in collaboration with community members and leaders, with the focus on arresting and prosecuting sex buyers instead of those who are being sold, educating people on sex trafficking and implementing numerous other demand reduction techniques. Using the principles outlined in the TraffickingFree Zone program, communities can expect to see a significant decline in demand.

The 10 modules are: Baseline Research, Criminal Justice, Government and Social Services, Healthcare Community, Technology, Education, Businesses and Employers, Public Awareness, Faith-Based Community and Impact Study.

How Pasco Is Helping Join the Fight

The US Institute has engaged with Pasco County, launching the TraffickingFree Zone.

Your friends and neighbors are joining the TraffickingFree Zone program because they are no longer willing to sit back and allow our nation’s children to be exploited at an ever increasing, alarming rate. They are no longer willing to accept the fact that the most vulnerable members of our communities are having their innocence ripped from them for a predator’s momentary pleasure. They are choosing to take a stand, using the best practices from around the world, against sexual predators. Instead of living in fear, they are living in confidence that they are doing their part to stand for those who cannot stand for themselves.

We all recognize that more must be done, yet the human sex trafficking industry is so large and so dark, it’s easy to feel like we can’t make a difference. In truth, working independently, the difference we can make is limited. For years, incredible people and organizations have worked diligently and in a large part independently to try to eradicate sex trafficking from their communities, but true and lasting change occurs when we come together and combine our efforts.

Join the movement. Whether you join the TraffickingFree Zone as an individual, business, law enforcement, church goer or community leader – you will make a difference. You’ll be joining forces with one of the largest anti-sex trafficking movements in the world, and that’s something to be proud of.

Doing Your Part: Recognize and Report

Indicators of a potential sex trafficking victim:

  • Lack of knowledge of a given community, frequent movement
  • Not in control of own identification documents (passport, birth certificates);
  • Unexplained physical indicators or abnormalities to include bruises, tattoos, and/or pregnancy
  • Denied contact with family & access to services
  • Individual owes a large debt and cannot pay it off; unpaid or paid very little
  • Under 18 and providing commercial sex
  • Few or no personal possessions or financial records
  • Threatened with harm, deportation or arrest if escape is attempted
  • Harmed or denied food, water, sleep or medical care
  • Untreated injuries/health conditions
  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living conditions (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, etc.)

Potential Victims May:

  • Seem fearful, submissive, anxious, depressed, tense or nervous/paranoid
  • Become unusually fearful if law enforcement or immigration is mentioned
  • Avoid eye contact
  • Not speak for themselves
  • Not know where they are
  • Claim to be just visiting
  • Do not know or have an address
  • Be unaware of what month/week/day it is
  • Not be able to provide a consistent account of what has happened to them
  • This may be due to fear of reprisal and prolonged trauma

If you see a questionable situation and are in a position to listen and to observe, collect information and call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 to report. The hotline staff will determine whether or not to pursue it as human trafficking and will notify the appropriate local officials.

DO NOT become involved if you suspect human trafficking. Do not approach the situation and attempt to offer help. This could be potentially dangerous not only for you but also for the victim.