January, besides being rainy and chilly, is Human Trafficking Awareness Month.  Human trafficking is basically a synonym for slavery.  It’s a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide.  And — if you think it happens elsewhere but not here — the Puget Sound has a very lively human trafficking industry.

Several years ago I participated on a safety panel for a local transitional housing agency.  Also on the panel were a domestic violence advocate, an art therapist, and two officers with the Seattle Police Department.  At one point, one of officers went off on a tangent — they were excited because they had recently arrested a particular pimp.  The significance was this pimp’s specialty:  he prostituted young teen girls, between the age of 12 and 14.  At that time I had no idea such a specialty existed.  

What also made his capture significant was his success in “recruiting” young girls to prostitution.  It seemed to have everything to do with his targeting.  He would hang out in shopping malls (apparently Northgate and Alderwood were his favorites), around the food court or clothing stores popular with that age girl.  He’d be looking for girls who were by themselves.  Not just that they were alone, they seemed lonely.  Maybe they didn’t have friends, or friends in school, or were bullied at school.  Maybe there was abuse at home, or a parent had substance abuse or mental health issues and wasn’t emotionally available as a parent.  Maybe she was homeless, or questioning her sexuality or gender identity and not getting support.  Maybe she was angry at life, at her circumstances, and wanted something different.  He was looking for that sense.  He would approach a possible target, and say, “Look, I just have to tell you, you have the most amazing gorgeous eyes.”  The main response he’d be watching for was for her to drop her gaze, to lower her eyes.  That’s submissive body language, and if he saw that he knew he could get her.  If not, he might just say, “hey, just thought I’d let you know, have a great day,” and he’d leave.  He was looking for easy, not a fight.  If he saw the response he wanted, he’d keep talking, engaging her in conversation.  He was good at this, his experience gave him a good basis for saying what young girls may want to hear.  And he seemed to be a real listener.  Very often they’d leave an hour or two or three later, having exchanged cellphone numbers.  She’d maybe be thinking, wow I have a new friend, this guy seems to understand what I’m going through.  Maybe a few weeks later she’d be thinking, wow I have a great new boyfriend, so much better and more mature than stupid boys my age.  Even further down the road, after he’d rape her, have some of his buddies rape her, force her to use drugs, force her to engage in commercial sex, she’d still have a strong emotional attachment to him.  

I have no idea if this pimp’s approach was “typical,” I suspect not.  Many pimps are not strangers:  they can be family members, friends, classmates.  Nevertheless, he was successful, at least until he got caught.  

Do you want to learn more about human trafficking?  Check out these websites:

Learn more about how to recognize the signs that someone you know may be falling into trafficking, or may already be in that web.  Recognize it is a local problem.

Stay safe, live life.

A new iPhone/iPad app came on the market earlier this month.  Created by Amin Haq of Leadership Eastside, this easy-to-use app helps members of the public recognize the telltale signs of sex trafficking and gives them an easy and safe way to report what they’ve see.

You may be wondering why you should pay attention.  After all, isn’t the sex trade something that happens in far-away, exotic lands?  To other people?

No.  Unless Northgate Mall is counted as far away and exotic.

Yes, slavery is alive and well and in our backyards.

I’ve begun hearing from some of my students about witnessing attempts to lure young girls into cars.  Wondering what was happening, and if they should intervene.  Fortunately, the targeted girls did not go for the bait. 

Those targeted are in their tweens and teens.  Eleven years old is apparently not too young to be forced into prostitution.

Take a look at this article from The Seattle Times for more info.

While it is supposed to also be available on the Android market, as of November 25 I have not seen it in the Google Play store.