Friday Editorial: Strong Efforts Underway to End Sex Trafficking

As written by the Times-Union Editorial Board, copied from here

The scenario is familiar in the world of sex trafficking. It begins with a “relationship” between a vulnerable woman and a man who promises her love and protection. Often alone, the woman is ripe to become a victim.

Over a period of weeks or months, he grooms her — further cutting her off from friends and family. He may even deprive her of a job and transportation to make her completely dependent upon him.

Then the relationship turns cold as he begins complaining she’s not pulling her weight. He strongly suggests she could do that by offering her body as a prostitute.

The woman’s virtual enslavement is solidified when he begins feeding her drugs to take the edge off the her pain and humiliation. That introduction to drugs becomes an addiction, and the woman is imprisoned deep down a dark hole from which many people never escape.

DOWN A DARK HOLE

The scenario is familiar to people knowledgeable of sex trafficking. It’s especially common in Florida, the state with the third-highest number of reported cases in the nation.

Rachel White of the Jacksonville nonprofit Her Song has heard it dozens of times.

Her organization has helped nearly 80 women escape this hell since 2013.

And they’ll likely continue hearing similar stories.

A new report from the Florida Department of Children and Families says the number of human trafficking cases in the state increased 54 percent over the previous year. Most of those involved sex trafficking of women and girls.

Many of the victims are from broken families, already wounded by sexual or physical abuse, living in poverty or abandoned by husbands or boyfriends. Their pimps exploit a victim’s already heightened sense of vulnerability with promises of protection that over months become demands to serve them.

And it doesn’t stop with verbal demands. Often there is physical abuse, punches, threats with guns.

There are both physical and emotional scars that contribute to a feeling of being trapped in this abusive life.

HOPE ON HORIZON

But now a society that once regarded the trafficked women as the criminal perpetrators is beginning to recast them as victims — and finding ways to step in to help.

State Attorney Melissa Nelson is determined to help the victims by diligently pursuing the men and women who lead the trafficking networks.

She has created a Human Trafficking Initiative, part of the office’s Special Prosecution Division.

A veteran prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Erin Wolfson, and investigator Richard Trew have been assigned to work on these often-difficult cases in an attempt to break the cycle of sex trafficking in Jacksonville.

In addition, City Councilman Tommy Hazouri — who admirably pushed through a bill requiring signage in adult entertainment businesses about human trafficking — is helping to develop more solutions for the problem here.

He is already setting up a meeting to talk about future initiatives regarding sex trafficking.

“We’re among the three top cities in the state where human trafficking is a problem,” Hazouri says.

“We need more local laws.”

In particular, Hazouri would like to see a “safe house” established to help women emerging from sex trafficking.

That’s on the mind of White from Her Song as well. Her organization is raising funds to establish what she hopes will be several residential facilities to give formerly trafficked women the wrap-around services, safety and companionship that a community provides.

SALVATION IS POSSIBLE

There are success stories.

Women have broken the bonds with their pimps and have been able to put their lives back together.

Some have moved on to help others leave the abusive traps.

And law enforcement is also playing a valuable role in helping women escape this sad, dead-end life.

But the entire community can also play its proper part by becoming more aware of the threat of sex trafficking — and by devoting more resources to help eliminate it.

Know the signs of sex trafficking and report it when you see it.

Support the many organizations that are helping victims of this vile practice.

And, equally important, support this community’s new initiatives.

It’s time we all end the dark and dangerous crisis that is sex trafficking.

INDICATORS OF SEX TRAFFICKING

The individual in question:

• Is not free to leave or come and go as she wishes.

• Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts.

• Is unpaid, paid very little or paid only through tips.

• Works excessively long or unusual hours.

• Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions.

• Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off.

• Was recruited through false promises.

• High security measures exist in the work or living locations (opaque windows, boarded-up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras and so on).

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

• Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous or paranoid.

• Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement.

• Avoids eye contact.

Poor Physical Health

• Lacks health care.

• Appears malnourished.

• Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement or torture.

• Lacks any sense of control over her life.

• Has few or no personal possessions.

• Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records or bank account.

• Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport).

• Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present or translating).

Other

• Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where she is staying.

• Lack of knowledge of whereabouts or doesn’t know what city she is in.

• Loss of sense of time.

• Has numerous inconsistencies in her story.

Source: From the Polaris Project

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