The following is a continuation of what I posted yesterday. More awareness needs to be raised about this problem of human trafficking…
At age 11, Kayla began attending her old school again. One day she didn’t come home.
“I went through the streets looking for her,” Lauren said. “I just went through hell.”
Six days later, police officers found her at a community center.
Kayla said a classmate had beaten her up, and then taken her home, where the girl’s mother forced her to sell drugs and have sex with strangers.
Other young girls were being prostituted there too, Kayla said.
After police, acting on a tip, questioned the woman, she arranged for her daughter to leave Kayla at the community center.
Movies and television tend to portray pimps as black men sporting flashy jewelry, driving fancy cars and hanging out on street corners. But in reality anyone can be a pimp. Often they’re women.
“Times have changed,” said Sgt. John Bandemer of the St. Paul Police Department. “There are way more female pimps right now than male pimps.”
Another time, Kayla took her dog for a walk and didn’t come home for five days.
Again, Lauren reported to police that she was missing. Eventually, Kayla called to ask Lauren to pick her up on a street corner several miles from their home.
Kayla had been with a girl she met when she had been kidnapped before. The girl’s mother, another trafficker, drove Kayla around to several houses, where she was repeatedly raped. One of the men who raped Kayla during that time is the father of her baby, Lauren said.
“[Kayla] was so violent after that,” Lauren added. “She had been totally reprogrammed. She was talking to police officers about the ‘great family’ she was with.”
Traffickers apply a potent mix of loving care alternated with violence, threats and dehumanizing behavior to control victims like Kayla.
They offer a false sense of security and love to establish a “trauma bond” with victims, according to Shared Hope International, a nonprofit organization in Washington state that works to prevent sex trafficking.
Trauma bonds are similar to Stockholm Syndrome, a psychological response where hostages become attached to the perpetrators and later defend them, a report from the organization explains.
One expert declared traffickers “the most brilliant child psychologists on the planet.”
When Kayla was seven months pregnant, she disappeared again. “I just had this horrible feeling,” Lauren said.
The next day, Kayla asked Lauren to pick her up at an apartment building. During the drive home, Kayla told Lauren she had been with “a bunch of pimps.” One of them wanted to be her boyfriend, she added. She said he had taken her shopping and bought her lingerie from Victoria’s Secret.
Then Kayla told Lauren she was going to move in with him.
At home, when Lauren blocked the door to prevent Kayla from leaving, she yanked Lauren’s hair, hurling her to the floor. Lauren raced to a neighbor’s house to call the police, who arrested Kayla for assault. “It might have saved her life,” Lauren said.
Later, Lauren learned that the pimp who wanted to be Kayla’s “boyfriend” controlled a massive interstate trafficking network.
Pimps often pose as a child’s “boyfriend,” building a romantic relationship to secure the child’s trust and allegiance, even after the relationship changes into one of violence, torture and abuse, according to Shared Hope International.
All children are at risk
To many, Kayla’s story might seem extraordinary. But it’s a story that plays out day after day in cities and suburbs throughout the United States. And it can happen to any child, regardless of socio-economic background or ethnicity, said Linda Miller, executive director of Civil Society. The St. Paul organization provides legal and other assistance to sex trafficking victims, including Kayla.
“I’ve read a lot that these girls come from bad homes and they’re runaways,” Lauren said. “This isn’t a bad home. [Kayla] has had some issues in her life, her mother was a drug addict, but she’s been given nothing but love from me. I wasn’t a bad parent.”
Despite the trauma and abuse Kayla has experienced, Miller said she holds hope for Kayla’s future. Since October, Kayla has been receiving treatment at a residential center for girls with emotional and behavioral problems.
Parents need to educate children about the dangers of sex trafficking before it’s too late, Joy Friedman of the St. Paul organization Breaking Free said at a June forum on human trafficking. Friedman herself was a sex trafficking victim.
“We need parents to get involved,” Friedman said. “We need you to speak up and say you want [sex trafficking education] in your school so your kids can learn the facts that suburban life is not this shelter box. You do not get exempt because you live out in the suburbs and your mom drives a Mercedes and you have a wealthy background and you were raised right and you went to church. . . .
“Traffickers don’t care who you are,” she added. “Like they say: ‘8 to 80, blind, crippled or crazy, you’re still sellable. Because all we need are your parts.’”
» Declining grades
» Curfew violations
» Running away from home
» Signs of violence and/or psychological trauma
» Underage drinking or drug use
» Unaccounted for time
» Unusual or secretive cell phone or computer usage