Minnesota girl’s plight highlights problem of human trafficking

The following is something I got off the Civil Society website, more people need to be aware of the problems in Minnesota AND North Dakota and also Kazakhstan.

Minnesota girl’s plight highlights problem of human trafficking

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children become victims of sex trafficking every year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Photo illustration

Kayla thought she was going to a church service. She couldn’t have been more wrong.

The 10-year-old asked her grandmother, Lauren, if she would drive her and her friend Jasmine to a house in the suburbs where the service was to take place.

An hour later, when the girls emerged from the house, Jasmine had her arm draped around Kayla, who was crying. Lauren asked what was wrong. Not to worry, Jasmine replied, Kayla had just fallen.

What Lauren didn’t realize then was that, inside that house in the suburbs, her granddaughter had indeed fallen — into the shadowy underworld of human trafficking.

Human trafficking is the illegal trade in human beings for commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. It is modern-day slavery.

An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 American children are sold for sex annually, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Minnesota ranks as one of the top 10 states for sex trafficking, experts say. It is the portal to the “Minnesota Pipeline,” a series of states through which victims are channeled to New York. Under federal law, however, trafficking, despite connotations, does not require movement of victims.

A person can be a victim of sex trafficking without ever leaving home.

“Human trafficking is a horrific crime against the basic dignity and rights of the human person. All efforts must be expended to end it,” the U.S. bishops said in their 2007 statement “On Human Trafficking.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has played a key role in providing education, advocacy and services for survivors of human trafficking.

Since 2002, the USCCB has assisted more than 2,600 trafficking victims and their families. It also founded the Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking.

“In the end,” the bishops said, “we must work together — church, state and community — to eliminate the root causes and markets that permit traffickers to flourish; to make whole the survivors of this crime; and to ensure that, one day soon, trafficking in human persons vanishes from the face of the earth.”

Kayla’s story

At her home on a quiet, tree-lined street in the Twin Cities, Lauren told the story of Kayla, now 13, whom she is raising along with the girl’s 6-month-old baby. She said she hopes her story will help other parents keep their children safe from predators.

To protect the victim’s identity, all names in this article have been changed.

Kayla’s story began in 2006, when Jasmine, who is four years older than Kayla, befriended her at church. The girls’ age difference concerned Lauren, she said, but she didn’t interfere because the friendship was “under a spiritual guar­dianship, so to speak.”

Before long, however, Lauren noticed disturbing changes in Kayla’s behavior.

“[Jasmine] dressed in a real sexual way, and I noticed [Kayla] started picking this up too,” Lauren said.

That wasn’t all. “Her language started changing, she started using more slang and swear words, talking street lingo. And she started being defiant towards me and rude,” Lauren said. “She’d go into rages, she’d throw things, she’d beat on walls. I couldn’t understand where these rages were coming from.”

Kayla’s life hadn’t been perfect. Her father was absent. Her mother, who died when Kayla was 12, was a drug addict. At times Kayla rebelled, but never before had she been violent, Lauren said.

One day, Kayla told Lauren that Jasmine wanted her to steal thong underwear from a Target store. “And she said I have to have sex, too,” the 10-year-old disclosed to her grandmother.

“I was just shocked,” Lauren said. When she asked Kayla how Jasmine had tried to convince her to do things that Lauren had taught her were wrong, Kayla replied: “She said it’s OK to steal because the grown-ups in this society have stolen our future anyway. . . . And, she said that most girls have already had sex by the time they’re my age.”

‘The game’

The average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14, according to a 2001 national study. But many traffickers begin “grooming,” or gaining the trust of, their victims when they are even younger.

Instructional books that teach aspiring traffickers how to successfully groom a child for commercial sexual exploitation — referred to as “the game” — are widely available for purchase on the Internet.

In one such book, a pimp with a criminal record writes: “You’ll start to dress her, think for her, own her. If you and your victim are sexually active, slow it down. After sex, take her shopping for one item. Hair and/or nails is fine. She’ll develop a feeling of accomplishment. The shopping after a month will be replaced with cash. The love making turns into raw sex. She’ll start to crave the intimacy and be willing to get back into your good graces. After you have broken her spirit, she has no sense of self value.

“Now pimp, put a price tag on the item you have manufactured,” he adds.

Pimps target their victims at schools, recreation centers, parks, churches, shopping malls, on the Internet — anywhere children can be found.

Often it happens in communities where there is a lot of trust. Or, the trafficker is a family member or acquaintance of the child.

“Gradually,” Lauren explained, “they start teaching the children: ‘The adults in your life are your enemies; you shouldn’t listen to them. This is your new family.’”

Traffickers train older girls — like Jasmine, who was trafficked herself — to groom younger girls.

“The girls that are doing this grooming — and it usually is girls — are trying to get them into this life, saying it’s a great life,” Lauren said. “They work on them gradually, kind of like a pedo­phile does. And they don’t just groom the children; they groom the whole community” by presenting themselves in a positive light.

“Once you’re groomed, you’re blood in the water,” Lauren said. “You’re easy prey.”

Downward spiral

Lauren decided that Kayla wasn’t going to see Jas­mine anymore. She also began home schooling Kayla and taking her to a counselor. Despite Lauren’s efforts, however, Kayla continued to spiral out of control.

Lauren had no idea why her granddaughter remained so troubled — until one day she blurted out that she had been sexually assaulted at the house in the suburbs where she and Jasmine had gone for the children’s prayer service.

Kayla had believed she was attending a prayer service that day, she told her grandmother. But as soon as the girls stepped foot into the house, Jasmine snatched Kayla’s prayer book and tossed it over her shoulder.

Jasmine disappeared with an older boy into a bedroom. Another boy attempted to rape Kayla while shoving a pillow over her face to muffle her screams.

Lauren reported the incident to the police; however, no arrest was made in the case, she said. Often it can be difficult for police to gather enough evidence to arrest “johns” because victims are unwilling to cooperate in investigations. Fed­eral and state laws actually make it easier for police to arrest prostitutes, who are usually victims of sex traffickers.

Around the time Kayla revealed that she had been sexually assaulted, Lauren also discovered that she secretly had maintained contact with Jasmine, despite having lost her cell phone privileges. Kayla would sneak off to a nearby community center to call Jasmine on a pay phone, Lauren said. “It was like she had to check in with her.”

(to be continued)

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