Published in the Appleton Post Crescent, May 21, 2017
Animated flowers, stars, and lollipops blinked right above the words, “Fresh, sweet, new, don’t you deserve it?”
This marked my first interaction with Backpage, a website promoting sex trafficking. Backpage, the world’s largest classified ad company valued at nearly one hundred million dollars, has operations in 97 countries and 943 locations worldwide. According to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Backpage, Mocospace and Craigslist post millions of sex ads each day. The only thing separating me from buying an underage child for sex was a click of my mouse.
The thirteenth Amendment ended slavery in America in 1865. Or did it? Human trafficking is the fastest growing industry in the world generating over $150 billion annually in the United States alone. 20 to 30 million slaves exist today– the highest number in recorded history. Three hundred thousand American children will be lured into sex slavery this year. Eighty percent are female, fifty percent are children, seventy-five percent of all trafficking victims are sold for sex. Ninety-nine percent of sex trafficking victims are never recovered. Less than one percent of the monsters perpetuating these crimes are convicted.
Sexual exploitation is no longer reserved for brothels and back alleys. Sex trafficking is a billion dollar, market-driven industry based on simple principles of supply and demand. Sex trafficking is second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable criminal industry. Drugs can be sold once, but women and children can be sold over and over, day after day.
Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure vulnerable victims, forcing them into commercial sexploitation. Victims are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, and isolation. Trauma inflicted by traffickers is so intense and debilitating that many may not identify as victims or know to ask for help. Alaina Vallafsky, from the Sexual Assault Crisis Center (SACC) in Appleton says, “She may relapse twenty times before she gets out. We have to be there every step of the way. It’s a complicated process.”Commercial sexual exploitation is defined as exchange of food, shelter, drugs, and money needed for survival in exchange for sex. Even though sex trafficking is hidden from civilized society, the reality of purchasing women and children on the Internet is very real. Human trafficking is reported in all 50 states. Wisconsin is not exempt, reporting sex trafficking in all 72 counties. Milwaukee, a hub for trafficking ranks among the top five cities in the US for trafficked adolescents. Lieutenant Jeff Miller of the Appleton Police Department and Outagamie Trafficking Partnership deals with trafficking everyday. “It is easy to purchase a person for sex on the Internet. This isn’t a movie-it’s a real life human rights issue. We must tackle it differently. People need to educate themselves and laws need to change. If we work together with one voice, we can make it happen.”
What can you and I do to battle sex trafficking? Victim advocacy and law enforcement agencies agree we need to raise awareness and education surrounding this issue, while decreasing demand for illegal sexual activity. Building collaborative networks, educating the public, providing specialized training and creating standardized processes will help recover victims, provide crisis intervention and protective care, and create long-term rehabilitation options to help trafficking victims reclaim their lives. Private sector companies, non-profit organizations, government entities, law enforcement agencies, and average citizens must join forces to wage war against this evil.
Amy Flanders, SACC Executive Director says one person can make a huge difference. “Anybody can fight sex trafficking with awareness and education, but more help is needed. People can get involved by getting trained, donating resources, reporting suspicious behavior, and volunteering to advocate.”
The Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We cannot ignore modern day slavery in America. Won’t you join the fight to end sex trafficking?
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” – Abolitionist William Wilberforce, May 12 1789
Contact these resource agencies to see how you can join them in the battle against sex trafficking in your community.
Sexual Assault Crisis Center Fox Cities Wisconsin, Outagamie County Human Trafficking Partnership-1-800-722-7797, Hotline 920-733-8119
National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 1-888-373-7888 or, text HELP to 233733
Winnebago County Anti-Trafficking Task Force-Reach Counseling Center Neenah reachcounseling.com, 920-722-8150
Human Trafficking Task Force Greater Milwaukee, Unlucky13.org
Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, wcasa.org
Department of Homeland Security-Blue Campaign, DHS.gov
Victim Crisis Response Team – Grand Chute PD, grandchute.net
Non-profit agencies dealing with Sexual Assault and Sex Trafficking issues
D2l.org, Call 866.For.Light or text Light to 741741