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Temperatures are rising. School is out. Everyone is seeking that long summer break, but with that also comes danger. Oftentimes, that danger presents itself in the form of sex traffickers preying on teenage girls of underrepresented groups in low-income neighborhoods, such as South Los Angeles.

However, it’s not just teenage girls who are being abducted in broad daylight or coerced, teenage boys are also being targeted, along with older adults. Encounters with perpetrators are oftentimes inevitable and hard to predict, due to misinformation and lack of resources.

According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, California had the highest rate of human trafficking cases in 2019.

What is Human Trafficking

The non-profit organization Girl Power in Miami, Fla. reports: “Human trafficking is the business of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into providing commercial sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened, or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal, or otherwise unacceptable conditions. It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world.”

Although anyone can fall victim to sex traffickers, minority groups such as people of color and LGBTQ+ people are more likely to experience trauma caused by sex trafficking. This has something to do with the vulnerability these demographic groups experience due to historic oppression, discrimination, generational trauma, as well as other socio-economic factors.

Addressing the Public

Girl Power tries to educate the public, parents, counselors, teachers, caregivers, and teenage girls about the dangers of strangers and sex trafficking, and what to look out for. Sex trafficking is something that happens worldwide and is a hazard to public health and safety.

“There is a misunderstanding on what sex trafficking actually is and that’s because of the perception and image that victims are ‘snatched,’ kidnapped or transported from one destination or country to another,” Girl Power CEO Thema Campbell said. “The reality is that victims are often trafficked right under our nose and we don’t usually notice it. There’s also a misconception that only young people are trafficking when the truth is that adults can also be trafficked, though the majority of the victims are younger.”

LA County is trying to combat sex trafficking, working with survivors, community organizations and government agencies. Their strategy is to educate and raise awareness among youth organizations – such as foster family agencies and schools – agency partners, and community members. LA County has also made an effort to work together with local law enforcement to make legislative changes. However, raising awareness starts at home.

“Parents, caregivers, and teachers really need to understand how common trafficking is, that it involves sexual exploitation of various types and that your child could be a victim of trafficking and still living in your home,” Campbell said. “It doesn’t require a kidnapping or a runaway situation. There are long-term devastating effects that it has on a young girl, her future, and any children and relationships she may have in the future.“

Human traffickers use a variety of control methods to manipulate their victims, most common ones include emotional and physical abuse, threats, economic exploitation, and isolation from family and friends.

A popular tactic is the so-called “boyfriend trap,” where sex traffickers coerce their victims by pretending to have a romantic interest, with promises and gifts, addressing the needs of their victims and thereby winning their trust to control them. The results are traumatized victims, who are too scared to leave because some have nowhere to go, except a homeless shelter or foster care. Other reasons include shame, physical threats made by the traffickers to the victims and their families, and emotional attachment.

Look for the signs

Individuals might become a target of sex trafficking if they:

• Have previously experienced other forms of violence, such as sexual abuse or domestic violence.

• Have an unstable living situation.

• Have a caregiver or family member who has a substance abuse problem.

• Are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

• Are in need of housing and income.

• Are runaways, or are involved in the child welfare- or juvenile justice system.

• Are undocumented immigrants.

Sex traffickers come in different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and gender. Sometimes the dangers of sex trafficking hit close to homes, such as a family member, neighbors, a romantic partner, or acquaintances. And oftentimes the perpetrator is just a stranger.

Red flags during recruitment

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. However, when an individual is experiencing high distress and is therefore at a vulnerable state, it’s easier to turn a blind eye to the dangers that are oftentimes closer than many like to admit.

• An individual receives money or gifts and is in a new, fast-moving relationship, involving an immense age gap or financial status.

• An individual who’s a frequent runaway stays with someone other than their parent or legal guardian.

• An individual develops a relationship with someone online.

• An individual lives with a parent or legal guardian and shows signs of abuse.

Girl Power advocates for abused, neglected, traumatized, and abandoned girls who became victims to sex traffickers but also girls who were failed by the foster care system.

“There is a national foster care crisis and human trafficking that does not get enough media attention, and our current goal is to bring national awareness so that policies and legislation are created to protect and save our girls,” Campbell said. “We should be concerned as a community that our girls are living traumatic lives and growing up to carry all this trauma as adults, and it shows itself in so many ways. So many women have experienced some type of trauma in their lives that hasn’t healed and our mission as an agency is to improve the outcomes of our young girls before they carry on the trauma into adulthood. We want our girls to heal, be enriched, regain their self-esteem, understand their value, and become productive citizens.”

Girl Power incorporates sex trafficking prevention in their services and programs, which is accomplished through life skills, emotional and social learning, group and family trauma-informed therapy, as well as workshops from women who experienced trauma due to sex trafficking.

Anyone can help combat human trafficking — whether they are medical professionals, neighbors, parents, caregivers, teachers, or truck drivers — by learning the signs of trafficking and the types of human trafficking.

To learn more about sex trafficking prevention visit www.girlpowerrocks.org