Forum: ‘Are more slaves now than ever’

Community seminar focuses on human trafficking

Human Trafficking Signs

The Department of Human Services’ Blue Campaign (www.dhs.gov/bluecampaign) offers a full list of trafficking indicators, including the following:

Is victim acting fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense or nervous/paranoid?

Does victim defer to another person to speak for them?

Do they show signs of physical and/ore sexual abuse or signs of physical restraint, confinement or torture?

Do the person have few to no possessions?

Was victim forced to perform sexual acts?

Is victim a juvenile engaged in commercial sex?

Does victim have freedom of movement?

Do they work excessively long hours or unusual hours?

Was this person recruited for one purpose and forced to engage in another type of job?

Has victim or family been threatened with harm if the victim attempts to escape?

Has victim been threatened with deportation or law enforcement action?

Has victim been harmed or deprived of food, water, sleep, medical care or other life necessities?

Is victim allowed to socialize or attend religious services?

Can victim freely contact friends or family?

Is victim being coached on what to say to law enforcement and immigration officials?

Human Trafficking by the Numbers The Polaris Project (www.polarisproject.org) and the Human Trafficking Hotline (www.humantraffickinghotline.org/statistics) offer the following statistics and facts about human trafficking in the United States: Between 2007 and 2016, 31,659 victims of human trafficking reached out to the National Human Trafficking Hotline Of the 7,572 survivors who worked with hotline staff in 2016, 73 percent were involved in sex-trafficking, 14 percent were in labor-trafficking, 4 percent were involved in both sex- and labor-trafficking and 9 percent did not specify. The hotline experienced a 24 percent increase from 2015 to 2016 in the number of human trafficking survivors who called for assistance. Based on a 2016 study of 8,542 survivors of human trafficking:
  • the majority (7,128) were female
  • most were U.S. citizens as opposed to foreign nationals
  • most (49 percent for sex-trafficking survivors and 36 percent for labor-trafficking survivors) reported that they were between the ages of 12 and 17 when the the trafficking first began

Dozens of Camas-Washougal community members turned out Sunday night to learn more about the pervasive but often-hidden issue of human trafficking.

Lesa Sims, a former youth pastor at the Camas Church of the Nazarene and member of the church’s Missions Committee, which hosted the free community seminar, kicked things off with a few simple, but still remarkable, facts.

“There are more slaves today than there ever have been,” Sims told the crowd gathered at round tables inside the church’s former chapel.
What’s more, Sims said, modern-day slavery — or human trafficking, as it is now known — isn’t something that happens overseas to “other people.”

“This happens here,” Sims told the hushed crowd. “To our neighbors, friends, children, grandchildren … and your presence here tonight indicates your deep concern about this complex issue.”

Following Sims’ introduction, Bettina Boles, a program supervisor at Janus Youth Programs in Vancouver, said county efforts are underway to help identify and assist young victims of human trafficking.

A Pacific Northwest nonprofit with more than 40 programs operating in Oregon and Washington, Janus Youth Programs opened Vancouver’s first emergency youth shelter in 1996, and has been helping Southwest Washington’s homeless and at-risk youth ever since.

In April, the Washington Office of Crime Victims Advocacy, Department of Commerce, awarded a $206,000 grant to Janus Youth Programs to help young Clark County victims of sex trafficking.

The grant allowed the program to focus several staff members on the issue of human trafficking — specifically on the multi-billion business of forcing people to perform sex acts for profit; do street outreach in areas around Clark County where sex traffickers tend to target youth, including bus stops, homeless camps and shelters, malls, schools, strip clubs and truck stops; and help other community members understand how to identify sex-trafficking victims and help them escape an extremely dangerous situation.

On Sunday, Boles introduced one of her outreach workers, who goes by the name “Phoenix” as a safety precaution against pimps known to protect their “property” through any means necessary, including violence against workers trying to help young people escape a life of forced sexual exploitation.

Phoenix explained that outreach workers want to meet the youth “where they’re at” and build a trusting relationship before ever trying to help someone get out of a lifestyle that often involves not just physical force on the part of the pimp, but also emotional manipulation and threats against the victim’s family and friends.

“We aren’t typically going out and rescuing,” Phoenix explained. “We are big on building relationships and establishing trust.”

The outreach workers go to malls and truck stops and even schools, looking for youth between the ages of 12 and 24 who show signs of being involved “in the life,” the term for someone caught up in sex trafficking, or at risk of being targeted by a pimp.

Phoenix explained that not all pimps operate in the same way. In larger cities and more urban areas, there tend to be more “gorilla pimps” who use physical force to take victims, sometimes literally grabbing young people off the street and forcing them “into the life.” In places like Clark County, however, “finesse pimps” are much more common. These are sex traffickers who use less-obvious tactics to “recruit” their victims. The finesse pimp often romances his victims, making them feel special and loved in the beginning of the “relationship,” and then turning on them with threats and other forms of coercion to push them into a life of forced sex.

“He befriends them, maybe calls himself a boyfriend,” Phoenix explained. “He may tell them, ‘Let me get you some clothes, let me take care of you,’ and then, after a while, at the end, he turns to the youth and says, ‘Now that I’ve done all this for you, you owe me. Nothing is for free.’”

To keep a young person “in the life,” a pimp may make threats against their families or children, use violence, gaslight them into believing they are crazy to question his motives, and isolate them, cutting off all outlets for escape, controlling what little money they might be able to access and interfering with any established family or friend relationships.

According to the Janus Youth Programs staff members who spoke on Sunday night at the Camas Nazarene church, nearly all pimps are male, but victims can be female or male and, in fact, the sex trafficking of young males is an issue that often goes underreported. Sometimes, a finesse pimp may use a “bottom woman” or a victim that he has elevated to a level higher than other victims to help recruit potential youth.

“Recruiting can happen in places like homeless camps or youth shelters … but it can also happen at school or in the mall, or at a party,” Phoenix explained. “Lots of kids love going to parties, but some parties are actually sex-trafficking parties. So they get there, and maybe they do weed or are drinking and having fun and they don’t realize that it’s a sex-trafficking party.”

And if you’re thinking that this type of thing can’t happen in places like Camas or Washougal, think again. Phoenix told the crowd on Sunday night that there is a known finesse pimp operating out of the Hockinson area and targeting Clark County youth.

“This affects everyone,” Phoenix said. “No one is absent from this.”

In fact, Phoenix told the community members on Sunday night, sex traffickers don’t fit into a nice, tidy little box. There have been convicted sex traffickers who worked as teachers, priests and police officers before getting caught. In Oakland, California, a well-known sex-trafficking ring involved 12 police officers who had been abusing at-risk youth for several years before one officer exposed the entire operation in his suicide note, Phoenix said.

“We heard that a few weeks ago, there were adults taking youth from Vancouver to Portland, promising them food and money and exposure, and then taking them to a house and forcing them to do sex acts on camera,” Phoenix said. “These were young females and males from Vancouver. And this is still going on.”

Because the issue is so complex and can be very dangerous — just like victims of domestic violence who are in the most danger when they decide to leave their abuser, sex-trafficking victims face punishment and even death if their pimp discovers that they’re planning to escape — The Janus Youth Programs staff members told community members that there are safe ways to help local youth.

First, people can help prevent their own young family members and friends avoid being trafficked. Don’t post pictures of youth on your social media sites, Phoenix said, and teach youth to be aware of the risks of attending parties hosted by strangers and of talking to people they’ve never met online. If an untrained community member suspects that a youth may be caught up in a sex-trafficking ring, Phoenix urges them to not approach the youth in public, since that could expose the victim to a pimp’s rage, but rather to either call resources like Janus Youth or, if the person seems to be in immediate danger, the police.

“You have to be aware that these youth may be defensive,” Phoenix said. “There may be trauma bonds (between them and their abusers) … and they may not trust you right away.”

The Janus Youth Programs staff said there are a few other signs that your own family member might be involved with a sex trafficker: Does their boyfriend have a lot of money and expensive possessions, but no job or wealthy family to account for his life of luxury? Has the person your are worried about been tattooed with a money symbol or a man’s name or other mark of “being in the life” such as a crown?

A good way to help local victims of sex-trafficking is by donating money and needed supplies, Phoenix added. Janus Youth has included several ways for community members to donate their time, money or resources to help at-risk youth in Clark County on their website at www.janusyouth.org/how-to-help.

Boles added that, although she realizes it’s a tough conversation, parents really need to talk to their children about this issue. Although factors like homelessness and coming from a cycle of abuse increase a child’s risk of becoming a sex-trafficking victim, this is something that has happened to youth from all backgrounds and parts of the country, she said.

“Be aware and spread the word,” Phoenix said. “Know the signs. And don’t be afraid to talk about it. More people need to be aware of what sex trafficking is … and that it affects so many.”