A Tangled Web
by Lesley Eischen
“Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!” ~ Sir Walter Scott
A spider creates a web to trap its prey. It’s woven with an array of viscid threads in a complex design. The prey is unwittingly caught in the veiled trap as the spider lurks on the edges waiting. He must remain concealed to avoid capture by greater predators.
So it is with online predators. The internet has become the predominate route for human trafficking in the United States and abroad. That includes Iowa.
October 27th, 2011, a forty year old man from Sioux City, Iowa was convicted of arranging to purchase and sexually exploit an eleven year old girl in Sioux Falls, South Dakota through an online advertisement. The man responded to the online advertisement that was posted as part of an undercover sting operation aimed at identifying people who attempt to solicit children online. The man faces a minimum of fifteen years in prison.
January 6th, 2012, an Iowa City man who was the former dean of a Cedar Rapids technical college campus was sentenced to ten years in federal prison for attempting to solicit a minor in 2010. The man met who he thought was a fourteen year old girl on a Yahoo! chat service. The girl was actually an undercover agent. He was apprehended after making arrangements to meet with the girl.
Online solicitation is taking place of previous methods at an alarming pace. Iowa is no exception as these examples indicate. This is leading to an increase of trafficking, especially among minor victims. Not all of those working in online prostitution are trafficking victims. Prostitution becomes trafficking when it’s a minor, or when a controller – like a ‘pimp’ or ‘john’ – uses force, fraud, and/or coercion to maintain control over the victim to engage in sexual exploitation regardless of age.
Individuals advertising online may appear to be working independently but are actually being controlled by a trafficker. They are trafficked through the control of a ‘pimp’ by escort services, chat rooms, dating services, pornography, social media websites and brothels disguised as massage parlors. These services are commonly marketed on websites. An example would be Backpage.com through its “Adult Services” section, which makes it easy for traffickers to exploit victims, especially minors.
Traffickers mask the age of minor victims in their advertisements to avoid detection from law enforcement. Traffickers are known to masquerade as the victim in their ads when communicating through texting, messaging, emailing or phone calls.
The anonymity of the internet provides a fertile environment for this deplorable market. Rescuing the victims and prosecuting their traffickers is much more difficult.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
~ Psalm 71:4
It would be a mistake to assume that this is only happening to those who are runaways, disadvantaged or otherwise in vulnerable circumstances. It’s also happening to those from middle and upper class America who are being deceived by the schemes of traffickers.
Human trafficking will continue to thrive as long as it is unchallenged. It will continue to flourish while traffickers reap substantial profits with minimal risk of being captured. Where there is a demand, traffickers will respond by seeking to supply that demand. The ‘supply’ they are profiting from are off the backs of our women, children and neighbors. We can thwart the demand by exposing it through awareness and advocacy.
It’s imperative we educate ourselves and others in the warning signs and potential dangers with the greatest emphasis towards our women and children.
Parents need to have an honest dialogue with their children about internet safety and implement safeguards. Whether children are online at home, in schools, at their friend’s house or the public library, parents need to be intentional about safety anywhere access is available. Parents are cautioned not to be lulled by appearances of ‘family friendly’ environments. These are the exact opportunities that predators take advantage of to find victims.
Law enforcement routinely uses the internet to capture traffickers through sting operations and other means. However, there are places where online traffickers can evade discovery. An example of one of those places is public libraries. Law enforcement officials believe it’s because traffickers know that at the end of the business day, all computer use and records will be erased as part of the libraries security and privacy measures. This makes it nearly impossible for law enforcement to track criminal activity while allowing traffickers bold license.
A sample of an Iowa library policy states in part:
“The library has no control over the information accessed through the Internet and cannot be held responsible for its content. Individuals must accept responsibility for evaluating content. As with other library materials, the library affirms responsibility of parents or guardians to guide their children’s use of the Internet.
The library has no means or statutory authority to assure that only constitutionally protected material is accessed by the public. This library expressly disclaims any liability or responsibility arising from access to or use of information obtained through the Internet, or any consequences thereof.
As stated in the American Library Association’s Statement on Library Use of Filtering…”the use of filtering software to block access to constitutionally protected speech violates the Library Bill of Rights”; therefore, this library will not impose blocking or filtering software to limit access to Internet sites.
Privacy in using the Internet in the library cannot be guaranteed. There exists a possibility of inadvertent viewing by others. Customers are urged to respect the sensibilities of others when accessing information that may reasonably be offensive to someone else.
Access, use, or dissemination of information via the Internet in the library is the responsibility of the customer. It is the library’s practice not to maintain a history of our customers’ computer use. At the end of the business day, all customer computer use and reservation records are erased.”
Regardless of the location, if there is free, unsecured, wireless internet access for public use, we need to be diligent in knowing their policies or practices. ANYWHERE there is access to the internet there is a need for safety.
Traffickers lure women and children by befriending them, grooming them, manipulating them and eventually controlling them.
We need to urge owners of online sites to evaluate their practices and be leaders in making the internet a safer place. They have the power to intervene into the activities of their sites and significantly impact the amount of trafficking being facilitated. We need to implore them to navigate their businesses in a manner of integrity that places people before profit.
He has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.
~ Isaiah 61:1.
Indications, although not exhaustive or solely indicative of trafficking, that a person is being trafficked online:
- Minor with older ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’
- Minor involved in commercial prostitution
- Stopped attending school, work or social activities
- Isolated or withdrawn from family
- Doesn’t have access to money, cell phone, food, clothing or identification. These items are held as collateral by trafficker
- Residency is a hotel or motel
- Runs away or discusses running away from home
- Sudden change in attire
- Behavior becomes erratic, severe mood swings
- Unexpected material possessions given to them by a “friend”
- Hides emails, text messages, or other online posts
- Extreme change in online behavior – suddenly online all the time or suddenly not interested in being online
What to do if you suspect someone is being cyber trafficked:
If the situation is imminent, call 911.
If there is no immediate threat, call the non-emergency number 311.
Or in Iowa call, CRTEC HOTLINE at 1-(877)-824-9747
National Center’s CyberTipline at 1-800-the-lost or online at www.CyberTipLine.org
Lesley Eischen is a pro-life activist and advocate for women who lives in Central Iowa. This is the third article in an expose of human trafficking in her state.