Hidden In Plain Sight
by Lesley Eischen
“Far from being a peripheral issue in the Bible, exploitation is mentioned frequently throughout Scripture, is depicted as sin against God and neighbor, and symbolizes how badly sin has corrupted God’s good creation.” ~ Dr. Justin Holcomb
It was in a Hy-Vee store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where a fourteen year old runaway was walking around when she noticed a man following her. When he finally approached her, he asked if she wanted a job, a modeling job. She said yes.
The trafficker took the fourteen year old and another girl to Chicago. The trafficker explained what was going to be expected of the girls as ‘customers’ arrived and that they were to bring the money back to him. The fourteen year old cried in protest and eventually the trafficker relented and returned her to a strange residence. While at this location another male raped her.
The next morning the fourteen year old was shuffled off to a hotel where a woman gave her instructions on how to sell herself for money. Yet again, a different man took pornographic photos of her. She told him she didn’t want the photos taken. He told her this was the only way she would have food, clothing, shelter or even a shower. She did what he said and then he posted an ad online using the photos he had taken of her with a fictitious name and age. They gave her a phone that coincided with the number in the ad and expected her to start taking ‘customers’. She did what she was told because she had seen what happens to those girls who don’t. They were beaten. She had been warned that what happened to them would happen to her if she didn’t cooperate with their demands. She had witnessed an incident where the trafficker held a gun to another victim’s head because she threatened to call the police. He made it clear that he would shoot her if she did.
Statistics range from two to seven years for the average life expectancy of a victim of human trafficking. Fortunately, for this fourteen year old, her terror ended within two months when law enforcement arrested the traffickers and rescued her from being held captive. She was brought back to Iowa where other cases of human trafficking were surfacing.
Now years later, she still suffers with moments of embarrassment, shame and a lingering fear of retribution from her traffickers.
Similarly, in 2010, law enforcement discovered a group of traffickers from out of state attempting to recruit young girls in Iowa City by offering them ‘employment opportunities’.
These ‘employment opportunities’ are generally promises of acting, modeling, or dancing. When in reality, they want to enslave and exploit them for profit. Traffickers will utilize any means necessary and that includes promises of love and relationships to coerce their victims.
They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for “people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.” ~ 2 Peter 2:19
Once a victim is lured by trafficker’s deceptive tactics, victims will rapidly descend into the forced and relentless demands of their traffickers and consumers. Their lives change in an instant.
An encounter with a ‘modeling scout’ at the grocery store isn’t what we typically imagine when we think of a minor being snared into the dark under belly of the trafficking world.
Our minds don’t immediately register, although they need to, that shopping malls, college campuses, and even school playgrounds have become recruiting destinations for traffickers, where trafficking victims are forced to recruit other victims.
When we are caught up in the anticipation of a large sporting event, like the Super Bowl, we don’t realize it’s a haven for traffickers because of the influx of travelers.
The patchwork of trafficking is networked under the guise of ordinary business but at closer glimpse we become aware of the reality of what lies beneath. Educating ourselves on elements of human trafficking is one way to lessen its ability to remain in obscurity.
For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. ~ John 3:20
Once beguiled into the labyrinth of human trafficking, traffickers are known to use the cover of legitimate businesses for their illegal activities. Clearly, there are legal and legitimate businesses in these classifications but there are those harboring victims for profit. Not all of those working in these establishments or venues are trafficking victims. It 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.
Not only is it happening to citizens of the United States as demonstrated in the case of the fourteen year old lured by the promise of modeling, but the United States has become a destination country for trafficking. Foreign women and children are transported into the United States for the purpose of exploitation. It’s estimated that eighteen thousand foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. Predominately, although not exclusively, the majority of the victims are transported to the United States from Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.
Victims are generally forced to work in massage parlors, escort agencies and services, hostess clubs, strip clubs and casinos.
Asian victims are known to work in Asian massage parlors, also known as AMP’s. Registered or licensed as legitimate businesses, massage parlors have the ability to openly advertise their services. It is estimated that there are over four thousand brothels disguised as massage parlors nationwide. Massage parlors are found to be located within close proximity to truck stops specifically advertised on billboards.
Eastern European victims are known to work in stripping networks or what is referred to as ‘driving networks’. Driving networks are organized groups that ‘employ’, house and transport victims and control their activities.
There are also Asian hostess clubs and Latino ‘Cantinas’. Traffickers won’t hesitate to use a victim’s immigration status as leverage for compliance.
Any of the victims, foreign or domestic, may be exploited in escort services and agencies. Sometimes referred to as ‘call girls’, the victims may be forced to offer ‘out-call’ services where they go to the location of the ‘client’ or ‘in-call’ services where the ‘client’ comes to the victim’s location. Generally this location is a hotel, motel or other similar accommodations. Their services are commonly advertised online through specific escort sites but may appear anywhere advertising is permitted.
Venues within a specific ethnic network are often tethered to organized crime that may include mafias to street gangs. It’s important not to let the amount of intricate detail and knowledge it takes to set these duplicitous businesses in operation escape our notice. These have been found to be sophisticated criminal ventures. As a whole, trafficking is estimated to generate nine and a half billion dollars annually within the United States.
It’s common for victims to have their paths intersect with more than one trafficking network or venue during their nightmare experience. Human trafficking is seldom a standalone criminal act. It’s intertwined among several crimes. Its clandestine characteristics make it difficult to uncover and even more difficult to prosecute. Traffickers tend to blend in with their surroundings, even maintaining regular daytime jobs or the pretense of a legitimate job. This is why raising awareness is vital. To prevent and expose human trafficking requires action on the part of every member, of every community, of every society.
As individuals, we need to be aware of unusual traffic in and out of a residence, business, hotel or motel. Recognize traffic at these locations at odd times of the day. Consider car loads of women or minors who always come and go together seemingly disallowed to venture out on their own.
As parents, be involved in your children’s lives knowing what they are doing and who they are spending their time with, including their visible friendships and those online. Cultivate an environment of security by implementing safeguards for their protection. Prevention is an effective solution.
“Go behind the facade in any major town or city in the world today and you are likely to find a thriving commerce in human beings. You may even find slavery in your own backyard…Without a doubt, the wall standing against slavery today consists of backyard abolitionists, people like yourself, who are willing to build the bridge to freedom.” ~ David Batstone
What to do if you suspect someone is being 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 fourth article in an expose of human trafficking in her state.