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Human Trafficking In America

Think human trafficking is a problem that cannot happen in America? Think again!

Human Trafficking is defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime as "the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them." Sex is just one aspect of trafficking. Forced labor, slavery, servitude and even forced organ donation are other horrifying aspects of this disturbing and growing activity. Human trafficking rakes in an estimated $32 BILLION a year and is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world (drugs are number 1). This should scare the hell out of each and every one of us. For some reason, it doesn't.

Recently I was a guest on the Voices for Justice radio show with the families of three missing girls. Human trafficking is suspected in all three.

Kara Nichols, 20, a Colorado Springs teen who left home heading for Denver on October 9, 2012 has not been seen since.

Kayla Croft-Payne, 22, lived in Chehalis, Washington. Her friend reported her missing on April 28, 2010. She was last seen heading to a modeling opportunity.

Raven Cassidy Furlong, 18, went missing on February 5, 2013. She has recently been found in the Los Angeles area and refuses to go home. Her family strongly believes she is being held against her will.

All three have one thing in common: They were young, pretty, in contact with men online and were tempted with modeling work. This is a classic case here in the US. Young women are targeted because of their vulnerability. Jobs like modeling, dancing, or being a nanny for a wealthy family are dangled.

They are promised exciting work with good pay, and a meeting is set up where they are abducted and transported- typically to a large city where no one knows them. They are addicted to drugs and then forced into prostitution, with abhorrent living conditions and frequent beatings.

On American soil, the greatest problem with human trafficking is that most Americans view the issue as happening in Thailand, Russia, Asia, China or Singapore -- in other words, human trafficking happens there not here. The sobering fact is that it's not just a third world problem. It's everyone's problem and it's the fastest growing illegal industry in the world, affecting us all, not just "them".

It is estimated that 200,000 women annually are forced into the sex trade in the US. The majority of these are American, not imported from other countries. The largest annual human trafficking event in the US is the Super Bowl. Difficult to believe? You bet. What's more American than the Super Bowl?

We think of football parties and tailgating, not men looking to pay for sex with enslaved victims. It is the party atmosphere and the enormity of the crowds which help pimps and victims to go unnoticed. During the last Super Bowl in New Orleans, local, state and federal law enforcement arrested more than 80 individuals for prostitution and human trafficking with the help of Operation Innocence Lost.

Clemmie Greenlee is a former victim of the sex trade who sheds a light on the unspeakable horrors that happen behind the scenes at the Super Bowl. Her pimp kept her hooked on heroin and handcuffed to a bed, and she was forced to have sex with 25 men a day. There was a mandate to meet the quota or face brutal consequences.

Greenlee was originally abducted, group raped and forced to prostitution at the innocent age of 12. Years later, she called the number on a hotline card and escaped. Now she helps others who live a similar life to the one she excaped from.

We are in denial as a society. It's easier to think of a prostitute as a beautiful, happy hooker while the John is a wealthy gentleman who looks like Richard Gere. Or conversely we think they are drug addicts who have chosen prostitution to support their habit. The third possibility, that they have been kidnapped against their will and brutally forced into prostitution is just to painful to consider.

Denial is a defense mechanism the brain uses when something is too difficult to admit or face. In this case, denial that the weak, helpless and vulnerable could be forced into such painful circumstances is overwhelming. So we find other explanations and view the sex trade as completely consensual where nobody gets hurt.

Denial does help us to deal with painful issues, but it doesn't make the issue go away. It's one thing to allow the psyche to gradual adjust to a situation, but to continue to deny and turn a blind eye is little different than tacit consent.

Knowledge is power. Read, learn, become aware and become a part of the solution, not oblivious to the problem. If you suspect human trafficking call or text the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888.

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