Washington DC | Prominent leaders in the national anti-trafficking movement told a forum at the U.S. Capitol that the human trafficking is a modern form of slavery and is flourishing in the United States.
Tina Frundt, founder of Courtney’s House and a victim of sex trafficking at age nine, said every night, just six blocks from the White House, victims of trafficking and their handlers were on the streets.
”You want to see what a trafficker looks like, come on out,” Ms. Frundt told a packed room. She said that much more needed to be done not only to raise public awareness but to understand the conditioning of young victims, which she compared to the slave culture of the early American South. “We don’t use the word rescue; I can recue your body all day long. We need to transition the mindset of victims from a pimp culture of control, abuse, and mental conditioning.”
The forum, “Tackling Human Trafficking in the USA,” was sponsored by the Safe Haven Campaign, a project of Global Peace Foundation USA, and U.S. Congressional host George “G.K.” Butterfield (North Carolina) on November 21, 2013. Panelists and invited faith leaders emphasized the need for greater collaboration among government agencies, the criminal justice system, nonprofit and civic organizations, and the faith community in helping victims and prosecuting perpetrators.
“When we say, sorry we don’t have enough beds, we don’t have services, when we give that answer the one who raises their hand to say ‘I can provide these things,’ that is often the trafficker.”
“Human trafficking is a frightening and sometimes overwhelming issue and often seems far removed from us, and even when right in our midst we don’t see it,” said forum moderator Stephanie Jones, Advocacy Coordinator for Church Women United in Washington DC. “It is designed to keep the victims and perpetrators in plain sight. Even when we know about it we don’t know what to do. Today we want to shine a light on the problem and talk about what we can do in very real ways.
“We often think of human trafficking as an issue affecting other countries or perhaps immigrants being brought into this country. We also a need to shift perspective on the issue away from criminalization and stigmatization of the victims and establishment of victim-centered services.”
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, told the forum that human trafficking and sex trafficking was a key part of that committee’s jurisdiction and called interfaith collaboration “vital” in combating trafficking. “We want to be truly involved with your work,” Rep. Jackson Lee said. “We want to listen to the stakeholders, so that Democratic and Republican members of that committee won’t leave out a faith component, or vital information or collaboration that you suggest we have.
“I am reminded of the fifty-year anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy, not a happy time, but a reflection of someone who brought light and inspiration and challenge to the nation, that we are better when we are together and that, with the establishment of the Peace Corps, we are truly our brother’s keeper. Human trafficking I must say is the epicenter to show that we are in fact our brother’s and sister’s keeper.”
“Traffickers are on social networking sites, all day, every day. We know young people put way to much personal information out there, and traffickers can find out who had a fight with mom today, who is yearning for someone to talk to.”
Katherine Chon, Senior Advisor on Trafficking for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, recalled the critical role of communities of faith and religious institutions in the struggle to end slavery 150 years ago and that government needs this partnership now to combat modern slavery. She said a minimum of 21 to 29 million people, mostly children and women, are victims of human trafficking around the world.
In the United States some 60-80 percent of victims of the child sex trafficking industry are from the child welfare system, she said. “These are children that are already in our care and the traffickers are going right after them because of their vulnerability. What we come across in every one of these cases are that the victims crave community, family—so much so that in the trafficking culture, perpetrators are called daddy, uncle, auntie.
“Who are we in relation to the real needs of the victims? We are the “other,” the random person, the stranger that tends to ignore someone right in front of them. Who is the mother, father, brother, sister? It is really hard for me to say this but the reality is, it is the controllers, the manipulators, the recruiters in the trafficking industry. When we say, sorry we don’t have enough beds, we don’t have services, when we give that answer, the one who raises their hand to say ‘I can provide these things,’ that is often the trafficker.”
The majority of missing children are endangered runaways who unfortunately receive the least priority, said Melissa Snow, a child sex trafficking specialist for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “They are seen as those ‘bad kids’ who are just acting out. We need to talk about who these kids are and how we can intervene. They are very vulnerable, and pimps and traffickers are aware.”
Ms. Snow said trafficking has expanded with advance of technology, which is used for recruitment as well as further exploitation. “Traffickers are on social networking sites, all day, every day. And we know young people put way to much personal information out there, and traffickers can find out who had a fight with mom today, who is yearning for someone to talk to. They no longer need to hand out at a mall.
“Most important is to rebuild trust and connection to community—to rebuild the person not just put a roof over their head. People connect to people, not to programs.”
Following the briefing, Rev. Kim Turner Baker, Canon Pastor of Washington’s National Cathedra; Imam Talib Shareef, President and Imam of Masjid Muhammed; and Rev. Mark Farr, President of the International Institute for Sustained Dailogue, issued a call to action to build national awareness and networking among faith communities to combat human trafficking in the United. States.
For more information on Global Peace Foundation USA’s Safe Haven Campaign, contact Gail Hambleton, Director of Interfaith Partnerships, at email@example.com