A conversation about human trafficking

Posted 7/26/22

REGION — My mother has always been quite protective of me. The first time that I can recall her overprotectiveness was when my family and I moved from Long Island, NY, to Matamoras, PA. We were getting ready for a trip to Walmart when she asked to talk to me. 

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A conversation about human trafficking


REGION — My mother has always been quite protective of me. The first time that I can recall her overprotectiveness was when my family and I moved from Long Island, NY, to Matamoras, PA. We were getting ready for a trip to Walmart when she asked to talk to me. 

I was seven years old, so her explanation was more than simplified, but it was the first time I had learned about human trafficking. 

She told me that when we went into the store, I was to never, ever leave her side. Even if something like a toy caught my eye, I was instructed to be by her side at all times. 

She had said that there were evil people in the world, and some took other people to do “not very nice things.” I remember being shocked and thinking, “Why would people take other people without asking their mom’s permission to hang out.” To think how naive I was is almost insane to me, but as I got older, I understood my mom’s perspective. 

That Walmart was right next to Interstate 84, which connects via Intersection 380 to Interstate 80, one of the three most-used highways for human trafficking in the U.S., according to phys.org

Trafficking seems almost taboo in conversation; however, it’s real. Its victims are real, and their stories are real. 

And it needs to be talked about. 

Start with the definition of human trafficking. It is a crime that involves the exploitation of and profit from adults or children who are forced to perform labor or engage in commercial sex. 

There are three types of human trafficking cases: debt bondage, forced labor or sex trafficking. The most common of the three is forced labor,  which is interchangeable with indentured servitude. 

Human trafficking is referred to as “modern-day slavery.” 

Despite the lack of conversation on the topic, trafficking occurs everywhere and has claimed countless victims yearly. It is estimated that at any given time, there are 24.9 million people who are trafficked, according to state.gov. 

However, countless organizations combat human trafficking; some are closer than you think.

In both Wayne and Pike County, there is a nonprofit organization called Victim’s Intervention Program (VIP). VIP is dedicated to helping victims of sexual and domestic abuse and trafficking. It serves not only as a crisis center but provides counseling, one-on-one or in a group; resources and support. 

Regardless of one’s beliefs, trafficking does occur close to home. 

“VIP, over here in Wayne and Pike [counties], we wouldn’t have the funding that we have if we didn’t have the survivor population to support it,” said Chelsea Falotico, a staff member at VIP in Milford, PA. “If we’re getting the money from the state coalition to be able to provide these services, that means we have clearly helped victims of trafficking in the past and continue to right now.” 

Without personal exposure to crimes such as trafficking, it may be hard to recognize it and its victims.  

“It doesn’t enter your mind until it enters your life. For a lot of people, unless they know someone who has been trafficked, they don’t even think about it,” said Falotico. 

However, the best way to combat ignorance of the topic is to have a conversation about it. Awareness is the key to prevention, and it empowers the victims. 

“It is harmful [denying trafficking in an area where it exists] because if we’re saying this stuff doesn’t happen, then what are we telling the people who have survived it, who have gotten through it? We’re just saying their story is not valid, or that their feelings or experiences are silly or they’re being dramatic,” said Falotico. 

Starting the conversation about trafficking is the first step. The second is learning more. 

Trafficking does not play out as it does in the movies. It happens in so many ways that some won’t recognize it.

“It [signs of trafficking in victims] is often something that is hidden in plain sight,” said Falotico.

The signs in victims of trafficking are countless and are the products of extreme manipulation and degradation. However, there are some predominant tell-tale signs. 

Trafficking victims will not be able to socialize in a public setting or engage in social activities such as a church or other religious endeavors. They show signs of physical abuse, and consistently act fearful or anxious. Victims may have few possessions, may have tattoos or brandings or no money. 

However, the most common sign is not being able to talk for themselves. Victims may have their perpetrators speak for them. For example, if a victim were injured and received medical help, their trafficker or pimp would talk for them, so no incriminating details are said aloud.

In labor trafficking, physical signs include abuse, sleep deprivation, untreated injury or illness. 

In sex trafficking, signs include multiple terminated pregnancies, scars, STDs, etc.  

Another significant part of the trafficking timeline is grooming. Grooming, in general, is “to gain trust.” This trust is gained by extreme manipulation and gaslighting. Grooming can look like a healthy relationship. It is just a cover. 

For instance, suppose a victim has suffered an abusive relationship with a partner. In that case, the perpetrator may play the role of being that “perfect partner,” or if the victim has family problems, the perpetrator may say they can act as that parental role. Then the relationship takes off;  that’s when abuse comes in and strips the victim of their freedom.

“They [vicitms] have no freedom of movement on their own,” said Falotico. 

The roles that pimps take to coerce their victims range from a father to mother, an intimate partner, recruiter, employer or even a friend. However, the role depends on the type of trafficking the victim(s) is being trafficked for. 

In instances of labor trafficking, an employer might say that their job opportunity can pay them well, they can get out of their current situation and so on, and all the while the perpetrator is just taking advantage of them and their free labor. 

For sex trafficking, it include all the different scenarios of manipulation and coercion. There may be a partner claiming the victim will partake in sex acts because the perpetrator “loves them,” or it can be a modeling opportunity, where those pictures taken are then sold online. 

The different ways someone can be trafficked add up significantly, and they have lasting effects on the victims—both physically and mentally. 

“It takes away any self-worth,” said Falotico. “You know the old saying, ‘If you tell someone they’re stupid for long enough, they’ll start to believe it,’ and that’s what happens. How many times can you be sexually assaulted and told that you’re worthless or that you’re just a piece of property before you start to believe it?” 

The victims, in most cases, put up the performance of their life, acting like they are happy because “to survive, they need to comply.” 

However, one person can only withstand so much.

“How long can you put up this mask before it starts to become who you are?” said Falotico. “One of the biggest effects after a victim gets out of the trafficking situation is taking off that mask and finding out who they really are, and how they can mentally recover from that.” 

Trafficking is a devasting crime with countless lifelong effects. Research the topic, understand it and open a conversation about it. 

If you or someone you know has experienced trafficking and requires aid, you can reach VIP Advocates 24/7 at 570/253-4401. You can also reach out via text from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. every weekday at 570/798-4847 or chat online at http://vipempowers.org/chat/. 

Additionally, if you, or someone you know, has their own story to share, email editor@riverreporter.com. 

wayne, pike, vip, trafficking, victims


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