“If everybody had a perfect childhood…the world would be a nearly perfect place. And by ‘perfect’ I don’t mean something you see on an old sit-com. A perfect childhood simply means experiencing unconditional love, having your basic needs met and having equal opportunity to create yourself without the hindrance of external oppression, in the present and in the future.”
In recognition of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we sat down with the Program Manager for The Guidance Center’s Intensive Services Program, Janae Moss, LMFT to discuss the issue of human trafficking in youth. Moss has personal experience working for the past seven years to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). She has a passion for creating a space of healing and hope for all clients. As you read this piece, please be advised we have chosen to use the pronoun “she” throughout the blog, however, youth of any gender can fall victim to human trafficking.
The “Romeo” Pimp
When it comes to human trafficking, pimps and madams prey on vulnerabilities. A pimp will look for the young girl who doesn’t have a high self-esteem and who is looking for love and belonging. He creates this fantasy for her by using phrases like, “I’m going to love you forever,” “We’re doing this together” or “We can have a better life.” He acts like a “Romeo” pimp, and because of this, the young girl will think she is in a real relationship, this person really loves her and understands her better than anyone else. The “Romeo” pimp will take her out, promise her the world and tell her they are going to be a family with unconditional love.
Then all of a sudden, the pimp will ask her to sleep with people for money. It will start off as a one-time thing, but then she is sleeping with someone every night and then with multiple people every night. This will create confusion for the young girl because this person, whom she loves, is now asking her to perform sexual acts with strangers. She will start to feel ashamed, embarrassed and angry, and she will have no one to share her feelings with. A main tactic of a pimp or madam is to isolate their victims, manipulate them and create fear through violence or threatening to hurt their family so they won’t leave.
Potential Warning Signs
There are certain red flags when a young girl has been trafficked. You might notice a young girl with an older boyfriend she is hesitant to talk about or doesn’t want to introduce to anybody. Maybe, all of a sudden, she is getting her hair and nails done, or she has new clothes that are more provocative than normal. You might say, “I didn’t buy that; you don’t have a job; you are not making money, so how can you afford these things?” If she doesn’t have an answer, that could be a red flag. Does she have a second phone? She may be given a second cell phone so her pimp or potential client can contact her.
Then, there is social media. One of the big trends we are seeing is how predators are using social media or video game systems to chat and send messages. This young girl might have two accounts; one account she shows her parents and another secret account. Part of prevention is paying attention to these warning signs and asking, “Is she secretive about social media? Is she awake until one in the morning?” If so, who is she talking to? Having conversations about social media and paying attention to what she is posting and who she is friending is more important than ever.
Help and Prevention
Pimps and madams promise a fake unconditional love. Part of a caregiver’s job is to show true unconditional love by providing support when the young girl chooses to confide in you. This doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences to the choices she made, but it does mean there is a safe space for her to talk with you and to share what might be going on in her life. Talk about what a healthy relationship looks like and what it means when a boyfriend or girlfriend, who says they loves you, asks you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. What happens when you say no and they don’t respect you? Create that space so this young girl feels safe coming to you when she needs to. A great way to provide that space is at the dinner table, but if that doesn’t work for you, try to find a way that does.
Also, a lot of value is placed on appearances and she can think, “My looks are all I’m good for.” Instead, start to build value when she is two or three-years-old building a tower out of blocks and show genuine excitement for the great job she did. This can be transferred to sports, dance or any hobby she enjoys. Notice if she is working hard and recognize her for it. Build up her self-esteem in a way that is healthy and effective. Validate her feelings and let her know it is okay to be sad or angry and, most importantly, it’s okay to say no. Teach her how to use her own voice and to stand up for herself.
Human trafficking, which is the exploitation of people for sexual servitude, forced labor, or financial gain, is rampant in many countries and is thought to generate over $30 billion worldwide. Here in the U.S., the FBI estimates that over 100,000 children are victims of sex trafficking. Foster children are particularly vulnerable to falling victim to sex trafficking and other forms of human trafficking…Children without families to make them feel loved and cared for are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by sex traffickers. Foster children in large cities like New York and Los Angeles are at the most risk of being targeted. Traffickers will sometimes send one of their girls into group homes to lure other girls to leave. Many girls who end up leaving foster care are trafficked into prostitution where they are routinely subject to physical abuse and violence.
- The FBI estimates sex trafficking in the U.S. involves 100,000 children.
- 60% of child sex trafficking victims recovered through FBI raids across the U.S. in 2013 were from foster care or group homes.
- Experts have extrapolated that the average age for girls entering the sex trade is 12.
- The average age of children involved in prostitution when recovered by law enforcement is 14. 2
Want to join us in the fight to end human trafficking? Here’s how you can get involved and start making a difference today:
Awareness – Know the indicators of human trafficking so you can report it and save a child’s life.
Action – Report suspected human trafficking by calling 1-866-347-2423. Use your voice to raise awareness on social media. Volunteer with local organizations working to end human trafficking in your community.
Janae Moss, LMFT, is the Program Manager for The Guidance Center’s Intensive Services Program in Long Beach, where she leads her team in providing the highest quality of mental health treatment to all individuals and families. She is passionate about increasing awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) and creating a space of healing and hope for all clients. Before joining The Guidance Center team in March of 2019, she worked as a Clinical Director and was an agency trainer for CSEC. Janae earned a Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology, with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy at Azusa Pacific University.