#BeTheKey: Of Additional Interest

This information was gathered from our survey of 300 prostituted women through our social network outreach program.  Every couple days over the month of August, we are adding a new stat from our findings to help you better understand the women we are working with.  Read the whole series right here on the Free Our Girls blog.

After identifying specific categories under which Free Our Girls planned to observe various information shared on social media by the women currently involved in the commercial sex industry, we also observed a number of interesting facts that did not fall into any pre-defined categories, but we found worth acknowledging.

  • 1 survivor of the “Craigslist killer”
  • 1 transgendered
  • 4 openly talk about being recruited under the age of 18
  • 1 military veteran
  • 2 openly talk about having been married and divorced previous to their initial recruitment
  • 1 has just started running an escort service as her way out of performing services herself
  • 1 is a confirmed recovering drug addict, whose pimp was the one who “saved” her and helped her get clean
  • 16 have left the sex industry within the last 3 years, yet remain connected through social media to the life and people they once surrounded themselves with

What can this information tell us about the women vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation?  That vulnerabilities exist in a wide array of lifestyles and backgrounds.  That oftentimes the abuse and exploitation these women currently experience at the hands of their trafficker is STILL a better life than the one they came from.  And that the psychological conditioning and emotional bonds built with others while a part of this life are not easily broken, even years after walking away from taking an active part in it.

Grooming refers to the process of identifying the potential to exploit an individual, and making oneself a person of authority and trust within the potential victim's life. Once that step has been accomplished, it is easy for a trafficker to manipulate their victim into believing their lies, and learning to follow an order of expectations. Because the psychological manipulation is often incredibly severe, many women who experience this process find themselves brainwashed (Stockholm's syndrome), as they then accept this way of life as one that they chose for themselves.

Grooming refers to the process of identifying the potential to exploit an individual, and making oneself a person of authority and trust within the potential victim’s life. Once that step has been accomplished, it is easy for a trafficker to manipulate their victim into believing their lies, and learning to follow an order of expectations. Because the psychological manipulation is often incredibly severe, many women who experience this process find themselves brainwashed (Stockholm’s syndrome), as they then accept this way of life as one that they chose for themselves.


When Secrets Take Lives

The sex industry is viewed as taboo by the general public, and an unfair amount of judgement, stigma, and stereotypes contribute to the negative reaction most people give when they learn a woman is involved in the sex industry.  As a result, a majority of women in the industry hide their chosen work from their friends and family, and unfortunately someone who recognizes their fear of exposure can hold this over their head.  The risk of being outed comes with substantial consequences for women – general fear of rejection and disgust, loss of their legitimate employment, or being terrified of losing custody of their children all rank high as legitimate concerns if exposed.  Many of these women move away from their family, keep their friends at a distance, and create an alternate reality to tell inquisitive people about what they do for work.  It is only with increased awareness and education about the sex industry as a whole – what forces motivate or drive a woman into it, that we will see these women as unique and beautiful individuals with every right for a happy and fulfilling life.

Model Plunges to Her Death After Her Ex Boyfriend Exposes Her Secret Life As a Prostitute


Giving Victims a New Foundation

Safe houses and transitional homes are popping up all over the US, some for minors, others for adults, and even one for men and boys exploited through sex trafficking.  This is one of a wide variety of resources needed for helping victims leave their situation and find the help and support they need to heal and start building their new life.  While many initially wondered if these houses would actually find victims to fill their beds, that has not been an issue in any of the houses across the US.  Unfortunately, in the last six months, two of these houses have shut down due to a lack of funding.  The number of beds available across the US specifically for victims of sex trafficking is depressingly few – less than a couple hundred total (consider 100,000+ children are at risk each year of falling victim, and there are currently 1 million adult female prostitutes in the US that studies suggest up to 90% of them have pimps).

General safe homes, transitional houses, homeless shelters and other such residential facilities have opened their doors to include survivors of sex trafficking, which is better than nothing.  However, women coming out of a sex trafficking situation experience PTSD at the same rates as soldiers coming home from war zones, and it takes the average woman a minimum of two years to completely extricate herself and find enough therapy and resources to permanently escape her situation.  Most residential facilities are not designed to shelter women and children for this length of time, which is why homes specifically for sex trafficking survivors are a crucial part of the resource network for them.  And while the costs involved in long-term housing and care for a survivor can be anywhere from $25,000 and up, that fresh start for that individual is priceless.

Boston Safe House for Sex Traffic Victims to Shut Down


The Secrecy of Sex Trafficking

Many of the sensationalized stories in the media cover horrendous stories of kidnap, abuse, and exploitation.  While these extremes absolutely do occur in the world of human trafficking, many victims go unnoticed, even by their own family, because the deception and secrecy run so deep.  What may appear to be a young girl going through some adolescent rebellion, may actually be a girl on a slippery downhill slope into the destructive world of sex trafficking.  What may seem like tumultuous young love may actually be the signs of a predator in the early manipulation stages.

It is only through community awareness programs that we can fully understand the complexity of the issue of human trafficking, and recognize the warning signs coming from a potential victim.

Mom Hopes Brittany Clardy’s Tragic Story Helps Others


The Internet’s Role in Sex Trafficking

Craigslist was the first major site to come under fire for their postings for adult entertainment and alleged prostitution, and they quickly folded, closing down the section of their site that allowed for escorts and other adult industry workers to advertise for their services.  Since then, Backpage has been the focus in the media as being partially to blame for the sex trafficking of minors here in the US.  In the summer of 2014, Redbook, a west coast advertising site was seized by the Feds and shut down.  However, Backpage has remained firm in their refusal to close its doors – and why wouldn’t they at least go down without a fight? – from 2012 to 2013, Backpage made 80% of the $45 million in revenue of the top 12 websites that carry adult advertising.

While the Internet has certainly made being anonymous much easier in many ways, and given predators access to potential victims on a worldwide scale, it has also made finding these criminals easier in many ways as well.  With the advent of social media, police are not required to obtain search warrants to browse traffickers’ personal pages, which often offer all the evidence of their crimes needed to build a solid case against them.  And sites like Backpage cooperate willingly with law enforcement, respond quickly to subpoenas, and have added additional security measures to their posting process.

When it comes to sex traffickers, this may be one area where Big Brother can provide some sort of justice for those who cannot speak for themselves.

How the Department of Defense is Using Big Data to Combat Sex Trafficking

After-Care, Awareness, Prevention

Transcript: 20th Annual MLK Day Celebration & March Speech at the UCCC 2015

When I was first asked to speak today, I was honored to have the opportunity. But I am also incredibly intimidated to be in a line-up of amazingly talented and accomplished women, including the nationally recognized Dr. Jones-DeWeever. I thought “Who am I to speak on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day? Who am I to speak on issues that affect minority groups? Who am I?” As I sat, overwhelmed by how to best approach the topic, my eyes drifted to a quote above my desk by Marianne Williamson, and I realized “Who am I NOT to be?” It was then that I remembered that my playing small most certainly does not serve the world! After all, how can I help Free Our Girls by remaining silent? My silence, caused by my fear of scrutiny will not bring freedom to those who need it.

So it is with that realization that I stand before you today to speak on an issue that is affecting our community, and that is the issue of human trafficking. Human trafficking is defined as “criminal activity in which human beings are used as possessions to be controlled and exploited.” Domestic human trafficking can, and does sometimes involve the smuggling of victims across international borders, but 72% of our victims are US citizens. Human trafficking includes domestic servitude and forced labor, but up to 80% of human trafficking in the United States falls into the category of sexual exploitation. Oftentimes we think “this doesn’t happen here, this won’t happen to anyone I know,” yet we fail to understand that this exploitation can happen through force, as well as fraud or coercion, and that 70% of victims were initially targeted through social media. The Human Trafficking Reporting System finds that approximately 21% of victims rescued are Hispanic, and that another 35% are African American. And while it is essential to identify at-risk groups within our society so that we can develop effective prevention methods, it is also just as important to understand that ultimately, predators see only one color: GREEN.

Human trafficking affects women of every race, every education level, and every economic status. It is an issue that can be found in large, metropolitan areas, and it can be found here in our rural community. Where ever there is a lack of awareness, there is a risk of exploitation. This exploitation is a violation of civil and human rights. It is an injustice that repeatedly carried out on our women, and at times encouraged and socialized through video games, media, and culture. And as Dr. King himself said, “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

This issue is my heart, because I myself am a survivor. For years, I was terrified to speak on what I had endured at the hands of my captors, but then I started to see the signs in my hometown, and I remembered that there are others out there, still held in slavery. I refuse to remain silent about human trafficking because I have witnessed firsthand the damage it can cause. I refuse to allow this to continue to happen to other women and children. These are our women – our wives, our sisters, our friends. These are our children – our daughters, our students – OUR GIRLS. It is time to Free Our Girls.

In closing, as we reflect on the life of Dr. King, I would like to leave you with the quote for today’s celebration and march:

“Our lives begin to end the day the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Today is the day to start speaking out. Thank you.


When good intentions hurt.

Those aware of the issue of domestic sex trafficking are sympathetic to the cause, and a majority of people want to take action, and usually in a way that utilizes their own unique skill set, resources, and network.  Unfortunately even the best of intentions can often end up being very damaging to the very person they set out to help.  Women under the control of a pimp are often under an incredible amount of stress due to the fear of abuse, and the carrying out of threats to harm their loved ones.  Interfering in a trafficking victim’s work can often mean she is not able to check in with her trafficker, is not able to meet her quota, or otherwise not comply with the expectations demanded by her abuser.  And unfortunately, a pimp is not sympathetic when it comes to reasons, or “excuses” as to why she has not performed as expected.  The consequences then fall back on the victim’s head, often literally.

Pastor Preaches Gospel to Prostitutes in Hotel Rooms