Pamela is on twitter as @ABC7pamela.
What made you take to handling Human Sex Trafficking?
It was something that happened a couple of years ago. I went to watch a movie, called Taken, which traces the story of a father who sets about tracking down his daughter after she is kidnapped by human traffickers while travelling in France. It was an eye-opener, watching that film. When I came out of the theatre, I wanted to know if it was real, or if they were just trying to sell a movie. So I began digging and reading, and that was when I found that this isn’t something that happens abroad, alone, but right in our own backyard. I found that all kinds of girls were victims, hailing from all kinds of socio-economic backgrounds. It was simply frightening, and I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing about it.
Take us through some of your experiences while working on this issue.
In the most recent case I studied, which involves North Virginia, I came to understand that gangs have turned to sex trade. It has become something of a new line of business for these gangs, to traffic girls as young as 12! I spoke to a girl who was 16. She told me her story – telling me how she was lured into it all. She met a member of the gang at the Springfield Metro Station, and said that he acted charming and used a lot of flattery to lure her in. This young girl wound up servicing countless men, tolling nearly 40 men a day, earning as much as $2,000 a day! It was unbelievable – how can this happen, right? It is a terrible thing, the power of control that these gangs have even over girls from the upper middle class!
Do you face any challenges or threats, while working on this issue, being a woman?
I don’t think it has anything to do with being a woman. In essence, it is a very, very difficult topic. It took me 10 months to get all my information – victims obviously don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to relive their experiences. It needs a lot of persistence and digging to get information. I have spoken to people on the streets, I even spoke to the manager of a motel where girls were often sold. I’ve spoken to people in Law Enforcement to study the issue from their perspective. In my most recent story, I spoke to a convicted member of the gang, himself. He gave me his side of the story, explaining the way would lure girls. He said that they would force girls to lure other girls into prostitution. To me, the way I see it, it is incredibly difficult to work on something like this issue. But, it is ultimately rewarding when you inform and educate people about the issue, and you can actually bring about change through awareness.
Having studied the field, what do you believe, are the most common ‘tricks’ or ‘ways’ traffickers use, to lure girls?
They do not walk right up to a girl and ask her directly. They lure the girls by making themselves charming, special, and flattering the girls entirely. They are pretty clever in targeting girls with a low self-esteem, and those that don’t have shelter. They build relationships with these girls who are otherwise ostracised or not accepted, or have a difficult life, and then make them feel cared. After a point, they begin to take advantage of the girls, sometimes putting them on drugs. It isn’t easy at this point for the girl to run away to get help – it is a trap through and through.
Where in the USA does this happen more frequently?
Everywhere, literally! I did my last story on North Virginia – where it is pretty much rampant. The thing is, it can happen in the most unsuspecting areas. In a nice neighbourhood, there was no reason to believe that trafficking thrived. But one of the folks on that street were running a trafficking circle right out of his basement. It isn’t only girls within the USA that are vulnerable, there are also a couple of girls who are brought in. For instance, there was a girl from Ukraine who came to the USA with hopes of working and sending her family money, and then perhaps get a student visa and go to school. But before she knew it, she was taken by the touts into a circle of prostitution.
Delta Women has done some research on the issue and has found Houston, Texas, to be a hub of much activity of this sort. Have you perhaps had the chance to study this region, too?
While I haven’t worked in depth on Texas, I do know that the phenomenon is rampant all across the United States.
What would your advice be, to parents and girls alike, and perhaps even to victims?
To a parent, my advice is to be communicative and talk to their children about the issue. It is important to be involved all the time. Get on social media, and monitor your child. Invade your child’s life, literally, so you can be absolutely sure of everything that is happening in their lives. As for the girls, I’d say that they have to be aware of the issue, in turn. It is absolutely important that they be aware and be strong enough to say no, and to nip such tendencies in the bud. It is also important for girls to build their self-esteem. Girls bullied at school have low self-esteem, and are often vulnerable to the showering of attention and flattery by the trafficker. That needs to change. As for the victims themselves, I think they need to take law enforcement into confidence. Law enforcement actually wants victims to come out with their story and to speak out. Victims are very afraid of law enforcement, and tend to believe that they might face harder issues when they come out with it. But that’s not true – it is crucial that victims reach out. There are so many services to help victims.
As told to Kirthi Jayakumar