Are you up for a slightly different view on what child sex trafficking victims look like?
Dr. Andrea Nichols, the author of Sex Trafficking in the United States, has been involved with anti-human trafficking since 2006. Currently, she teaches at Washington University in St. Louis. As someone who interviews people involved in sex traffickings, such as social service providers and individual survivors of sex trafficking, she possesses a lot of on-the-ground knowledge.
One of her first concerns is, she wishes the public were more aware of what child trafficking usually looks like. “We’ve all heard of kids locked in basements or abducted from their neighborhoods,” she begins, “but these are a minority of the cases.”
A more typical case is a kid who’s run away from an abusive household. Let’s say we’re talking about Annie.
A Typical Case
“Annie” isn’t a real girl; Nichols protects the privacy of the individuals she interacts with, but Annie’s story, she says, is an accurate composite of what a young person engaging in prostitution might experience.
Our hypothetical Annie has a mother who is abused by her boyfriend. Witnessing the abuse was both stressful and traumatic for Annie.
To escape a nightmare situation at home, Annie decided to run away. She packed some things in her backpack, and as she heard the shouting and abuse in another room, she crawled out her bedroom window and just started walking.
After she had been walking for more than an hour, she found herself up against a seriously unpleasant reality. She had no way to pay for food or shelter.
Now she was alone, hungry, scared, and didn’t know of anyone who could help her. She didn’t want to ask for help, because she didn’t want to return home.
But then it seemed as if a miracle happened. She met this nice guy who offered her a warm place to stay and food to eat.
The nice guy also met some of her deepest psychological needs, such as a need for security, affection, understanding, and kindness. At least he seemed to.
Actually, he was the opposite of how he presented himself. He knew how to manipulate her psychological vulnerabilities.
Nichols has seen this pattern countless times. The young person is lured into prostitution because it seems like the best available option.
Soon enough the trafficker will use his skills at manipulation to make her fall in love with him. The bond between them may be so strong that Annie may not even want to be rescued from prostitution. He gives her love, attention, takes her shopping, and provides food and shelter for her.
The twist is that he talks her into selling sex. He tells her that she’s doing it “for them.”
Even if she’s found and put into foster care or juvenile detention, as Nichols puts it, “She may run away the first chance she gets. She’ll return to her boyfriend/trafficker even though her trafficker has several other girls that he’s ‘turning out.’”
It’s hard for someone who hasn’t seen what Nichols has seen to imagine, but even though Annie’s trafficker may have three or four other girls working for him, he can convince Annie that she’s the one he really loves. He may even have her believing that in the future, they’ll be married and have kids.
What Is the Solution?
In Nichols’ view, “There is no perfect solution.”
That may sound discouraging, but Nichols remains optimistic. “We’re making progress.”
- The research is getting better
- We know more about identifying people who are being trafficked
- .We know more about preventing the situation in the first place.
She concludes by saying, “We’re making strides politically, and more and more people are becoming aware of it. The more people who are aware of the problem, the better chance we have of doing something about it.”
To become more informed about the issues, go to Amazon and order her book: Sex Trafficking and Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Prevention, Advocacy, and Trauma-Informed Practice.
If you’d like to help her, after you buy the book, review it. The more reviews she gets, the more she’ll rise in Amazon’s search engines, and since this is a worthwhile book, let’s help get this book noticed.
You can contact Dr. Nichols at AndreaNichols@outlook.com.