There are an estimated 403,000 people living in modern slavery in the United States (GSI 2018). Sex trafficking exists throughout the country. Traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion to compel adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. The situations that sex trafficking victims face vary, many victims become romantically involved with someone who then forces them into prostitution. Others are lured with false promises of a job, and some are forced to sell sex by members of their own families. Victims of sex trafficking include both foreign nationals and US citizens, with women making up the majority of those trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. In 2015, the most reported venues/industries for sex trafficking included commercial-front brothels, hotel/motel-based trafficking, online advertisements with unknown locations, residential brothels, and street-based sex trafficking.
Katrina Owens, sex trafficking survivor and peer advocate for sexually exploited children, gives her perspective on the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), how she got out, and what the public should know about the young victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
The environmental recipe that sets victims up to be vulnerable to predators are poverty, erm sexual abuse and physical abuse, erm dysfunctional families although I believe all families are dysfunctional, some more so than others. Which creates those voids that are within, opens the door, those are the vulnerabilities. Whether your father’s not home or he’s never told you he loves you or he never gives you that hug. That creates that void where you seek out attention outside of home. You know there’s even sexual abuse increases those vulnerabilities in a sense where being with this trafficker, being with this pimp, who protects me who says he loves me. And yes, I’m physically abused, and yes, I’m sexually exploited but it’s a lot better than my stepfather coming in to my bed every night. Those vulnerabilities are some of the greatest, when a lifestyle of sexual exploitation is better than what you have at home.
From my experience, the critical point for a victim to leave the predator, to leave the trafficker is when your will and desire to leave that lifestyle, is greater than the risk you have to take to walk away. Whether it means physical abuse, whether your family is threatened, that will and that desire to be beyond that point in your life is greater than the risks that you have to take. And even when leaving the lifestyle, just as with drug abusers, it takes practice. You know, it takes practice, it’s not often that you just wake up one day and you’re done with it. It takes time and time again of going back into those relationships. Even more than one time. And it’s very similar to domestic violence relationships where it’s hard to understand why that wife won’t leave her husband beating after beating after beating. And there’s a trauma bond and there’s an emotional bond and the psychological bond is so strong that it effects the decision making of whether to leave or whether to stay.
The pivotal moment for me happened several times because it takes practice. I left on numerous occasions and he followed. I went back and my son, he was the deciding factor for me when I had to make a decision for him. And it took something outside of me to give me the courage to walk away. And at that point, you know, it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter how it happened. And I literally had to fight my way out of that.
The most important thing I would want the general public to understand is that they’re victims. They’re victims. You know quite often you’ll hear, well she’s fast and she’s promiscuous and she’s this and she’s that and she’s up to no good and she’ll never be anything. The general public fails to realise that it started somewhere. She wasn’t born that way. And somewhere within that time before this point, she was a victim. She was a survivor before she was even sexually exploited. And to not turn away. A simple are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help you? As well as…that’s all I got right now.
Narrative provided by Public Broadcasting Atlanta, This video was produced by Kimberly Johnson and Kason Parker for Public Square Atlanta