By Rachel Timothy
There is a metaphor that describes how if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water the frog will immediately jump out, but if you put a frog in tepid water and slowly bring it to a boil, the frog won’t sense the danger until it is too late. This analogy often accurately describes our human nature. We often hide our head in the sand, hoping a problem will go away on its own.
This has been the case when it comes to human trafficking in America. Human trafficking is defined by antislavery.org as the process of trapping people through the use of violence, deception, or coercion and exploiting them for financial or personal gain. This could be done through labor trafficking and/or sex trafficking.
For years, people didn’t know it existed, and if they knew, they believed it was an overseas problem—something that only took place in third world countries. However, America is very much consumed with trafficking and exploitation. In fact, according to Thorn.org with data from Operation Roundup and the US Department of Justice, more than half of the child pornography images and videos found on the internet are made and distributed right here in the United States.
As people begin to realize that trafficking is truly a problem in our country, we also must understand that it is a problem that impacts everyone—not just the victim. Trafficking is far more than just “stranger danger.” The majority of the time, the abuse starts with people the victim knows closely. It doesn’t only happen to runaways, or gang members, or on inner city streets. Trafficking is happening in every zip code in America and is hidden in plain sight.
My name is Rachel, and I am married and have four beautiful children. You could walk by me at the grocery store or sit with me in Bible study and have absolutely no idea that I’m still dealing with my trafficking experience. For me, it started when I was nine years old and it began in my school. The girls basketball coach of our grade school took an interest in me. He was a mastermind at grooming and manipulation and for a nine-year-old little girl, I didn’t stand a chance. He knew exactly what mind games to play to get me to trust him and not share our secret. He became my first owner and nobody around me had any idea. He was an upstanding man of the community who had gained the trust of everyone, so when people would see us alone and him showing affection to me, they assumed it was all safe. They were groomed as much as I was.
My trafficking experience is nothing like what you might see in the movies. I was never kidnapped or held captive. I was free to go home after each time I was sold to a buyer for sex by my coach. I hid my pain and my confusion from everybody. I was even able to hide the darkest details of my abuse from myself for many years. I learned the art of dis-associating where I could separate the terrible abuse from my everyday life.
Trafficking continues to follow me every day. I still receive threats, videos, and pictures of me that were forcefully taken by men and are still for sale on the dark web. I never know when someone from that life is going to show up. It is a constant battle for safety and freedom. For many years, I fought that battle alone. It wasn’t until someone recognized I was being hurt, listened to what happened, believed me, and decided to do something that I began taking steps toward freedom. When someone finally noticed what was going on and saw enough worth in me to fight for me, then I was able to start fighting for myself.
Each and every day more children and adults fall victim to this horrendous crime. Educate yourself and your children. It’s important to talk to your children about “good touch/bad touch” but don’t stop there. Sometimes the most dangerous people to your children are the ones who make them feel the most special. Be mindful of who your children are spending the most time with. Don’t trust someone only because of their title. Often times, perpetrators will purposefully position themselves in a line of work that makes them appear safe and trusting. Guard your children’s minds and hearts in electronics. Traffickers deceive children so often through social media.
And lastly, open your eyes to those enslaved. I was virtually a shell of a person when someone came along and noticed how badly I was hurting. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and show that you care. We need more angels willing to ask the hard questions and believe the hard answers. In most trafficking cases, the victim has trouble answering questions on their own. They will appear controlled by someone else, because in reality, they are. Remain a safe person to them, even if they are unwilling to open up at first. Trafficking is a massive industry that is run very well and profits from people who are weakened, typically from other areas in their life. Statistically, only one-to-two percent of sex trafficked victims find freedom. (erasechildtrafficking.org) The more we become aware the more we can combat the problem.
My story is not uncommon. Don’t think that it’s not happening here. The victims now and victims to come need people like you to notice them, believe them, and fight for them. As I have continued in my journey to freedom and finding purpose I have joined arms with an organization called The Guardians Rising. We are fighting to protect the vulnerable, rescue the enslaved, and seek justice and healing for survivors of sex trafficking.
As William Wilberforce said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Visit the website www.theguardiansrising.org for more resources, tips on recognizing the signs, ways that you can help in this fight or to donate. Rachel Timothy is the author of “Open Blind Eyes”, and executive assistant/survivor advocate for The Guardians Rising. Serenity MedSpa donates 10% of all income to Guardians Rising.