When I was a young adult and became pregnant with our first child our family’s world view changed. Suddenly, my husband and I became concerned about politics, education, crime, discussions on abortion, health care, our future, finances, and values. We wanted to make sure the world we brought our child into was the best possible for her success so she would thrive and live as a happy child and then a happy adult.
If anyone in my vicinity would light a cigarette I left the room immediately. I ate carefully, walked as much as possible and dreamed about the beautiful life I hoped for our child. The same was true when I carried our second child. They were both born healthy, and in what seemed like 5 minutes, they became school aged. I became involved in their education, knew their friends, made their school lunches, and spent much time with all their teachers. I went to every after school event and athletic practice, our daughter showed in FFA and our son excelled in football and drama.
As parents, we made ourselves available no matter how busy or tired or overwhelmed we were because our children were the center of all that was important. Every night I hoped and prayed to please keep them safe from predators, disease, accidents, and themselves as they grew up. For the better part of 2 decades we were the best parents we knew how to be, not perfect, not always sure, but always with love, we gave our all.
I used to say they were my “Kryptonite.” I would melt into mush if they were hurt and become a dangerous mother bear if I sensed any danger near them. We were the stewards of their lives, the guides to their future, and all of our selfish needs were put on hold.
We are very fortunate, our children are now adults, they had very happy childhoods, and now even better adult lives.
It was time for me to return to my own hopes and dreams and I began my work on human trafficking.
Over the past 12 years, I’ve met many parents whose dreams and efforts were similar to mine, however, evil swept in and destroyed all the dreams turning them into a parent’s worst nightmare. Much like having their lives destroyed by a wreck due to a drunk driver, the families were blind sided by the worst possible circumstances for themselves and their children.
I’ve seen fathers and grandfathers weep as they are describing their ‘little girls’ and the acts of prostitution committed upon them. The absolute helplessness they feel and the heart ache they are enduring have no adequate words to describe it.
Well meaning people often comment, “if it were my daughter I would…….”
I’ve met parents who “rescued” their adult children by force and were prosecuted. In the end, the bad guys kept the victim and the family was further destroyed by time spent in jail. This advise is distressing to the families as they feel pressure to take action. The constraints of the law which often does not provide justice to the traffickers, but, in contrast, will certainly take down a law-abiding citizen who breaks it.
Mothers don’t sleep.
Someone commented, “I didn’t call her because it was late” to which I said, “There is no late hour for the mother of a trafficking victim.” For a caring mother trying to find her child and knows that she is being raped and beaten, there is no sleep.
The day I will never forget:
My team was helping to locate a victim of trafficking that had gone missing on Long Island where a serial killer had been active. We discovered her at the very same time as the police did, dead and cut up on a beach. I called her aunt, as I had done many times in the past week, only this time to report the murder of her niece whom she had helped to raise.
I knew as soon as she said hello that she knew. I heard the hope gone. I heard all her worst fears came true, her dreams had died. Her voice was changed forever with the horrible murder of her niece.
Often families become divided due to the horrible experiences of trafficking.
In one case, a mother was actually slapped in the face by her sister because the family believed it was the mother’s fault the victim was being prostituted. Of course, that was not the case. In truth, the victim had been targeted, groomed and controlled by an organized effort, the parents didn’t know until it was too late. Their daughter was targeted at college. When the parents found out they did everything a parent could do. But the shame, guilt, and brainwashing kept the victim involved with the ones who were trafficking her. Her extended family made it worse by believing the facade of the scheme and not trusting their own family member. At one point, aunts exposed the victim’s younger sister who was also being targeted by the bad guys (this often happens).
I warn families immediately that any younger siblings should not be in contact with the victims while they are being trafficked, it’s very dangerous. In this case, the aunt lied to the mother and took the younger sibling to see her victim sister with the traffickers present.
The fear and the pain of the treasonous aunt was devastating to an already devastated family. Mistakes like this can not be made, a point that I and my team emphasize to families, that trafficking is truly a life and death situation with dire consequences.
The predominant tactic of traffickers is to isolate the victim by allowing her circle of family and friends to think that suddenly they became estranged to her/his whole life, family, friends,work, school, etc.
In a Psychology Today article it states the most hurtful pain, more than death, is being cut off from a child or loved one with no explanation. I agree, there is no “moving on” or acceptance when your child is being trafficked or otherwise missing from your family.
I’ve seen best friends and roommates change schools, or quit school altogether due to the trauma of seeing their friend groomed and trafficked. Siblings often report not only being hurt by the absence of their sibling, but witnessing the devastation of their parents, and, of course, the caring parents are in a state of Hell on Earth.
The “ripple effect” of trafficking
The consequences of human trafficking are exponential, not just for the victim but their parents, grandparents, children, siblings, teachers, friends. Whole communities are affected yet, in the 15th year since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), parents are told by law enforcement and others:
- “just move on”
- he/she is an adult and wants to be there
- stop trying to contact your child or you will be arrested
- your child is a prostitute and should be prosecuted
- why don’t you just kidnap them?
- the purchase of illegal sex is between consenting parties
It takes the community to demand that their law enforcement, media and elected officials treat human trafficking as a high priority with educated and skilled people working as a team to help the victims and their families. It’s when these needs are not met that parents call in my team, often as a last resort to save their child. We don’t wish to be the last resort, but to work side by side with the team and restore trafficked children to their families. My heart breaks when opportunities to free the victim are missed due to lack of training, experience, team work or other reasons.
I hope for a day when our team is no longer needed, a time when advocates and organizations are so well-trained about trafficking and its victims that traffickers become rare because it is too risky a crime.
However, we are not there yet.
Dottie Laster is affiliated with the non-profit Bernardo Kohler Center where she is accredited to practice immigration law. She created their Casita program and Save One Soul outreach.
As a weekly Co-Host on the nationally syndicated radio show, The Roth Show, Laster presents discussion and guests who speak out about a variety of controversial subjects surrounding the abolishment of human trafficking and corresponding crimes.
Dottie Laster is featured in the documentary on sex trafficking in Latin bars and cantinas, The Cantinera, and her direct rescue work is the subject of the MSNBC Documentary, Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue. She is the recipient of several human rights awards and has been featured in numerous publications including recent issues of Texas Monthly, Town Hall, and MORE Magazine.
Dottie Laster is the CEO of Laster Global Consulting which has consulted in several high-profile trafficking cases, and has been directly and indirectly responsible for the rescue and restoration of hundreds of trafficking victims. Her strong multi-disciplinary team has an established track record and provide project development, consultancy, and training resources in domestic and international trafficking.
To book trainings in your community and become involved in making your area safe for victims and their families, and hostile to traffickers, contact ImaginePublicity at 843-808-0859 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What are the Parents of Trafficking Victims Experiencing?
Counselors, advocates, law enforcement, and other helpers connected with victims of sex crimes such as trafficking are working with a delicate population, one that requires swift yet careful attention. While we work to positively influence many, many sectors which impact the problem of sex trafficking such as public policy and law, for example, we need to be ever-mindful of the victims to whom we are committed. Most victims are truly lost in every sense of that word and are in desperate need of loving, trustworthy help for their mere survival as well as for their mental and emotional recovery and health. Not only do we need to be mindful of the victims of these unspeakable crimes, but we also must be mindful of the criminals as they seek to maintain control and secrecy within their inner circles.
In consideration of the extent of delicacy to which we must tread, take a look at what the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says about the nature of the impact of abuse in children:
The brain’s development can literally be altered by this type of toxic stress, resulting in negative impacts on the child’s physical, cognitive, emotional, and social growth. The specific effects of maltreatment may depend on such factors as the age of the baby or child at the time of the abuse or neglect, whether the maltreatment was a one-time incident or chronic, the identity of the abuser (e.g., parent or other adult), whether the child had a dependable nurturing individual in his or her life, the type and severity of the abuse, the intervention, and how long the maltreatment lasted.*
Are not many adult victims of sex trafficking first victims of abuse and neglect during early childhood? Commonly, victims of this type of crime have previously been subjected to abuse and neglect during childhood, therefore becoming mentally and emotionally unhealthy adults, and thus highly susceptible to further abuse during adulthood.
Children who have been abused or neglected may not be functioning at their chronological age in terms of their physical, social, emotional, and cognitive skills. They may also be displaying unusual and/or difficult coping behaviors. For example, abused or neglected children may: Be unable to control their emotions and have frequent outbursts; be quiet and submissive; have unusual eating or sleeping behaviors; attempt to provoke fights or solicit sexual experiences; be socially or emotionally inappropriate for their age; be unresponsive to affection.*
Since adult victims of sex trafficking commonly suffer first as children, we can expect similar, only louder, impairment. For example, just as a child of abuse and neglect might be quiet and submissive, an adult victim of sex trafficking might be abnormally introverted and overly submissive to her (or his) perpetrator. Such symptoms are widely understood as “codependent” (read more at http://lifespanintervention.com/codependency-defined/) and are commonly associated with, first, poor childhood upbringing including abuse and neglect, and then unsupportive and abusive relationships during adulthood. An additional common concern associated with mental, emotional, and sexual abuse is certainly anxiety (read more at http://lifespanintervention.com/phobias-and-social-anxieties/), and such mental health concerns can be safely addressed in psychotherapy and with short term medication therapy, if deemed necessary.
In general, children who have been abused or neglected need nurturance, stability, predictability, understanding, and support (Committee on Early Childhood, Adoption and Dependent Care, 2000). They may need frequent, repeated experiences of these kinds to begin altering their view of the world from one that is uncaring or hostile to one that is caring and supportive. Until that view begins to take hold in a child’s mind, the child may not be able to truly engage in a positive relationship. And the longer a child lived in an abusive or neglectful environment, the harder it will be to convince the child’s brain that the world can change. Consistent nurturing from caregivers who receive training and support may offer the best hope for the children who need it most.*
Likewise, adults who have suffered from long-term abuse require similar care. So whatever sort of helper you are, whether a counselor, an advocate, law enforcement or other, be mindful of the delicacy of our work as these individuals truly need careful, trustworthy attention.
By Ashley R. Donaldson, MA, LPC-CR, a licensed therapist in the state of Ohio who works with children, adolescents, and adults to overcome varying mental health concerns. Ashley R. Donaldson, MA, LPC-CR is available for life coaching, too, via telephone and Skype. Visit Ashley R. Donaldson’s, MA, LPC-CR blog at http://lifespanintervention.com/
Part I of the series: Understanding the Grooming Process: What do bright college students have to worry about?
Traffickers use many tactics to keep the victim under control. They use a spectrum of crimes to surround the victim in a climate of fear and distortion. The traffickers also use the judicial system to groom the environment to protect themselves. Many traffickers purposely get the victims arrested so as to empower themselves and further cause the victim to be isolated and dependent. All too often the judicial system is a willing participant.A common example is the labor contractor or pimp who uses the threat of law enforcement when their victims start complaining. The trafficker will call Immigration and Customs Enforcement and report the illegal immigrant who is then arrested and deported. Problem solved for the trafficker and money in the bank for the employer who does not want to be bothered by paying for labor. The pimp may actually want the victim to get arrested as then he will be her ‘savior’ as he bails her out of jail (with the money she earned). He will then use this to further make her feel responsible for “costing him money” both for the bail and for the time she was not producing. This also prepares her for later when they all get caught she will do the time for him and protect him as all costs. He has then groomed her and the environment around her to make sure he walks and she takes the full punishment.
In the book The Art of Seduction, author Robert Greene has analyzed seducers over the centuries. In his list of tactics of the seduction process he outlines many of the tactics used by traffickers on the victims.
A few examples are:
- Choose the right victims– the right victims are the ones you can fill a void- a completely contented person is almost impossible to seduce.
- Create a false sense of security– begin at an indirect approach, an angle. The victims may be introduced to the trafficker by a friend or trusted family member.
- Send Mixed Signals this will both fascinate and confuse. For traffickers this is a combination of being nice with abuse- of being attentive and tender with being aloof and cruel. This is the most powerful part of the coercion used on the victims.
- Isolate the victim– Isolating them makes them weak and vulnerable to the trafficker’s influence. For the trafficked victims the isolation of a foreign country, language, culture even food is one of the traffickers best tools. For US citizen victims the traffickers will drive a wedge between family and friends of the victim. They will create discord that was not really there. This will have the victim off-center and distrustful of the only people who could help her. Confused with no outside support they are easily led astray and controlled.
- Mix pleasure with pain. According to Greene, the greatest mistake in seduction is to be too nice. Inflicting some pain to make the victim feel guilty and insecure. Then a return to kindness will bring them to their knees. With victims of trafficking this cycle repeats over and over. In one interview a victim said he beat me with a wire stick (a pimp stick) “I was bruised and bleeding and I did deserve it because I had not made enough money for him. Then he gently brushed my hair from my face and wiped my tears. He really cared for me.”
Continued in part 3- What will happen to the target once “The Game” begins–