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?
In the past 2 years, I have seen a sharp increase in the number of U.S. Citizen college students targeted
by human trafficking. I also hear from victims that sex traffickers are lurking around high school and
middle school campuses. After the many campus shootings and the other dangers parents warn their
children about before sending them away from home for the first time it is unlikely that most parents
are discussing the tactics of “romeo pimps” with the daughters who have achieved academic success.
I have worked with more and more families as the hopes and dreams for their daughters are crushed –
the parents have been blindsided by an evil they may never have known existed.
The tactics used are that the recruiter will find a target, he will then create some sort of friendship or
During this early grooming period he will learn all he can about the victim and she will tell him EVERYTHING. Her hopes, dreams, fears disappointments, every disagreement with her friends, parents teachers, etc.
While she believes he is listening to her out of affection, he is listening for ammunition to carry out his plan.
He will begin to introduce her to his shadowy life and it will appear alluring and a bit mystical- especially to a naïve academic who has spent most of her time preparing for college.
He will learn what she thinks about sex, religion, her parents, grandparents, her embarrassing moments and her highest achievements.
This he will then use to distance and isolate her from her life and into his.
To be continued-