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?
The current discussion about prostitution in the Dominican Republic and a U.S. Elected official brings into light the focus of legal prostitution, child prostitutes, and a convergence of power and money with extreme poverty and marginalization on a global scale.
If prostitution is legal in the DR, should elected officials and their donors benefit? Is there ever an equitable way that a business transaction for sex can be executed? A young girl (by reports 16-18 years old) transacting for sex with in an impoverished country by negotiating a business transaction with an American whose power exceeds hers just by status and social position? It is a fairy tale to entertain such a social myth. If reports are true she did not even get the amount negotiated for and will most likely be punished for returning without the money promised.
Examples of Child Prostitution
A similar example is with the Eliot Spitzer case- a governor of New York and a young woman who had been a runaway, even though she was an adult at the time, it is reported that she was a runaway just a few years before at age 17. Then, there is the more recent case of former NFL player Lawrence Taylor who admitted to procuring a 16-year-old for sex. He was given the extremely generous opportunity to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and even prevailed when the victim filed a civil suit against him. Exactly in what area of law is “I thought she was an adult” a defense? A 40 something year old man should not fail that test.
What is wrong with us? Does capitalism mean that anything is for sale and that we pray to the money god? Perhaps so in Houston- A 13-year-old was arrested for prostitution and prosecuted all the way to the Texas Supreme Court. Also, the Houston Mayor responded to a request from a non-profit asking her to focus on arresting buyers of child sex trafficked victims. The mayor’s response was that instead of arresting buyers, we should focus on the landlords who are renting to the traffickers. Yet, since this letter written on Dec 11, 2011 there has been a settlement with a strip club, their attorneys are pleased with the settlement. Certainly not much protection for sex trafficked children in Houston.
If someone pays for sex with a child or enslaved person, is it then not rape? Is prostitution not illegal in almost every county in the US? I read the laws and they are very clear, however, when reviewing legal outcomes and national discourse I do not see the culture matching the law, I most often see the victims arrested, blamed, punished and prosecuted; and the traffickers, buyers, and financial beneficiaries protected, settled with, not investigated and even supported by local government officials. Should we not react with the same zeal we did to the Sandy Hook incident? Should we not run to aid, protect, and prevent more harm to the victims/children and their families?
Growth of Human Trafficking
This crime is growing so fast that the traffickers are now targeting non marginalised victims – U.S. citizens aged 13-26 seem to be increasing. These kids are straight A students, achievers, surrounded by good social ties. WAKE UP! These are not just titillating cases of indiscretion, this is a war on children, on families, and on society, locally and globally.We need to treat each of these cases as the most serious and not find ways to blame the victim or excuse the purchaser. I was recently in a meeting with a U.S. county attorney – when we discussed prosecuting the buyers he actually said “ that would ruin their lives and they most likely do not have a criminal record.” I was shocked— YES when you buy sex it is a criminal act in all but 11 counties in the U.S. – when you buy sex from children it is always criminal. In Texas, sexual assault of a child can get you 99 years. (unless you pay for it- then the law is ignored and you get to go home to your wife and kids.)PLEASE let’s put away the fairy tale myths and address this as adults- who are protecting children- all the children, no matter whose they are. Without buyers, the traffickers will move on to other crimes. The buyers are the problem, they are criminal actors and they are hurting many.