Is there any connection between human trafficking and adolescent mental health? To which, the answer is YES! At the recent PCSAO Public Children Service Association of Ohio conference held last week, Melinda S. Haggerty Director of Children’s Initiatives, Ohio Attorney General’s Office and Elizabeth Ranade Janis, Anti-Trafficking Coordinator of the Ohio Department of Public Safety gave an overview with definitions, types of trafficking, common myths, recruitment methods, vulnerabilities to victimization, missing children and trafficking and snapshot of Federal and State Laws. The speakers introduced the work of the Rescue and Restore Coalitions.
The speakers explained that teens with mental and behavioral health issues, shelter care youth etc. are especially vulnerable to victimization. The documentary Very Young Girls by Rachel Lloyd shows how young girls got sucked into the trade. This is a good resource for teen education.
Trafficking is modern-day slavery where people profit from control and exploitation of others. It’s defined as including elements of force, fraud, coercion or compulsion to bring about exploitation of others. Often the employer (‘pimp’) blackmails the victim by holding or controlling access to driver license, identification and/or other identity documentation. And often, there is physical abuse of the trafficked individual who is paid very little and becomes submissive and fearful under duress. Frequently the individual isn’t allowed to speak to an outsider alone and cannot come and go as he/she pleases, or is threatened if they attempt to leave. But it doesn’t start that way, but with promises, even romance.
Not only foster care kids (30% of victims had been in foster care), but runaways, migrant workers, people with disabilities and those with past sexual abuse or involvement in illegal activities are vulnerable to exploitation. According to the AG’s office, in Ohio, 13 is the most common age of entry into the commercial sex market. In fact children who experience sexual abuse are 28x more likely to be arrested for prostitution per the HHS report Guidance to Sates and Services in Addressing Human Trafficking of Children and Youth in the United States. Some common risk factors include an abuse and neglect history, difficulty in school or dropping out, depression, older boyfriends, or those with a family member involved in trade.
Haggerty and Janis shared the scope of the problem in Ohio. In a recent sting of 151 victims recovered, 45 were minors and 52% were from Toledo; the youngest victim was 12. There is labor trafficking and sex trafficking. Some types of trafficking involve cantina bars, Asian room salons, hostess clubs, karaoke clubs, gentlemen’s clubs, strip clubs, exotic dancing, escort services, private parties, cruises, phone chat, internet, hotel, street based and truck stops where the victim is convinced or coerced into trafficking services for money in exchange for drugs, room and board, glamour or ‘affection’ of a pimp.
Toledo is #4 or 5th in the U.S. for trafficking and Ohio ranks high because of its ‘close proximity to international airports, Canada, the East Coast, and military bases as well as intrastate highways. Most trafficking abroad involves work/labor. It’s estimated that 21-27 million are involved in trafficking worldwide. These children are not prostitutes and criminals, but victims of exploitation.
There aren’t physical chains, but mental chains or trauma bonds– very effective psychological tools like ‘the boyfriend method’ or ‘the pimp game’ which exploits a young girl’s vulnerability by building false trust and selling the victim a dream- via blackmail. Sometimes (and frequently with foreign born trafficking) the individual is sent/sold into bondage by his/her own family- doing hotel cleaning for example. Boys are also trafficked. But there’s a concentrated effort with multiple policy, legal and rescue initiatives. The consensus of those present is that this is a crime (essentially modern day slavery) which must be stopped.
There is a national human trafficking resource center hotline # 888-3737-888. The Polaris Project has online training and webinars. ODJFS has information, Ohio MHAS @ http://mha.ohio.gov/Default.aspx?tabid=143, the Ohio Attorney General, and U.S. HHS. There are education pack downloads for students and parents from the ODE under human trafficking prevention resources and Education Pack Downloads at http://www.freetheslaves.net/Page.aspx?pid=302&scrcid=299
[Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, from the film, Not My Life, Posted 9 April 2012, Licensed under Creative Commons Share Alike 3.0]