When you think of Human Trafficking in America you might think that it affects only large cities like Miami, New York, Atlanta or Portland, right? Wrong! According to The U.S. Department of Education, “Contrary to a common assumption, human trafficking is not just a problem in other countries. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and some U.S. territories. Victims of human trafficking can be children or adults, U.S. citizens, foreign nations, male or female. According to U.S. government estimates state that thousands of men, women, and children are trafficked to the United States for the purpose of sexual and labor exploitation. An unknown number of U.S. citizens and legal residents are trafficked within the country primarily for sexual servitude and, to a lesser extent, forced labor.” Unfortunately, this industry is a major money maker around the world and will be difficult to stop unless more people become aware of the severity of the issue in America and abroad. The Polaris Project, an organization established to combat human trafficking around the world said, “Trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion industry, affecting 161 countries worldwide.”
Melissa Siren, an advocate against sex trafficking in the Midwest stated, “It was probably four years ago that I became aware that sex trafficking existed. But it was two and a half years ago that my heart broke for it and I knew I had a part to play. I feel like I am called to raise awareness globally, but definitely domestically and in the suburbs. If we can get laws into the books, we can significantly make a difference. So I guess I see myself as an activist.” Siren continued, “I was at a Joyce Meyer Conference in St. Louis when I felt compelled to make a difference.” She mentioned how Tommy Barnett spoke at the conference and he told about the Dream Center and how this Life rescued a young woman caught in human trafficking. The young woman got pregnant and ended up having the baby and realized she did not want this life anymore. Her pimp threatened to kill her baby and insert a hot curling iron into her if she stopped working for him. The woman would not comply with his demands anymore, so he killed her baby and stuck the hot curling iron into her preventing her from ever having kids again. The Dream Center took her in and rescued her from the streets of Los Angeles. Siren was forever changed by this story. She said, “That was here in the states and I realized it was something I could not ignore.”
Today, Siren is actively speaking on college campuses in Fort Wayne, Ind. where she currently lives, telling of the atrocities of human trafficking in the United States. She has helped to organize a Christian conference in her local community, donating fifteen percent of ticket sales to Pearl Alliance, a Life of John and Lisa Bevere. Pearl Alliance was established to rescue and restore victims of trafficking in Cambodia and has made efforts to provide human trafficking curriculum in public schools. Siren recently spoke to an audience at IPFW, a college campus in Fort Wayne and it really ministered to a young woman in the crowd. Little did Siren know that there was a young woman, Brittany, who was a victim of sex trafficking.
Brittany grew up in Huntington, Ind., a small town in the northeast portion of the state. She had a challenging upbringing. Her parents were divorced when she was very young and she found herself bouncing back and forth from each of their homes. Her father remarried and her stepmother verbally and physically abused her and told her that she was going to kill her real mother. Her real father never told her that he loved her, terribly wounding her. Her real mother told her brother that he was “her favorite”. Brittany was starving for love and acceptance and desperate to find it, even if it was in a wrong place. Siren explained that, “The ideal trafficked victim is someone who is vulnerable. It could be anyone – someone who is looking to be loved and willing to look for it anywhere.”
Brittany’s real mother was raped at a young age and never recovered from this traumatic experience and treated her kids in an unhealthy manner. Brittany said, “My mother was unhealthy and was very sexual around us as kids because of her past. She would wear lingerie around the house and teach my brother and I sexual things that parents just should not teach their kids.” On Brittany’s thirteenth birthday her mother took her to a restaurant and told her that she really sees Brittany with someone older. This gentleman was 31 years old and had been talking to Brittany’s mother for sometime. The mother told her daughter that this man could be her boyfriend and because Brittany was starving for love, the thought of this idea was intriguing. For an entire year Brittany’s mother started grooming her daughter to be in relationship with this man who lived in California. She even started giving her advice on sensual moves on how to respond to a man…something a 13 year old girl should never know how to do. It even got worse. Her mother would take her to try on lingerie, preparing her daughter for the “big encounter”. Then the man invited Brittany’s mother, brother and Brittany out to California to meet up with him. Brittany said, “I knew that I was going out to California to become his girlfriend.” Brittany went on to say, “He made sexual advancements toward me when my mother was taking a shower.” The whole thing was set up by this man and her mother. Brittany explained, “My mother told me to tell her everything that took place between us. I felt bad that I did not know how to perform the way the man wanted me to.”
This situation exemplifies sex trafficking, which states: a commercial sex act by coercion especially toward a minor. Brittany’s mother was being paid benefits by this man in return for sexual fulfillment with Brittany. Brittany was being brainwashed by her mother and so-called boyfriend to do things that a minor should never experience. Eventually, this man’s goal was to take Brittany to Japan, his native country, for her high school graduation present. By God’s divine grace, Brittany became a Christian when she was 16 years old and began hanging out with other Christian friends. Brittany explained, “I thought my upbringing was normal until I started hanging out with some Christian friends and saw how their parents interacted with each other. Then I knew something was very wrong with my childhood.” Brittany went on to try and tell her grandmother what happened and her grandmother defended Brittany’s mother. Brittany said, “At this point I knew I needed to get away from this environment.”
According to Polaris Project, “The average age for girls being trafficked is 12-14 years of age and the average age for boys is 11-13.” The U.S. Department of Justice did a report that said, “There are 244,000 children and youth in America that are estimated to be at risk of child sexual exploitation or sex trafficking.” Brittany was one of those statistics and it happened to her in a small town in the Midwest. If she had been taught in school some of the warning signs for sex trafficking, she might have recognized the situation at home and had the courage to tell someone. Siren explained, “My vision is to get into the education systems because there are so many people that are uneducated on the subject in America.” Educating young people can help them understand the dangerous scenarios to avoid and give them the knowledge to make wise choices.
Abuse and human trafficking can have damaging effects that lasts for years. Brittany shared that, “There is still some healing that needs to happen in my life. I tried to bury my past, but it did not go away. My parents were supposed to be examples for me growing up, but were not. This has made it difficult for me to trust God as my Heavenly Father. I have also found it hard to have a healthy dating relationship with a man.” Over time, and with God’s help, through much counseling, prayer and reading the Bible, Brittany has started the healing process. It has not been easy, but one day at a time Brittany is slowly recovering. Brittany went on to explain that she feels “led by God to help others who have been abused and human trafficked”. She wants to be a voice against it and share her story to offer hope and freedom for others.
If you or someone you know has been caught in human trafficking, please call this national 24/7 toll-free Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888. The center can help identify local resources to help victims and coordinate with local social service providers to protect, rehabilitate and restore victims’ lives.