I have always been proud to be an Oklahoman. There is so much about this state that I love. I love how our food is influenced from so many different places. I love that there are communities where everyone knows each other while at the same time there are cities of over 500,000. I love that football rules the fall. Like I said, there is a lot about this state that I love.
Unfortunately I recently discovered something about my state that made me sick. Oklahoma is one of the highest “trade routes” for human trafficking. Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. It is forcing someone to work for you against their will, including jobs such as prostitution.
Human trafficking isn’t a completely new concept to me. I had seen specials on TV about the issue, but they always focused on less developed countries. My heart broke when I first learned that in some countries most orphans would be forced into prostitution. It broke more to see five-year-olds offering to perform sex acts for the undercover reporters.
Unfortunately the broken pieces of my heart were shattered even more when I found out human trafficking was so prevalent in the U.S. I kept asking myself how a civilized country could allow this to happen. We fought a war to end slavery, yet it is very much alive inside our borders.
Because this problem has only recently begun being investigated, it is impossible to say exactly how much human trafficking takes place in Oklahoma, but we do know that nearly every county has at least one human trafficking case being investigated. We also know five of the top 10 cities for child sex trafficking are easily accessible through the major interstates going through Oklahoma.
There are several truck stops and cheap motels at the I-35/I-44 junction in Oklahoma City, where human trafficking can be seen much of the day. The first time I saw it I assumed it was just prostitution…just prostitution…okay, I guess that shouldn’t be a “just,” but forced prostitution seems so much worse than voluntarily selling your body.
I often stop in this area when I travel to see my family, but this was the first time I saw a prostitute walking through a parking lot. She was not trying to hide her intentions, but no one would give her any attention; of course the middle of the day doesn’t seem like the smartest time to solicit illegal services. After a few minutes of walking through the parking lots nearby she walked up to a semi driver she seemed to know, got in the cab of the truck looking quite disappointed, and they drove off.
I asked my husband if he assumed the truck driver was her pimp, thinking it odd that he would be in a semi, and he agreed. Later that night I couldn’t get it off of my mind, so I googled prostitution in Oklahoma City to see what I could find out. After sifting through many sites directing me where I didn’t want to go, I came across an article in a local newspaper talking about the new epidemic of our state, human trafficking.
I remembered human trafficking as the horrible crime that happened in third-world countries, but this article said it was happening here, in the middle of the Bible belt. I changed my search to human trafficking in Oklahoma and pulled up more information than I wanted to know. I learned that most of the human trafficking victims in the U.S. are actually U.S. citizens. I learned that human trafficking cases have been prosecuted in every state, and that most convicted traffickers receive less than 20 years in prison!
There isn’t much I can personally do to stop human trafficking. I can raise awareness about it, and I can join abolitionist groups such as Oklahomans Against the Trafficking of Humans (OATH) or the Home Foundation, but it just doesn’t seem like enough. About 1/3 of the human trafficking instances involve child sex trafficking. This includes the child pornography industry. I am sick of it. I want to protect our children. I want to protect our adults.
Child molestation has been high-profile lately as an assistant coach of a large university’s historic football team has been accused of molesting and raping young boys. This is sick. I am glad the media jumped on this case, but why don’t they cover cases involving human trafficking? Why does it have to be a high-profile perpetrator to be considered newsworthy? Maybe if the news would gave these children and adults in bondage faces, it would stop. At least Americans could know there is an evil to be fought!
Maybe it’s time a politician issues another emancipation proclamation, and not just to win votes. It’s time for someone to stand up and say we will not tolerate slavery within our borders. It’s time we spend as much energy fighting human traffickers, these modern slave traders, as we spend fighting foreign dictators.
Slavery has always existed, but I’m not willing to believe that it always has to exist. It will take something large to stop it. The media has to be involved, but maybe it doesn’t have to start with television. Maybe this could be a battle of the writers. Maybe if enough of us will write about it and get it out there, other forms of media will pick it up. Wouldn’t it be nice to know the writers began the war on human trafficking?
When I first learned about human trafficking I made a vow to adopt children from one of the leading countries for child sex trafficking. Somehow that vow made me feel like I was taking a stand, like I was helping. Now, with everything I’ve learned, I understand this is not enough. Sure, I may save a child or two from the horrors of being trafficked, but sparing two children is not enough. What about the children who live in that nightmare now? What about the children in the US who will be pushed into that nightmare? I hope this article is a start. I hope that if one person learns about human trafficking for the first time, and vows to help in some small way, we could have a domino effect.