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Human Trafficking: Slavery is Alive in the South

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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!

About Diana Goodwin

  • http://www.policeprostitutionandpolitics.com Norma Jean Almodovar

    If you would do a little more research, you would find that the number of rape victims in Oklahoma in 2010 (where a report was filed by a victim seeking justice) was, according to the US Government statistics,1,450. Of these, the police made 243 arrests- or 17% of the rapists, while they made 247 arrests for prostitution offenses. None of these arrests were for hiring children or underage persons.

    If you further investigate, you will find that the US Government report from April 2011, stated that between January 2008 to June 2010, there were 2,515 reported human trafficking cases (nationwide) of which 38% were found NOT to be human trafficking, 30% were confirmed human trafficking and the rest were undetermined at the end of the study period. This averages to about 754 over the 2 and a half year period or 301 per year. That’s nationwide, and includes other labor trafficking such as domestic servitude and garment manufacturing- people who are invisible to individuals like you who only see the victims they want to see- that is, prostitutes.

    So, given that your state had 1,450 reported rapes all by itself, it would appear that human trafficking is not nearly the enormous problem that you seem to believe it is. While it ought to concern us that people are being trafficked into all sorts of labor, where is the concern for the victims of rape? Did you know that there are between 400,000 to 500,000 untested rape kits languishing in police evidence lockers because there are no resources to test them? And if they were tested, there are no resources to pursue the alleged rapists? And if they were caught, there are no resources to prosecute and incarcerate these alleged rapists?

    And further, the US Government’s studies on the characteristics of child sexual exploitation predators show that 90% of those predators are someone whom the child knows and trusts, like coaches and teachers and preachers and priests and even cops… and that 68% are family members… parents, step parents, siblings, uncles etc. Shouldn’t these be the people getting 20 year sentences? Unfortunately the average prison sentence for sex with minors is about 24 months, sometimes even less.

    The majority of us prostitutes (I am retired now- at age 60 but am a sex worker rights activist and have been for 29 years), are adults and do not have pimps, drug habits and are not victims of sex trafficking. If you really care about victims, decriminalize consenting adult commercial sex, and allow sex workers to turn in those who abuse or traffick anyone into ANY area of labor.

    Oh yes, the US Government also reports that there are approx. 4.8 MILLION incidents of intimate partner violence (domestic violence and spousal abuse) per year. Somehow, it seems to me that your concern is quite misguided. A little more research might make you well informed!

  • http://storiesforimpact.wordpress.com/ Josh Richards

    I disagree. I don’t think your concern is misguided at all. Regardless of how many U.S. cases are determined not to be trafficking, there are still a large number that are. Any is too many.

    Stories for Impact is all about writing to make change in the world. If you follow my link and comment a story about this to the story contest page I would be glad to post it and let all our twitter followers know about this. There’s also a chance that it will be our story of the month and get posted in our featured story for December.

    Thanks for speaking up and making a difference.

  • Lauren

    If you would do a little more research, you would see that similar legal programs to what you suggest would be effective in combating trafficking have been implemented in other countries (Sweden, and the Netherlands to name two) and would see that rates of human trafficking, namely sex trafficking actually increased. However, if you look at Sweden’s current laws prohibiting all forms of commercial sex and deeming them a crime against women you would see that their rates of sex trafficking dropped 90% in less than 10 years.

    I am not an advocate of diminishing aid to rape victims, but I don’t think removing focus from a specific type of rape (which is what sex trafficking is, rape for profit) is the solution.

    Regarding your statistics citing the prevalence of sex trafficking, absence of evidence of convictions is in no way evidence of absence of criminal activity. The lack of arrests and convictions for trafficking if anything points to poor resources and training available to law enforcement and social agency workers. It’s widely accepted among credited researchers that trafficking is the second most profitable crime in the world, passing the arms trade last June and expected to generate more revenue than drugs by 2015. It clearly is an imperative social issue lacking necessary attention.

    In reference to your “research” on child sexual exploitation, you are discounting the fact that many traffickers are also known by the child. Sexual predators groom their victims before abusing them and a trafficker is no different. Legally, any forced involvement of a minor in commercial sex is sex trafficking so if their abuser sold child pornography or profited in any way from the abuse, the sexual predator is now also a sex trafficker.

    While I cannot refute your experience, I can tell you that while you have likely encountered a sex worker who does not currently have a pimp and is not addicted to drugs, many individuals do not self identify as a victim when in fact they are. Additionally, I can counter your experience with my own experience in working with women exiting the sex industry who were victimized so perhaps your anecdotal evidence would be better left to a different discussion.

  • Haley Hoover

    Love the article Diana!! This issue needs to be addressed out in the open. Thanks for making a stand :)

    P.S. the coolest part is that I just stumbled upon this article! SO cool :D