Sex Trafficking Isn’t What You Think It Is.

“Allison met her boyfriend when she was a teenager and not long after they started dating, he began sexually abusing her and forcing her to have sex with other men for money. When Allison tried to refuse, her boyfriend would physically abuse her. Allison had left her boyfriend once before and was staying in a local shelter when he found her and forced her to return.  Following this attempt at leaving, the physical abuse worsened and her boyfriend became more controlling and limited her contact with the outside world. When her boyfriend went out of town for a few days, Allison was finally able to reach out to the National Human Trafficking Hotline for assistance leaving her situation.” -National Human Trafficking Hotline 

If you hear the term, ‘sex trafficking’ and images of kidnapping, drug cartels and dark rooms in foreign countries come to mind, you’d be somewhat right, but there’s a whole lot you’d be missing–the part that’s happening right here in Connecticut. I have been given the amazing opportunity to serve as Chair of my state’s Trafficking in Persons Council, an entity that brings together NGO’s, government agencies, law enforcement, the judicial branch, and others, to discuss and address human trafficking in Connecticut and make recommendations to the State Legislature.

In that role, everything I thought I knew about sex trafficking has been challenged and I have been shocked to learn that often times, it’s Connecticut residents–women & children–who are being trafficked for sex. Many of the dynamics that are present in other forms of violence against women; i.e. coercion, threats, manipulation, are also used in sex trafficking. ‘Traffickers’ or ‘pimps’ use power and control in much the same way abusers and rapists do, and often times, the trafficker or pimp is known, loved, and/or trusted by the victim. A common misconception about sex trafficking is that victims must be physically brutalized and/or moved across state lines, and while that does take place, those elements are not required for the act to be deemed sex trafficking.

We know a lot more today than we did 5 years ago about sex trafficking in Connecticut because of the work of the Human Anti-trafficking Response Team, a Department of Children and Families lead initiative to address the sex trafficking of our state’s youth. Since it’s inception in 2008, more than 500 children have been identified as high risk for sex trafficking, meaning that at least 500 children have had something–money, food, shelter– exchanged with them for sex.

According to federal law, sex trafficking is a commercial sex act that is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. In the absence of a trafficker or pimp selling a youth, the individual paying for sex with food, a bed, or a ride can become the trafficker.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Over the next four weeks, I hope to raise awareness about the individuals in Connecticut who are being exploited sexually and the men who pay to exploit them. Sex trafficking is not an easy topic, but I for one won’t let that stop me. I hope you’ll join me in raising awareness!

 

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