Columnists Opinion

THE X FACTOR: She’s in the trenches, fighting sex trafficking

By Starlett Quarles

Contributing Columnist

If it takes a village to raise a child, as a community, what are we doing about our young girls and boys falling victim to human sex trafficking? How many times have you seen a young girl “working” the streets and asked, “Where is this girl’s parents?” Or assume to yourself, “She’s probably a runaway and giving her parents a hard time?”

But what if we saw that same girl with a different lens? Instead of seeing her as a willing participant of this lifestyle, what if you saw her as a victim?

I recently spoke with the Rev. Deborah Manns, executive director of the Virtuous Woman Inc., about her work with victims and survivors of the human sex trafficking industry; and just what we are doing as a community to help save and raise a generation of exploited youth.

SQ: Just how bad is the human sex trafficking industry here in Los Angeles?

DM: The human trafficking industry in Los Angeles has gotten a bit hard to measure only because a lot of the business has been shifted to online services. Even though we still have a lot of minors that are being trafficked, recruited and kidnapped, many of them are being sold over social media or the internet.

It has not gotten any better at all. As a matter of fact, we that do the work hands on know it has gotten worse. And the ethnicity is changing because we see the numbers rising in Hispanic and black girls every day into the public system.

SQ: How do our young girls become victims and get recruited into this industry?

DM: It could be anybody’s daughter. There’s many ways they can be recruited — through friendship and making friends with other girls that are already being trafficked. Many times they’ve run away from home and they are living on the streets homeless.

So they are recruited by survival or they could be guerrilla pimped; which is when a pimp abducts or kidnaps a girl and holds her against their will, and makes her have sex [with him] for money. And that’s her way of being provided for.

Some girls are a product of their environment. They have a family member who is being trafficked and they may recruit another family member. There are so many different ways when we’re looking at domestic sex trafficking. Now internationally, many times they can be brought over from another country thinking they are going to get a job and they wind up putting them into the slave trade, or modern-day slavery as a sex worker.

But domestically, we see it in so many different forms and so many different ways; from young kids in school all the way to young adults who are basically recruited by a person that they know.

SQ: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about victims of human sex trafficking?

DM: One of the huge misconceptions is that people think they want to be out there. Even the older ones that are out there to survive; whether it’s for a drug habit or homelessness or whatever the reason is, no one wants to be fearful of their life on purpose. No one wakes up in the morning and says, “Well I guess I’ll wear a half-naked outfit, risk my life to get in a car with a man I absolutely do not know; and have the possibility of losing my life, or being robbed, hurt, stabbed or beaten.”

And even with the pimps, they are using coercion or fraud; where they force these girls to be out there by manipulating their minds by making them think, “This is it for you. No one loves you but me. If you don’t do this you’re never going to have anything; you’re never going to have a place to stay; you’re never going to eat, because I’m the only person that cares about you.” And because of that, they are forced out there.

And that is often due to what is called The Stockholm Syndrome; where these girls are coerced mentally and emotionally. And at some point, they begin to believe that this [lifestyle] is the only choice they have. [They begin to believe] they’re not worth anything, no one loves them, their family doesn’t love them, and they have nowhere to go.

SQ: What are some of the long-term effects of this lifestyle?

DM: Oh my God. There are so many effects. But the number one long-term effect is very severe mental and emotional trauma. These situations leave hard scars on our young girls and boys. They have a hard time rebuilding relationships. They have a very hard time connecting the balance of relationships between wrong and right.

Many of these boys and girls [are] now coming into a lifestyle of homosexuality; and many of them, not all of them, but many of them become suicidal. And they become violent, where their minds almost like snap.

And what we’re finding even in the juvenile courts with many of the victims that have been trafficked is that many are bipolar, they’re becoming schizophrenic. There are so many different mental health side effects that are coming from these kids being homeless, being on the streets, witnessing different types of violent crimes, or being violated by themselves; that is pushing [these youth] into a high level of mental illness.

SQ: When it comes to human sex trafficking, what’s important for us to know as a community?

DM: A few things are important. One, we as people should always have as much information and awareness as possible about issues that are happening every day in our communities, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our colleges; and be able to do something about it.

Secondly, we need to look up legislative policies and talk to policymakers about what they are doing to help improve this epidemic that has seriously overtaken our communities. We can no longer turn a blind eye to young boys and girls being on the streets homeless. We need to make the Department of Children and Family Services, and Juvenile Probation take more responsibility and have more resources for these minors by providing them with the services that they need, not necessarily putting them in jail, but really offering them the services that they need to take them off the streets.

Starlett Quarles is a Gen X advocate, public speaker and host of the internet TV Talk Show, “The Dialogue with Starlett Quarles.” For more, visit www.TheDialogueLA.com.