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Our nation wants to go, “No, it’s not about the buyer. It’s about the bad guys, the traffickers.” Well, do you think the traffickers would be bringing our children to market? If there weren’t a buyer out there asking for services for younger and younger kids? No, it’s a demand driven market.
Hello, and welcome to Invading the Darkness: stories from the fight against child sex trafficking, featuring Linda Smith, the founder of Shared Hope International. Join Linda as she shares stories from her 23 years of fighting the battle of domestic minor sex trafficking. Our desire is that each episode of Invading the Darkness will help you understand the importance of fighting child sex trafficking, as well as equip you to join in that fight.
In this episode, Linda continues talking about demand and how it is the source of all things trafficking.
It was pretty exciting. At the World Summit, we’d been designated by Congress to stand with the State Department to organize a World Summit on trafficking. This was new, it was really awesome, and the bill had just passed in 2000. So along came this direction to organize the countries. Come together. And we hired the interpreters from the UN, many interpreters, so that people who had never talked to each other were talking. It was just so amazing. In that environment, I knew I needed to hear more about trafficking in America. I knew enough to invite half a dozen women who were fighting against prostitution in the United States, who had been trafficked themselves as kids. They had been organizing, bringing people into safe houses, doing whatever they could do, but they weren’t being heard.
Shared Hope’s board invited them, we hosted them to come to the World Summit. We had these dinners with them. And we listened to them. And I was finally able to hear through their rejection as voices. They were just considered not credible, kind of immoral women not to be heard. And so I decided I needed to listen. And I needed to listen deep. And they talked about the sex markets. They talked about them as individuals, ending up in sex markets as kids. One of them told me how in the trucking industry, a trucker had picked her up as she ran away from a home of abuse with a stepfather. And at least he was nice to her and gave her food, but expected favors for the food. And occasionally, he sold her to another truck driver.
And as I’m looking at this, I’m going there’s a market, and I didn’t understand it. And these weren’t just prostitutes. They were hurt children that the world, actually America, was treating horribly. But I still didn’t understand it all. The next thing that I was commissioned to do was to do a research project for multi-countries on the trafficking markets. So it was called trafficking markets and with my business background, and I’ve been the chair of the Small Business committee, I did what you would do. You align the buyer, you align the seller, the facilitators, and the culture and laws that would allow a sale of a product.
And so I went into each country. We hired people from various investigative bureaus, one from the New Zealand, some in Japan, and America. And what we did is we sent them in as sex tourists, or as buyers of commercial sex to see what the market was like in that environment. It became really clear that there was refined, really refined markets, that government entities were involved in some cases, but mostly in tolerance. So if there was a commercial market, it was tolerated. So you would openly see the signs of the sales of individuals. Now some would say, “Well, wasn’t it just prostitution?” Well, we wanted to look. So we went inside and it wasn’t very long before we found children, young children, Japan, Jamaica, the Netherlands. And yes, the United States. This research was just I thought, I’m going to research and quit. Because when I present this to Congress, they won’t believe me. I thought they would believe me, because if I was honest when I was in Congress, they’ll believe me now. And yet, I really struggled with this because in the world, every event you went to on trafficking, anybody talking about it, they never talked about the buyer.
This was a demand driven market. In Japan, they had men’s health clubs. They were basically places that women were put so the elite could be healthy, the perception of needing sexual activity to be healthy. But it reflected on the environment that had open markets in various places in Japan, and deep markets, you could go underground, to places where Russian women were sent to be sold by their so-called husbands. Many ways they were marketing, but without going into the other countries very much. I was just shocked at America. Within days of an operative going into one of our areas, Washington DC, Atlanta, Georgia, Las Vegas, you could find someone that would sell you a child. No, we didn’t create a market. We did not go in, and the operatives did not use the girls or the women.
But it just showed how easy it was. They went in with cameras. They went in with microphones, so somebody was monitoring all the action. So one day, they said we’re going to show you some of the video. And there. First video up was the bargaining for a couple of little girls in the backseat of a car. And why could I tell they were little girls? They giggled like middle school girls. You could tell they were by what they were saying. And in front was a man bargaining with our operative. And he was bargaining as if they were a piece of meat. Said he had a 14 year old, but nothing younger than that today. And I was shocked. This happened to be in Atlanta, Georgia, where they had a conference center and a lot of international and national people came from conferences, and they had strip clubs in the surrounding area. And you would get on your window, an invitation for a discount, if you went to the strip club. From the strip club, you could make a purchase and meet a girl or woman in one of the surrounding hotels. So when the operative got to the hotel, he was bargaining for a 14 year old, same one that was offering him a 14 year old and a car. And I’m going, “No,not in Atlanta, Georgia”. Then I looked at Washington, DC, Baltimore, looked at Las Vegas, and then compared Las Vegas to the Netherlands where we were doing the same kind of operation. And they got Las Vegas and the Netherlands look alike, because you can walk down the street and be handed a little card. It will direct you to someone to call for comfort or to call for time for a massage. But it all ended up in the same place: an offering for sex and and if you would give enough money, it would be very young. And it would be a boy or a girl.
There were several times in the first decade, actually the first few years of discovery about trafficking. You know, we all discover this, even though somebody else was there before us. When we discovered we think we’re the only ones because it’s a horrible “How could the world not cry out when they heard about this?” But I started telling stories to help explain what was in my heart. And one story that I thought really worked was one I’d heard many, many years ago, but it was about another kind of victimization.
Well, this was a story of a family, an ordinary American family. And how they would go on picnics and how the dad loved baseball. And he would literally wear them all out. Nobody could wear him out because he loved it. He’d hit homeruns, none of the kids would think they could out run him because they couldn’t. Because he was really, really good. So one day they’re into this, they’ve just eaten, and they were going to have dessert after the game and the father stopped. He said, “I hear something.” And there was in the river running beside the game was a head bobbing and a child screaming “Help me”. Well, it didn’t take much for him to run in, get that child and swim out even though he was really tired already from multiple games. About the time he got the child down and was trying to give him mouth to mouth resuscitation, there was another man passing another child off to his wife. People started coming along and he jumped in and he grabbed another child and other men jumped in. Finally, finally, the fire truck got there. The firemen ran out. And they said, “Help. There’s so many children.” And they would jump in again and the firemen started running the wrong way. They said, “No, no, no, they’re out here.”And he says, “No, I have to go upstream. Somebody is pushing them off that bridge.”
Well, that’s where we are today in this movement, we have to go upstream, somebody is pushing these kids off a bridge. And the truth is, we don’t want to talk about it. From the beginning of the American bill on trafficking in 2000, there was a push to not have it apply to men who bought. And in fact, the first case that was upheld against the buyer was 2013. 2014, I think they upheld the actual decision, and the men went back to jail in the appeal, because they had been buying kids. Yeah. A long time coming because our nation wants to go, “No, it’s not about the buyer. It’s about the bad guys, the traffickers.” Well do you think the traffickers would be bringing our children to market if there weren’t a buyer out there asking for services for younger and younger kids? No, it’s a demand driven market.
When we did the trafficking research around the world, and we went into each country, it was set up under a grant from the State Department, and I set it up to identify all of the factors. But even then, it was set up to identify the property owners, the facilitators. So look at who was getting the money, who was helping them get the money in the Netherlands, Jamaica. Two thirds into the research, we were writing it, we had all this video all this undercover. I didn’t like it. I had written most of it, the three people working with me on each of the countries, we were getting close to having it written and I said it’s just wrong. We have to stop and make sure that people understand the full market. What is the culture? Like I mentioned in Japan? What is the culture in Jamaica? What is the culture in America? In Washington, DC, in Atlanta, Georgia, in Las Vegas, that would allow open sale of individuals and pretend there weren’t children there?
We had found in Las Vegas, there was a great place where they would bring the kids that were picked up at the casinos or the places, bring them in then identify their little purses with the condoms, the other things that the girls had, and identify them, and then they would hold them. They allowed us to go in and review the files. And it wasn’t very long before it was really clear to us that you should have been able to see if the child has a condom. You pick them up at one of the casinos at four in the morning, that there’s enough sale 1400 children that were most likely trafficked? Could we prove they weren’t selling themselves? When we figured out they were brought in from Michigan? Not really, but what 13, 14, 15 year old do you know that could make their way cross country, arrange the money, understand where to go? No, there was a marketing network in America, and it was children. So we go to Atlanta, Georgia, and we start looking at the system of the strip clubs, of the conventions, of the marketing system. We follow it all the way to the hotel rooms. It’s greased. It is a procedure. It is absolutely refined. There’s a thin veneer over it of respectability, regulations, some places having what they call licenses for performers. But when you get inside, it’s so easy to find a child. In the raids today, you see the same thing throughout the United States. Law enforcement is working hard to bust these rings. They’re starting to arrest buyers, but the reality is it has exploded. So why?
Well, let’s go upstream again. Do you remember the story of Daisy? How she worked in a factory and had come from a small town and the playground was the half day she had off, and she would go to the ice cream parlor and how into that environment that should have been safe, a young man came and tricked her. And one night she ended up in a brothel. Well today, that playground, that place to go and relax and be with your friends is the internet. And in these places, the games, the chats, all of these places the predator has gone in. And he has literally done the same thing as a predator at the ice cream parlor. He immediately will throw them into a market of commercial sex. This only exists because of demand. Now, back to the research I’ve told you we did in all these countries? When I finally got to the place where I was going to publish it, I changed the introduction of each country. And I had shown the cultural issues allowing a child to be thrown into this terrible, terrible river of commercial sex showed the culture that allowed that in all of these countries, including America, and then I scribbled out trafficking markets as a market. And I wrote demand period. It’s a demand driven market.
Thank you for listening to Invading the Darkness: stories from the fight against child sex trafficking. If you would like to learn how you can help put an end to child sex trafficking, please visit sharedhope.org/takeaction. New episodes of Invading the Darkness are released every Tuesday at 9am Pacific. If you have enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving us a five star rating as well as a written review. Join us in Episode 10 as Linda shares the things that make her mad when it comes to trafficking children. We hope you will join us. Thank you again for listening to Invading the Darkness.