Marcia Mason-Bridge

Marcia Mason

“My name is Holly; at age 14 I ran away from home with a man. Convincing me to runaway with him was not an overnight accomplishment. He took his time. He got to know me. He analyzed my troubles, and he asked me my dreams. I wanted to be a songwriter. In reality, I ran right in the inexorable clutches of a sex trafficking ring. Within hours of running away with what turned out to be a manipulative and menacing pimp, I was coerced into working Atlantic City until dawn the next day.”

Human trafficking is the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting or obtaining a person — child or adult — for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud and/or coercion. It is the second largest industry, after drug trafficking. A bag of cocaine can only be sold once; a body can be sold repeatedly. Most think trafficking happens only in developing countries and urban areas, but it can be found throughout Wisconsin as well.

“Operation Cross Country” was conducted this past fall, targeting criminals involved in child trafficking. Wisconsin was one of the selected states; nine underage victims and 57adult victims were rescued, 11 traffickers were arrested.

Eighty percent of trafficking involves sexual servitude. The average age of a child caught up in sex trafficking is 13. Traffickers recruit children because they are unsuspecting, plus there is a high demand for young children and teen-agers for sex.

Promises broken

Though recruitment can be by force, such as kidnapping the child, generally it is based on grooming and promises. Traffickers recruit girls and boys at malls, parks, ski slopes – wherever children are. They also have established a sophisticated online presence, effectively using social media as a recruitment tool.

Predators are adept at reading people, recognizing their target’s vulnerabilities. Making promises aimed at addressing the needs of the individual child, they manipulate their victims, creating dependency. The promise of a shower, food, place to stay, protection, clothing, money, road trips, and jobs – whatever the child desires is being offered.

Creating a sense of belonging, it is a very seductive process. By the time the victim becomes aware of what has occurred, they are unable to escape. Moreover, many are brainwashed by their trafficker to believe that this is the only “job” they are cut out to do. Traffickers utilize a variety of control tactics, including physical and emotional abuse, threats to harm loved ones, confiscation of identification and money, isolation, branding and renaming victims.

Victim profile

Police rescued a 13-year-old girl in the Bakken oil fields after responding to a suspicious ad on the internet. She was a runaway from Eden Prairie. When a girl is missing from the Twin Cities, detectives know to check North Dakota’s “Backpage” ads.

Runaways are especially vulnerable and account for approximately 60 percent of victims. Children in foster care and the juvenile justice system are also at high risk to be targeted. Many of these children have already experienced sexual abuse.

Typically traffickers will post an online ad and schedule appointments in a specific locale, transporting the children from place to place before law enforcement becomes aware. The transaction can take place anywhere, from a metro hotel to a small rural bar during hunting and fishing seasons.

Few realize the nefarious connection between the commercial sex trade and the trafficking of children (and adults). I encourage readers to broaden their perception and promote discussion among friends and family.

The Bridge to Hope serves victims of human trafficking. Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns at 715-235-9074.

Marcia Mason is a Sexual Trauma Advocate at The Bridge to Hope in Menomonie.

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Dunn County News editor

Barbara Lyon is the editor of The Dunn County News in Menomonie, WI.