Human trafficking on Your Campus, by Elizabeth Meinecke, is an expose on the growing problem of sexual trafficking in mainstream America. Meinecke reveals how recruiters are now targeting the suburbs and college campuses, where non-stereotypical victims from stable families are being induced into involuntary sexual servitude.
Included is the story of a Carnegie Hall violinist who was attending a private university on a scholarship, targeted by traffickers on her college campus, and coerced into the sex trade. She was not the stereotypical sex trafficking victim, coming from a stable, faith-based family. However, her naiveté and a lack of street smarts made her a vulnerable target.
She was a beautiful, talented young woman who had played the violin at Carnegie Hall. For college, she attended a private university on a large academic scholarship. She studied and didn’t sleep around. She was raised in a faith-based home.
Yet she became a victim of human trafficking, targeted on her college campus. Even now, she remains caught in the dark, twisted world of those who manipulate others in the lucrative business of sex slavery. Her initial trafficker is in jail, but a group of his buddies keeps her ensnared. Her family and trained professionals are trying desperately to draw her back out.
For those on the outside, such a transformation seems impossible. How does a young woman with everything going for her end up here? But for the perpetrators, unfortunately, the case makes all too much sense. Mind games are part of their business. Seduction and manipulation are two of their sharpest tools.
And where they first wield them can be scarily close to home—your child’s campus, or places where your high schooler hangs out.
Meinecke pulls the readers into the arduous world of Dottie Laster of Laster Global Consulting and the increase of sex trafficking cases coming to her from unsuspecting families as mainstream America is becoming inundated with traffickers using an arsenal of psychological tactics. Laster explains the ‘Romeo Pimp’ phenomenon and how he/she is able to literally invade the thought processes of otherwise intelligent young females using standard seduction techniques to convince the victim she is in a loving relationship.
“The psychological component of this industry is powerful—so powerful, in fact, that it can lure a victim back into a sex trafficking situation even after she’s initially fled the perpetrator.” – Dottie Laster.
The article recounts the story of another trafficking victim’s transformation through the grooming process, her years of psychological and sexual degradation, and her ultimate escape from the horrendous conditions.
Talk to those who work with human trafficking victims, and you’ll realize it’s not a crime that preys only on society’s marginalized. In the United States, human trafficking is at the point where no socioeconomic class, demographic or community is safe.
Laster defines human trafficking as “anyone held in service of another through force, fraud or coercion, and that coercion can be psychological coercion, which is what we most often see … for the purposes of commercial sex or forced labor.” According to the Polaris Project, human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. Laster says she noticed about a year ago she was working with more U.S. citizen victims than immigrant victims. She’s also currently working on several high school and college cases.
“I live in a little town of 48,000 people,” Laster says. “I have so many cases here that I accidentally bumped into, I can’t even count them.”
The average entry age into the sex trade in the United States? Twelve, according to Kathy Wilson, a spokesperson at New Day for Children. New Day is a nonprofit that provides a home for victims of sex trafficking who are 10-18 years old, helping them heal and eventually reunite with family members, if that’s an option. All of the children New Day has worked with so far have been U.S. citizens, with the youngest being 11 years old.
What do bright college students have to worry about?
In the past 2 years, I have seen a sharp increase in the number of U.S. Citizen college students targeted by human trafficking. I also hear from victims that sex traffickers are lurking around high school and middle school campuses. After the many campus shootings and the other dangers parents warn their children about before sending them away from home for the first time it is unlikely that most parents are discussing the tactics of “romeo pimps” with the daughters who have achieved academic success.
I have worked with more and more families as the hopes and dreams for their daughters are crushed – the parents have been blindsided by an evil they may never have known existed.
Laster describes what she refers to as the Romeo Pimp scenario. The recruiter will find a target, then create some sort of friendship or romantic connection.
During this early grooming period he will learn all he can about the victim and she will tell him EVERYTHING. Her hopes, dreams, fears disappointments, every disagreement with her friends, parents teachers, etc.
While she believes he is listening to her out of affection, he is listening for ammunition to carry out his plan.
He will begin to introduce her to his shadowy life and it will appear alluring and a bit mystical- especially to a naïve academic who has spent most of her time preparing for college.
He will learn what she thinks about sex, religion, her parents, grandparents, her embarrassing moments and her highest achievements.
This he will then use to distance and isolate her from her life and into his.
Understanding the Grooming Process
Traffickers use many tactics to keep the victim under control. They use a spectrum of crimes to surround the victim in a climate of fear and distortion. The traffickers also use the judicial system to groom the environment to protect themselves. Many traffickers purposely get the victims arrested so as to empower themselves and further cause the victim to be isolated and dependent. All too often the judicial system is a willing participant.
A common example is the labor contractor or pimp who uses the threat of law enforcement when their victims start complaining. The trafficker will call Immigration and Customs Enforcement and report the illegal immigrant who is then arrested and deported. Problem solved for the trafficker and money in the bank for the employer who does not want to be bothered by paying for labor. The pimp may actually want the victim to get arrested as then he will be her ‘savior’ as he bails her out of jail (with the money she earned). He will then use this to further make her feel responsible for “costing him money” both for the bail and for the time she was not producing. This also prepares her for later when they all get caught she will do the time for him and protect him as all costs. He has then groomed her and the environment around her to make sure he walks and she takes the full punishment.
Another common tactic is to create an emotional trauma bond. Many traffickers have been known to The article also examines the steps sexual predators take in the psychological conditioning of a victim through the grooming process. Common tactics include, gang rape followed by consolation, to establish a psychological trauma bond with the victim. Another common tactic is the isolation of a victim from friends, family and familiar social routines in an effort to create feelings of shame, detachment and establish psychological and emotional dependency on the victimizer.
In the book The Art of Seduction, author Robert Greene has analyzed seducers over the centuries. In his list of tactics of the seduction process he outlines many of the tactics used by traffickers on the victims.
A few examples are:
- Choose the right victims– the right victims are the ones you can fill a void- a completely contented person is almost impossible to seduce.
- Create a false sense of security– begin at an indirect approach, an angle. The victims may be introduced to the trafficker by a friend or trusted family member.
- Send Mixed Signals this will both fascinate and confuse. For traffickers this is a combination of being nice with abuse- of being attentive and tender with being aloof and cruel. This is the most powerful part of the coercion used on the victims.
- Isolate the victim– Isolating them makes them weak and vulnerable to the trafficker’s influence. For the trafficked victims the isolation of a foreign country, language, culture even food is one of the traffickers best tools. For US citizen victims the traffickers will drive a wedge between family and friends of the victim. They will create discord that was not really there. This will have the victim off center and distrustful of the only people who could help her. Confused with no outside support they are easily led astray and controlled.
- Mix pleasure with pain. According to Greene, the greatest mistake in seduction is to be too nice. Inflicting some pain to make the victim feel guilty and insecure. Then a return to kindness will bring them to their knees. With victims of trafficking this cycle repeats over and over. In one interview a victim said he beat me with a wire stick (a pimp stick) “I was bruised and bleeding and I did deserve it because I had not made enough money for him. Then he gently brushed my hair from my face and wiped my tears. He really cared for me.”
For more known tactics visit: http://www.bethejam.org/tactics/
The “Ripple Effect” of Trafficking
The consequences of human trafficking are exponential, not just for the victim but their parents, grandparents, children, siblings, teachers, friends. I’ve seen best friends and roommates change schools, or quit school altogether due to the trauma of seeing their friend groomed and trafficked. Siblings often report not only being hurt by the absence of their sibling, but witnessing the devastation of their parents, and, of course, the caring parents are in a state of Hell on Earth.
Whole communities are affected yet, in the 15th year since the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), parents are told by law enforcement and others:
- “just move on”
- he/she is an adult and wants to be there
- stop trying to contact your child or you will be arrested
- your child is a prostitute and should be prosecuted
- why don’t you just kidnap them?
- the purchase of illegal sex is between consenting parties
I’ve met parents who “rescued” their adult children by force and were prosecuted. In the end, the bad guys kept the victim and the family was further destroyed by time spent in jail. This advise is distressing to the families as they feel pressure to take action. The constraints of the law which often does not provide justice to the traffickers, but, in contrast, will certainly take down a law-abiding citizen who breaks it.
It takes the community to demand that their law enforcement, media and elected officials treat human trafficking as a high priority with educated and skilled people working as a team to help the victims and their families. It’s when these needs are not met that parents call in my team, often as a last resort to save their child. We don’t wish to be the last resort, but to work side by side with the team and restore trafficked children to their families. My heart breaks when opportunities to free the victim are missed due to lack of training, experience, team work or other reasons.
The ways in which victims can become entrapped in the sex industry are legion, ranging from snatch-and-grab to a method Laster has referred to as the “Romeo Pimp.” Meinecke decribes one teenage victim who simply stepped outside of an Old Navy, to talk on her cell phone, and was kidnapped by sex traffickers who happened to be casing the parking lot.
Families can spend thousands of dollars hiring investigators and lawyers when a loved one is trapped in a human trafficking situation. In the violinist’s case, a private investigator trained in recognizing human trafficking indicators was hired by the victim’s family. Once the investigator recognized the indicators of human trafficking they contacted Laster, to consult on the case. Such assistance provides clarity for families who recognize a change in behavior but may not understand what is motivating the change or how to help their child.
I hope for a day when our team is no longer needed, a time when advocates and organizations are so well-trained about trafficking and its victims that traffickers become rare because it is too risky a crime.
However, we are not there yet.
Read Elizabeth Meinecke’s full article here: http://mnchildprotectionleague.com/wp-content/uploads/HumanTraffickingArticleFromTownHallMag.pdf
Dottie Laster is a nationally recognized expert in the field of human trafficking. Laster is the CEO of Laster Global Consulting which has consulted in several high-profile trafficking cases, and has been directly and indirectly responsible for the rescue and restoration of hundreds of trafficking victims. Her strong multi-disciplinary team has an established track record and provide project development, consultancy, and training resources in domestic and international trafficking.
Dottie Laster is affiliated with the non-profit Bernardo Kohler Center where she is accredited to practice immigration law. She created their Casita program and Save One Soul outreach.
As a weekly Co-Host on the nationally syndicated radio show, The Roth Show, Laster presents discussion and guests who speak out about a variety of controversial subjects surrounding the abolishment of human trafficking and corresponding crimes.
Dottie Laster is also featured in the documentary on sex trafficking in Latin bars and cantinas, The Cantinera, and her direct rescue work is the subject of the MSNBC Documentary, Sex Slaves: Texas Rescue. She is the recipient of several human rights awards and has been featured in numerous publications including recent issues of Texas Monthly, Town Hall, and MORE Magazine.
Dottie Laster has educated thousands of high school and college students about the increasing prevalence of sex trafficking on university campuses, and what preventative measures can be taken if approached by a recruiter. Laster suggests parents and educators thoroughly prepare college students by educating them on common tactics employed by sex traffickers and creating a safe, comfortable environment for reporting offenders and counseling victims. Unfortunately, many campus administrators either don’t recognize the scope of the problem, or are unwilling to address the growing threat out of concern that increased exposure may harm their University’s reputation and have a negative impact on student enrollment.
Dottie Laster can be contacted through Imagine Publicity
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