I want to offer a huge thanks to Natalie and her team at UnBound, Waco – the organizational headquarters. She provided excellent resources and provided insight as I wrote my personal human trafficking story. (https://unboundnow.org/chapter/waco/)
Writing this post has been much harder than I imagined. I have shared my personal story countless times and never hesitated but this time it is different. This time I am sharing it in light of what it actually entails – human trafficking.
I would like to offer a word of caution regarding this post. I am sharing the details of my experience in some detail although I have used great discernment and my experience studying counseling so as to no victimize anyone reading. That is my hope at least.
Additionally, this post is not just about my story. My story is only one part. This post is intended to be a resource for anyone who needs to understand human trafficking whether as a parent to protect their child(ren), a survivor, a school teacher wanting to understand what to look for with students, and the list goes on. This is a resource above all things.
It can happen to anyone.
It was New Year’s day 1997, and I was 15. My mom arrived to pick me up from a slumber party with news that my 17-year-old boyfriend had been arrested and had called her to pick him up. She bailed him out of jail, and he was going to be living at our house. I remember being excited and confused at the same time. I also know I would never make that same decision as a parent. My boyfriend was cool, He drove a cool car, and had I met him while he was doing community service at the local mission where I spent my summers volunteering. Shortly after that fateful meeting, he moved in and became the basis of my experience with human trafficking. It started off small. He would have a guy friend come over and at night send them into my room expecting me to perform some sexual act on them. I never wanted to, and I told him so, but he made it clear that this was the only way he and I would stay together. It was years later before I realized how addicted I was to him. I would have done anything to keep him. This pattern continued for months, and I maintained my public image of virginity. Shortly after I turned 16, he and I went to the house of some “friends”. I knew these guys. They were all stars of the high school football team, seniors, and some who had even graduated. The transaction took place right in front of my face. My boyfriend received some money, and he left me behind. I wanted to go with him, but he refused and said he would be back for me in a little while.
I headed to the bathroom and upon leaving was forced into a room across the hall. As the door closed a dresser was slid in front of it. I turned around to see not one, but five guys in that room. I didn’t know what to do. So I screamed, I begged to leave and was told that I could go once they were all finished. One by one I was forced to perform some sexual act on them and the last guy left demanded to have sex with me. I did not want that and when I saw my boyfriend return as he passed the window outside I screamed louder. I know he must have heard me. The next few minutes of my life were horrible. Not only was I being violated in the most horrible way, this large 19-year-old man was taking my virginity. Finally he released me from the uncomfortable position he had forced me into and allowed me to get dressed. The dresser was removed and they all left. I sat there, feeling nothing. That feeling lasted for a long time. When I got into the car to go home my boyfriend had the drugs he was promised in exchange for my rape. He put on a song by Tupac with a lyric “you’ve got your legs up tryin’ to get rich” and then he spent the entire drive home blaming me.
I wish that were the end of the story. A few weeks later I found out I was pregnant. Since I had not had sex with anyone it had to belong to the man who raped me. When I was 16, here in Texas, it did not require any parental consent to have an abortion. So I lied to my parents, found a friend with a car and along with my STILL boyfriend we made the trip to Greenville Ave. in Dallas. When it was over I began to finally feel. I felt all the feels.It was about three months later when I learned one of the men who raped me had AIDS. I began the process of being tested every few months, getting my anonymous card and making the anxiety inducing call to find out my results. I did this for years. Finally, I was told I was clean, in the clear. I had escaped that season without a single STD and I did not have AIDS. I was relieved. In case you are wondering, I continued to date this guy until January 1999 when I walked away from him, drugs, and everything he stood for. In December of that same year I became a Christian and an entirely new journey began for me. One of hope, redemption and lots of forgiveness. Now, 18 years later, this story has become the foundation for advocacy, truth and fearlessness.
Social media is widely used in human trafficking.
When I was a victim of human trafficking the only social media was AOL Instant messenger and connecting to the internet involved dial-up service which was only available if no one was on the phone. However, my experience was still one related to social influence. I knew these individuals and although I wasn’t chatting with them on my phone app it was through my relationship this occurred. As teens are seeking to develop their own identity and a sense of independence they begin to give undue influence to their peers and the connection to parents has the potential to suffer. As I mentioned above, this can happen to anyone but there are some circumstances which make involvement in relationships which lead to human trafficking more likely. The current phone applications allow individuals to connect with complete strangers and invite them into their space virtually. Monitoring your child’s social media and phone applications can be challenging and time-consuming but worth it. I personally have a copy of my daughter’s email coming to my account. Social media requires email. The same is true of our own social media accounts. We have to be mindful of not exposing our children (of any age) or ourselves through our own posts. Remember, it is that undue influence teens give their peers that increases their vulnerability and the more connected you are to your child’s friends, social media, and other interactions – the more time you spend with them, the less time they have to be drawn in by some friend or stranger offering the most dangerous kind of attention.
Here are a few tips and tidbits of info to help keep you and your family protected when it comes to social media.
- If your child has an iPhone they can always have iMessage conversations when connected to WIFI. Even if you have turned off their text messaging abilities using some service from your carrier, you still have to turn off iMessaging in the settings of the phone.
- You can limit the applications your child is allowed to add to his or her phone often times with a passcode. Age limitations are often an option. Currently my daughter is limited to apps appropriate for individuals under the age of nine.
- If your child has an email address, be sure you get the passcode. Check it often. You can even have a copy of every email forwarded to you without them being notified.
- If you do allow your child to have social media, have every password. Log in often. I have even gone so far as to change the password to something only I know so that they cannot change the password.
- Know their friends. Pay attention when picking them up from school. If they come to the car from a different direction one day, ask questions.
- Even amazing parents can miss something but the more present you are the more likely you will be to catch something before it happens. You know your kids better than anyone, regardless of what they may think. If they aren’t acting like they usually do, ask questions.
- Go to trainings, seek out advice, call hotlines, and keep asking questions.
There are various types of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act (Dept. of Homeland Security).
Sexual Trafficking – Sex traffickers frequently target victims and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, or other forms of control and manipulation to keep victims involved in the sex industry for their own profit. (National Human Trafficking)
Labor Trafficking –Labor trafficking includes situations of debt bondage, forced labor, and involuntary child labor. Labor traffickers use violence, threats, lies, and other forms of coercion to force people to work against their will in many industries. (National Human Trafficking)
Education and training help prevent or stop human trafficking.
Educating the teens and young adults in our city can help identify victims and equip students with the tools to protect themselves and others. Here are a few ways you can be involved:
Call School counselors – encourage your counselors to continue education regarding human trafficking and ask them to bring in presenters from UnBound to educate the students. The ideal is an assembly where the most students can be educated at the same time.
Call administration – work the school board and administration to help ensure they have all the necessary resources to educate faculty and staff regarding human trafficking. School board meetings are an excellent place to voice your questions
Call your youth minister or pastor – UnBound is also available to speak with your youth group, college group or even a gathering of parents. If this is something you are interested in pursuing contact one of the local organizations to set up a presentation on human trafficking.
There are resources available.
Public policy is on the side of victims and for those seeking to pursue legal action contacting the local police or sheriff’s departments is an excellent first step. Any of the non-profit organizations, hotlines, coalitions can get you in touch with the proper authority as well. One such coalition is the Heart of Texas Human Trafficking Coalition (https://www.hothtc.org/).
More than anything, those who have been victims of human trafficking on any level, at any point in time, and in any circumstances need to know YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We stand with you. There are people to walk alongside you. The following are resources available to anyone:
In case of emergency, call 911.
- The National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1-888-373-7888 (toll free, available 24/7, translators available, confidential) Available in Spanish, English and over 200 languages.
- UnBound Hotline: 254-230-0872
- Waco Police Department
- Crimes Against Children: 254-752-2600
- For Adults & After-Hours Call 254-750-7500 or 911
- The Victims Center Hotline: 254-752-7233 or toll free at 888-867-7233 (available 24/7 for crisis intervention)
- To make a CPS Report: 1-800-252-5400
- Department of Family & Protective Services: hotlines for abuse, runaway and more
- For children victims of abuse: The Children’s Advocacy Center
- For all victims of violence: The Victims Center
In the middle of November KCEN ran a week-long special called “Selling Girls” – http://www.kcentv.com/news/investigations/selling-girls/sex-traffickers-are-targeting-american-children/484499177
Finally, if you are interested in reading the very eye opening 2016 Human Trafficking Prevention Task Force Report (about 25 pages) you can find it here: https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/files/agency/20162911_htr_fin.pdf
Unbound does incredible work in this city. Last year as I sat in an UnBound training as a first-year teacher, I realized what had happened to me was human trafficking. I had always used phrases like “my boyfriend sold me for drugs” or “I got raped and he got high” but now I know what it was. When I was a teenager we were taught that human trafficking was only young women, usually in foreign countries, put into the back of a van and sold, never to be seen again. It was happening in suburban America at that time too, but no one was talking about it. Waco is talking about. I am grateful to live where the community takes a “NOT IN MY CITY” approach. More information about this initiative and how you can be involved can be found at https://www.hothtc.org/notinmycity/ .
Please feel free to reach out to me as well. I can be found on Facebook at @mycoachmillie, on Instagram @coach.millie and on Twitter @coach_millie – I would love to take you to coffee and hear your story.
(Some of this information throughout this post has been taken from various resources and websites listed above.)