Have you seen the movie Taken? It’s a heart-pounding thriller about a beautiful teenaged girl getting kidnapped and sold into sex slavery. Her father finds her, then embarks on a quest to track down her kidnappers and exact revenge.
There is a problem with this movie. As entertaining as it is, and as much as we would like to believe injustice in this situation, the premise isn’t true.
Have you ever seen social media posts about creepy men or couples following young women or mothers with small children around parking lots, attempting to steal them in broad daylight?
Human trafficking survivor Theresa Flores says this is a myth.
The Truth About Human Sex Trafficking
As I have detailed previously, Theresa Flores has survived some of the worst abuse a person could suffer. She has lived to tell her story and to help the people trapped in the same hell.
Theresa Flores’ story happened right here in Birmingham, Michigan, where she lived in the 1980s. And, although she was from a fairly affluent family and she is white, that is where her story’s similarity to the movie Taken ends.
Theresa was drugged by her high school crush and raped while unconscious. He used pictures of the crime to blackmail her into her life of slavery.
It wasn’t a stranger, as it was someone she knew and trusted. However, there’s more.
For two years, she surrendered herself in the middle of the night. Her parents were sleeping when she would be driven from her suburban home to try to “earn” her blackmail pictures back.
She thought she could keep her family safe if she did what they said. For two years, she was delivered to buyers so they could do whatever they wanted with her in nice homes all over the Detroit suburbs.
Not Through Abductions
Police had never seen a single case in Michigan where someone was abducted and put into sex slavery. Human trafficking doesn’t look like that. Police call it an urban legend.
Who is at Risk?
If you believe that your children are in danger out in public, on playgrounds, in parking lots, or at busy malls, you are missing the single most significant area where children and young teens are targeted: the internet.
Sex trafficking is happening right under our noses on apps like Snapchat and Kik. Traffickers are incredibly tech-savvy, and they have experience dodging police. Moreover, boys are trafficked too, at a younger age than girls. Forty percent of boys who have been trafficked are under 12.
Here is the reality of how people are trafficked:
- Family members 27%
- Intimate partners 32%
Many people, like Theresa Flores, are trafficked by someone they already know. Often, their first contact is with someone whose job is to groom them by pretending to be in a relationship with them. It’s so common it has a nickname: “boyfriending.”
How to Get Help
- Monitor your children’s internet activity
- Keep an eye out for unexplained expensive gifts like iPhones and handbags
- Question older teenagers or adults suddenly hanging around your child
- Because of how this crime is usually perpetrated, it is children and teenagers who are poor and underserved who are most at-risk. Those who have called the national hotline have one or more of these risk factors. Be aware of those around you who are:
- Recently relocated
- Show signs of substance use
- Are in unstable housing
- Are homeless youth
- Who have mental health concerns.
- Contact the national hotline if you or someone you know might be a victim of sex trafficking. It operates in 200 languages, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 1-888-373-7888
- Theresa Flores founded the SOAP Project (Save Our Adolescents from Prostitution), which labels bars of soap and packages of makeup wipes with this hotline number. Volunteers put them in hotels, motels, and 24-hour diners to reach people who need help.
Just because sex trafficking doesn’t work the way it is depicted in the movie Taken, doesn’t mean we can’t do something to stop it. Unfortunately, victims rarely want to speak out, and so traffickers often get away with it.
However, everyone can watch out for women and children in danger and call the hotline if you or someone you know is in trouble.