She has to do this because even if the gun against her head isn’t visible, she knows it’s there.
Somewhere in the darkness watching is the man she once thought was her boyfriend, or once thought to be the cute boy she chatted with online and decided to meet, or was someone who had promised security after she ran away from her abusive home.
Instead, he is her pimp. Should she resist, the punishment would outweigh whatever is waiting now.
Tonight she — and an estimated 200,000 just like her — will endure one of the worst crimes imaginable: commercial sexual exploitation.
She isn’t in an international country, nor is she foreign. She is an American, living in the land of the free.
Human trafficking — defined by the United Nations as the recruitment, transportation or transfer of persons, by threat, force, coercion or deception for the purpose of exploitation — is at pandemic proportions. Trafficking is growing so exponentially, antitrafficking organization Polaris Project said the government is still working on an up-to-date estimate of trafficked persons. Traffickers can make an estimated $250,000 annually off one young girl.
According to Freedom Youth Project, the largest demographic for targeted victims is American girls 12 to 14 years old.
Where does this happen? Everywhere. Including your town. Oklahoma is the heart of America’s main route for trafficking humans. “Because Oklahoma is located at the center of three interstates, we have had major human-trafficking issues,” said state Rep. Pam Peterson.
The FBI estimates nearly 100 girls per hour are sold for sex in Oklahoma.
One of traffickers’ primary duties is to move victims around to avoid detection and to meet the demand found in profitable cities.
The statistics may seem overwhelming, but knowledge is power. Victims stuck in horrific conditions cannot ask for help; help must go to them. Become educated on signs of trafficking and how to report concerns.
“Human trafficking has largely gone unnoticed and unreported due to lack of awareness,” said Mark Elam of Oklahomans Against Trafficking of Humans. Look beneath the surface when you see a woman out in a strange situation. Don’t dismiss her humanity or assume there’s substance abuse or a behavioral problem.
Don’t be afraid to act.
Deirdre Flynn is an Oklahoma City resident. She works with Oklahomans Against Trafficking of Humans and spent the past year in Thailand as part of The Sold Project.