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Senior Circles: Scourge of human trafficking is in our backyard

Join the war on human trafficking

I know you are going to say — "What does this subject matter have to do with seniors?" Human trafficking is happening in our own backyard, throughout our country and around the world.

I want each of our readers to be aware of the enormity of this problem and to decide how and what you can do to help spread the word about its existence and to take action if you have suspicions or evidence of it happening around you.

We thought that slavery was abolished 150 years ago, but human trafficking is slavery of a different kind, and it does exists today. Many people don't even know that sex and labor trafficking exist in this country. I wasn't aware of it until a couple of months ago when I heard a speaker on the topic at a meeting.

At a recent Women's Legislative Briefing I attended, I was appalled to find out that the No. 2 spot for human trafficking in the United States is the BWI corridor, according to ICE Homeland Security Investigations. This modern day slavery involves underground operations and takes place in cities and rural areas; on streets; in motels; in hotels, even posh hotels; at truck stops; and on the Internet.

In a TV interview with Katie Couric, Jada Pinkett Smith said that it was her daughter, Willow, who first made her aware of human trafficking. When Willow was 11, she told her mother that girls were being sold for sex and she wanted to lend her voice to help end the problem. Pinkett Smith didn't quite believe what she was hearing from her daughter, so she told her that she would investigate it, and they could work together on it. She was shocked to find out girls as young as 8 are being forced into sex trafficking. Since then, she has been a tireless advocate for this cause.

Pinkett Smith has a website, http://www.dontsellbodies.org,which is a hub for information on human trafficking.

Here are some real-life stories of the survivors of human trafficking.

Angie was a sophomore in high school who felt alienated. She ran away from home and was coerced into the lifestyle of a prostitute.

She was a vulnerable teenager, who was looking for something different in her life. Her pimp or trafficker took advantage of her emotional needs and offered her the "hope" of a different life. She was eventually rescued in the Midwest by an FBI sting operation called Stormy Nights.

The emotional needs of victims are the most common denominator in many of the human trafficking cases. Traffickers prey on those needs and lure in their victims. Victims are tortured, threatened, terrorized and forced to live this lifestyle.

Traffickers can get more money for minors, who are also easier to control.

If you suspect that your grandchild or a neighbor's child or a child in your community is being exploited in this manner, call the Hotline at the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, 1-888-373-7888 or at least contact your local law enforcement authorities.

You should also make sure that your sons, daughters and grandchildren are made aware of this threat. One grandmother asked me, "How can I get my granddaughter to understand the seriousness of this issue?"

My suggestion was to sit down with her and watch the videos that Katie Couric, Jada Pinkett Smith and Demi Moore have made on the subject, so she can see firsthand and hear the plight of young girls and boys who have gotten caught up in this horrible lifestyle. I encourage each of you to do the same; it will be an eye opener.

Katie Couric's website provides 20 action steps that people can take to stop human trafficking.

Go to http://www.katiecouric.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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