When you think of the sex-trafficking industry and the environment it flourishes in, do you picture a low-income, dirty urban area or an affluent, suburban one? Did you picture both? For whichever reason, pop culture influence or a lack of information, wealthy communities are often seen as "immune" to the darkness of the sex-trafficking industry. They are viewed as “safe,” while low-income communities bear the full burden of the the “dangerous" label. While exact statistics may vary from source-to-source due to the underground nature of the industry, it is undeniable that affluent, suburban areas are major hubs for sex-trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery.
Cities, Suburbs, Doesn't Matter
Areas like Los Angeles and Orange County are lucrative areas for pimps because, not only do they have more customers, but they are able to demand higher fees. Los Angeles is one of the top ten worst cities for child sex-trafficking in the nation, and California is one of top three destination states for child sex trafficking according to the FBI. According to Polaris, “most reported [sex-]trafficking cases concerned escort services.”
Remember the movie, Pretty Woman? It gives you a glamorous understanding of prostitution, doesn’t it? Well, in the real world, escort services are regularly supplied with women who have been manipulated and lured into being prostituted under false pretenses. It’s important to rid your mind of the idea that there is anything glamorous about being enslaved. There is no such thing as “the most upper-class or best way to be sexually abused."
Many affluent areas have such a high demand for purchased sex that traffickers often recruit women and children from outside communities, including women from low-income communities. The victims are typically offered jobs in the affluent area that sound enticing and glamorous, a role in a music video, or a modeling job, for instance. When they arrive at the job, they find that the promise was entirely fabricated. Rather than receiving the job they were promised, they are taken captive and sold into the sex-trafficking world. They are now modern-day slaves. While these recruitment situations in low-income areas are the ones we tend to hear about the most, this does not mean that women in affluent areas are immune to recruitment. This would not only be a false belief, but a dangerous one as well.
Close to Home, A Personal Experience
Following college graduation, I found myself in a situation where I felt that I needed to call the National Human Trafficking Hotline. I was working in a middle to upper-class part of Southern California as a Field Representative for an elected official. On a daily basis, I frequented the local Starbucks at lunchtime. On one of those days a young woman, who looked to be about my age, was sitting at a table across from me on the outdoor patio. She struck up a conversation and started talking about this “amazing business opportunity” that had changed her life. She made it sound like she was absolutely living the dream. It was interesting, and she was nice, so I listened politely.
She asked me my name and where I worked, both normal questions as far as I was concerned. She offered to arrange a meeting with me and her “boss” if I was interested. I wasn’t, but I didn’t want to appear rude, so when she asked me for my phone number I obliged. Our conversation was lively, and I remember leaving with the thought, “Wow, she was a very friendly person!”
The next day, during my Starbucks trip, another sweet, young woman complimented me on my heels while I was waiting for my drink. I thought that was so nice! But what happened next made a weight drop in my stomach. She started talking about her “boss” and saying, nearly word-for-word, what the girl from the day before had said.
I remember feeling very strange, very uncomfortable, and like I needed to leave right away. I remember telling her, "This is so strange because there was a girl here yesterday telling me the exact same thing.” I’ll never forget her face. It was a mixture of what looked like surprise and fear.
I remember scanning the room, looking to see if anyone was watching us. Was there someone in charge of her? Was there someone making her afraid? When I left Starbucks that day, I thought about what had just happened. I’d been going to the same Starbucks at the same time every day, alone. Someone might have been watching and picked up on my routine, and those girls could’ve been placed there to talk to me. I called the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Maybe I was being recruited that day, maybe I wasn’t. But I will always be glad that I called.
It is critical for people to be aware that recruitment can happen anywhere, and it happens frequently in well-known, densely populated areas because it is largely those exact areas that are demanding more supply. The idea that it is only low-income urban areas where sex-trafficking occurs is false.
It is critical that we become more aware of our surroundings and know the recruitment methods, regardless of where we are, so we can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline when we see red flags and so we can avoid falling victim ourselves. When we are in densely packed airports, we need to be looking for girls who do not fit in. When we are in a crowded Starbucks, we need to be aware of who we are talking to. Of course, living in a constant state of fear is not a sustainable option, neither is it healthy. However, if we are aware that sex-trafficking happens in small towns, poor towns, rich towns, and enormously populated cities, we can start to gain a better understanding of the magnitude of the problem and start to act in way that will bring change.
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