Before You are Trafficked, There are Warning Signs.
When I talk to people about my debut novel, TRAFFICKED, they still ask me how common human trafficking really is. My answer: shockingly common. We are all affected in some way, whether we know it or not. Human trafficking is the second fastest growing crime in America, after drug trafficking, and half of the victims are children. The good news is that I believe with more attention to this issue, a lot of kids can be saved from this fate.
When I was researching my novel, I found that they’re usually kids who have lower confidence and don’t get enough love or attention from the adults in their lives. They’re vulnerable to a person who seems like he or she is a good listener and really cares about them. If you know a teen, please show her or him you care. If you are a teen, there are ways to protect yourself.
I recently met an incredible teen at a recent high school visit for TRAFFICKED. “Ally” (not her real name) is an eloquent, funny, brave African-American teenager who was a victim of sex trafficking. She introduced me to her classmates by delivering a moving spoken word performance about her own experiences with sex trafficking.
“Ally” was a fifteen-year-old virgin when she met her trafficker. Her mom was away, working. Her father was out of the picture. She was alone at home, except for an older sister who was busy with her own life. So, when an older guy befriended her and seemed genuinely interested in her as a person, she felt special and loved. He told her she was beautiful. She never thought she was attractive before. He drove her to and from school, bought her presents and took her out for dinner. She thought he was her boyfriend and believed that he loved her. She calls this “the honeymoon phase.” Then, he coerced her to use drugs and sold her for sex.
This began a year-long cycle of abuse, beatings, apologies, forced drugs and sex, more apologies, declarations of love. She told me everything that comes before “tricks the mind “ so that “even after they trap you into the life, you keep thinking about how they used to treat you and you believe that it makes up for the abuse, disrespect, and the lies.” One day, her mom found a sex advertisement for her own daughter and called the police. “Ally’s” trafficker was sent to jail and “Ally” began her healing.
When “Ally” told me her story, it sounded like so many other stories of human trafficking I heard when I was researching TRAFFICKED. Whether it’s modern-day domestic slavery or sex trafficking, they all experience a grooming or honeymoon phase in which the traffickers develop trust. It happens to foreigners and it happens to Americans too.
I asked “Ally” what she’d like girls to think about, what might have helped her. “One thing I will say is that young people should watch who they spend their time with. Watch out for them asking for favors and trembling like, "Can you just do this for me?" Or saying, "If you loved me as much as I love you then you'll do this for me."”
She says there were warning signs, but she didn’t know what they were. In my research, I found that girls are often pressured to do something they don’t want to do or do it faster than they’re ready. They get gifts that make them feel indebted. The person forces a promise out of them that they don’t want to break. Most importantly, the girls often get some kind of bad feeling, but they don’t listen to it. Their intuition is telling them that something is wrong, but they remember when the person made them feel great. So, they ignore that bad feeling. I would like to encourage all girls, all people, to listen to that voice. You might be scared or feel that you made promises you don’t want to keep, but you need to walk away. It could save your life.
Kim Purcell is a novelist, journalist and teacher. As a reporter, she interviewed drug dealers, prostitutes and murderers and became interested in the trauma they’d experienced as children. She started writing novels while teaching English as a Second Language in Los Angeles and wrote two "practice" novels before TRAFFICKED. After hearing the stories her immigrant students shared with her, she decided to write about human trafficking, and traveled to Moldova, one of the poorest countries of the former Soviet Union, to get to the root of the problem. Her experiences there and her interviews with immigrants in America are the basis for TRAFFICKED. Kim Purcell lives outside New York City with her husband, two girls and rescue dog. In her spare time, she's a swimmer, a runner and a yogi. She laughs loudly and loves to dance in random locations, like elevators.