“I think there’s a girl in the ER that’s being trafficked.” The voice of the University Health nurse sounded shaky and nervous. She had attended a hospital-wide human trafficking training weeks before this moment. It’s one thing to learn about human trafficking but it is entirely different to be standing face to face with a pimp, in an ER with a woman laying in a hospital bed, beat to a pulp.
The nurse had seen the red flags and picked up the phone to call the emergency hotline of Purchased:Not for Sale, a local organization fighting the fight of human trafficking in Shreveport. The woman in the ER had a name. She was known by Purchased and they had been looking for her. She had disappeared one afternoon from their residential recovery program and hadn’t been seen in weeks.
What no one knew was that while sitting at the bus stop one afternoon she had been spotted by her pimp. He pulled over and forcefully put her in his car, and in an instant she was back in the world of prostitution. Day in and day out for five weeks she had been sold against her will. When she stepped out of line, she was abused. When she didn’t make enough money, she was abused. She was living in a hell-on-earth reality and she saw no way out, until this day, when her pimp decided to bring her in for medical attention, not knowing that he was setting the stage for her rescue.
Thirty minutes after making that brave phone call, the nurse stood in a room full of people, all assembled in the hospital to make a plan for the rescue of the woman who found herself in the grips of a life that was threatening to destroy her. She was worth it to everyone standing in that room. She was worth a plan and worth the fight.
The plan was in place. The hospital staff would inform the pimp that an x-ray needed to be done. He would not be able to come into the x-ray room and that would buy the team about 20 minutes to get the victim to safety. The door opened and the nurse wheeled her in. She looked around the room and a look of relief spread across her beaten and battered faced. She knew she was safe.
The hospital staff blocked off the hallways of the hospital as she was wheeled down the halls, down the elevators and through the back staff entrance of the hospital where a vehicle was waiting to transport her to safety. Her transport was complete with a University Health security team, who escorted her vehicle all the way to the interstate.
She was free.
Most people consider sex trafficking to be a crime that exists in places far away, but the truth is sex trafficking has grown to become a tremendous problem right here in the United States, and even closer to home, right here in Shreveport-Bossier, our own backyard.
“Sex trafficking occurs when someone uses force, fraud, or coercion to cause a commercial sex act with an adult or causes a minor to commit a commercial sex act. A commercial sex act includes prostitution, pornography or any sexual performance done in exchange for something of value, such as money, food, shelter or drugs.”
Those are the definitions—the black and white of sex trafficking—but what does it really look like in our area? The legal definitions fall short in helping us understand the day to day reality of sex trafficking in our city. In Shreveport-Bossier poverty is often the driving force behind sex trafficking. Poverty drives many into a state of survival, which reduces their daily decisions to the question of “what does it take to make it to tomorrow”. Having limited choices and massive needs and vulnerabilities makes an individual a sitting duck for a sex-trafficker.
Sex trafficking is a billion-dollar industry world-wide, grossing an estimated $32 billion dollars annually. That translates to $87 million every day. Trafficking is the second-largest criminal enterprise in the world, second only to drug sales. It is estimated that in the United States annually there are 1.6 million children affected by trafficking.
With a problem like trafficking so pervasive, so scary and shrouded in darkness, it’s easy to believe that there’s nothing you can do. That one person couldn’t possibly make a difference, but you would be wrong. Human trafficking is a fight that can be won one life at a time. Zooming in the perspective of your fight and focusing it on the life of one individual that is trapped in sex trafficking makes the fight more defined, more purposeful and more attainable. Viewing human trafficking on a macro level can be paralyzing, but realizing that human trafficking is made up of individual lives, and one life is worth the fight, changes the outlook.
Purchased: Not for Sale exists to bring rescue, recovery, relationships and resources to women in the sex industry and to victims of human trafficking. Purchased focuses on one life at a time, one victim at a time, and makes a plan to see that one life restored.
The fight against human trafficking takes a village—a beautiful village of people who are willing to pull their chair up to the table, lay down their own agendas, and enter into the fight as a single, unified force. Shreveport-Bossier has an incredible village of people that are locked arm in arm against the injustice of human trafficking in our city. That village includes not only Purchased: Not for Sale, the direct service organization in Shreveport, but also a long list of agencies and organizations that are doing their part to see human trafficking end in our city on a daily basis.
Clay Walker, Caddo Parish Director of Juvenile Services and his incredible team, in partnership with law enforcement, the FBI, Gingerbread House and countless others developed the Community Response Team. This multi-disciplinary team exists to prevent and address human trafficking in the lives of juveniles in our city.
Together, with members of the community, we are seeing human trafficking lose ground, one life at a time. Human trafficking is best fought collectively, with unique individuals bringing unique skills and passions to the table for the good of the victim. There is something for everyone to do.
For more information on human trafficking, the signs and red flags visit www.sharedhope.org. There, you can be educated on the problem and what it takes to see it end.
To become a part of the solution in our city, visit
www.thehubministry.com and read about Purchased. You can sign up for training and find out how you can make a difference, one life at a time.