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Last week the U.S. Department of State released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for 2013. This report is used by the U.S. government to engage other countries on human trafficking. According to state.gov TIP ‘is the world’s most comprehensive resource of governmental anti-human trafficking efforts and reflects the U.S. Government’s commitment to global leadership on this key human rights and law enforcement issue.’
An expansive report, it is presented through country narratives in alphabetical order. Each country is rated on a tier system. There are four tiers, one being the highest (best) ranking, four being the lowest (worst) ranking. These rankings are based on a variety of assessments such as the examination of current laws, implementation of those laws, penalties for human trafficking offenders, victim identification, and government funding.
The United States ranks itself as a tier 1 country. This review can be found on page 381 of the Trafficking in Persons report. In the first paragraph, in the last sentence, you will find a very important statement. ‘During this reporting period, a policy change at the Department of Justice (DOJ) allowed federal funding for victim services to support U.S. citizen victims of human trafficking as well as foreign national victims.’
For the first time our government has acknowledged that U.S. citizens can be victims of human trafficking. Until recently, the average person did not know human trafficking occurred within the United States. Those who did realize this fact mostly assumed that human trafficking victims were from other countries, poor wretches tricked into a life of slavery. Today, the idea that an American citizen could be victimized by other American citizens is becoming all too apparent. The Trafficking in Persons report for 2013 proves this.
My name is Jamie Walton, and I am a survivor of domestic minor sexual trafficking. For the past three years I have advocated for victims by lecturing on human trafficking issues and by sharing my experiences in vivid detail. In 2010 I co-founded The Wayne Foundation, an anti-sex trafficking nonprofit organization, with filmmaker and entrepreneur Kevin Smith.
Our mission has been to develop a survivor centered rehabilitation program, spearheaded through survivor leadership that will provide services to girls 12-18 years old. It has been a long road thus far, but I find as an organization we are making strides every single day.
To get to the nitty gritty, I was sexually trafficked in 1999 while attending my freshman year of high school. I was 14 years old. I met a man on AOL who ‘fell in love with me’ and transported me to and from Florida and Atlanta, GA for one year. During this time I engaged in sexual activity with many partners who were found on websites used for dating and sexual encounters.
Because I was from a broken home that had been abusive on many levels, my experiences that year were not shocking or distressing. It wasn’t until a caring person explained to me that love shouldn’t come with a price tag that I was able to decide for myself, just shy of my 15th birthday, not to fly back to Atlanta.
It saddens me that in almost 15 years the internet has become a free for all for the commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Child porn, sexual trafficking, it seems that a day does not go by without hearing horrifying accounts of sexual abuse that seems to be reaching an epidemic level. Unless our country continues to further acknowledge that our own children are being victimized and sold in to sexual slavery the problem will only become worse as time goes on.
Domestic minor sexual trafficking is not restricted to urban areas and major cities. Law enforcement records show that arrests are made in all 50 states in relation to sexual trafficking. No area, and no person is immune.
I consider myself very lucky, as most children who fall prey to sexual exploitation are not provided with the resources needed to overcome such a trauma. Though sex trafficking victims can be adults, or children, male or female, it is my belief that victims of domestic minor sexual trafficking are the easiest for predators to target.
Sexual trafficking can occur through force, fraud, or coercion. Children who become victims of sexual trafficking commonly come from broken homes, abusive backgrounds, and live in impoverished lifestyles. The easiest person to manipulate is the person who has no other alternatives. That is what makes a child an easy target.
For many years I struggled to cope with my victimization. In my mind, I had been a willing participant, who never said no, and never complained of mistreatment. It was not until ten years later, while in therapy, that I was able to accept that I was not complicit in my own victimization. I was asked by my doctor, “Jamie, if you had to make the same choices now, would they be the same? Would you willingly have participated in those sexual acts?”
Of course, my answer was an adamant “No!” The difference was that I was an adult, capable of understanding the consequences of my actions. As a 14 year old I was incapable of making such a decision, which made me an easy target, ripe for manipulation. Just like the thousands of kids today at risk for sexual trafficking in the United States, I walked with a target on my back.
I have hope that we, as a nation, can come together to fight for victims of this terrible injustice. These children cannot fight for themselves, which I can assure you is a life filled with hopelessness. Awareness is the number one tool against the predators who would victimize our kids.
Without the public’s education on the subject we will never be able to enact the changes that will make victims safe. I encourage everyone to learn more about domestic minor sexual trafficking, starting with Trafficking in Persons report 2013. To directly help support The Wayne Foundation’s goal of building a rehabilitation home, I encourage you to visit my organization’s website.