By Ravin Lee
In this year’s Open Book Project book, “A Crime So Monstrous,” author E. Benjamin Skinner recalls a letter written by Henry David Thoreau in which the philosopher warns against reading the newspaper.
“What business have you, if you are ‘an angel of light,’ to be pondering over the deeds of darkness,” Thoreau writes. Well, if you ask Skinner, and if you ask me, we should all be thinking about the effects of human trafficking.
Before I attended this year’s first Open Book Project event hosted by the Institute for Political Studies, I too was a so-called “angel of light” – someone who hides from the horrors of human trafficking, through ignorance and an unwillingness to acknowledge it’s existence.
During the Open Book Project event, guest lecturer Dr. Jacqueline DeMeritt mentioned a few local cases of human trafficking, including the story of Tonya Stafford, who was traded for drugs at 13 by her mother.
Stafford and six other women were forced to work from an office space operating as a massage parlor in Addison, Texas. Stafford and the other women were freed with the help of neighbors in 1998 after being held as sex slaves for 10 years.
After hearing DeMeritt tell Stafford’s story, and the stories of others like her, I knew I needed to do something. I knew I needed to tell others about the consequences of ignoring the truth.
DeMeritt said the main reasons people become victims of human trafficking are vulnerabilities such as: a lack of awareness of rights and risks; a lack of organizations (or the presence of weak organizations) to protect them; a lack of critical services; inadequate legal protection; and previously being a trafficking victim.
“Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery that occurs in every state, including Texas,” according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s website. There have been over 2,000 reported cases of human trafficking in Texas since 2007. That’s the second highest in the U.S. after California.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, nearly 77 percent of the cases reported in Texas this year have been related to sex trafficking. Women are the victims in 81 percent, or 175 out of 214, documented cases, and 30 percent of those trafficked are under the age of 18. The most common purposes of people being trafficked in the U.S. are for sex and labor.
DeMeritt said people don’t know their rights. “Because of that,” she said, “they may simply accept forced labor and exploitation. People in debt may wrongly believe that the moneylender has the right to hold them as servants until the debt is paid.”
Brookhaven student Kendra Carroll asked DeMeritt if it is possible to spot the signs of a human trafficker. DeMeritt said traffickers are of all demographics.
“You can identify them through their interactions,” she said. “It is always going to be something weird. They’re going to offer to loan you money. They can tell you, ‘If you move in with me or move to this area, I can get you a job.’”
DeMerritt said the signs of a trafficker are more behavioral than demographic. Whatever these people and these groups think will attract their target is what they are going to put out.
If you believe someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, please contact the NHTRC at traffickingresourcecenter.org, or 888-373-7888.