What about the trafficking victims in our own backyard?

For years I have been an active member of Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking coalitions, groups of activists trying to help educate the public about horrors that are occurring right here in the good ol’ USA. It surprises me that in this day and age slavery and genocide still exist. The scary part is that us Americans tend to think this sort of thing only happens in those “other” countries, not here in the USA. That is not true. Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking is alive and well and is only 2nd only to drug trafficking. It’s big business.

Did you know that the average age of child sex trafficking victims is 12 years of age? By age 16 or 17, they are considered old, used and unwanted. By age 18 they are told they better find another job, but by then they don’t have any options. How does a young girl get involved in this? Most of these young teens come from abused or neglected and/or broken homes. For every two young females that run away from home and are missing more than 48 hours, one of them will be propositioned to have sex and will have sex in exchange for a place to live.

The hardest piece of dealing with these girls that fall “victim” to domestic minor sex trafficking ia that they don’t see themselves as victims. What exactly is Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) and how does it differ from Human Trafficking? DMST is the prostitution of minors that occurs within the US borders. It involves American citizens participating in modern-day slavery, on US soil. These entrepreneurs realized that it is a lot cheaper and easier to use the young, vulnerable girls in our own backyard then deal with transporting young girls across the US borders. These girls are the girls you see walking to school everyday, sometimes alone and sometimes with their friends. The problem is that perpetrators also see the girls walking to school. They prey on girls that appear to be alone most of the time or  have low self-esteem.

You know these girls. They look a little awkward. Many have holes in their clothes, old shoes, old backpack, and need help with buying food at school. These perps ,or “Johns” as they are often called, watch these girls and know which ones are neglected/abused and in need of someone to rescue them. A John starts by simply talking one of these young girls. He might tell her that he is new to the area and ask a question about what to do with his time. The average age for these men is between 20 and 40. He may bring the girl a gift and tell her she is special. He will slowly set himself up as a boyfriend, claim that he is in love with the girl. Eventually, he will tell her that he can’t live without her and she needs to come live with him. Often times, she does.

At first she might question why there are other girls in the home, but the “John” will say that she is his only love and the other girls are there to help run the business, which he probably still hasn’t fully told her about. He will probably have sex with her a lot and continue to break her down and tell her she is the only one for him, promise her marriage and money, buy her jewelry, clothes, etc. Whatever it takes for the girl to fall completely in love with him. And then, he’ll say he needs some help with making money.

At this point, she’ll do anything for him. This includes having sex with other people. He may then tell her he has to go out-of-town (this is true because he will travel to other cities to find other girls) and have one of the other girls in the home show her what he needs her to do to make money. At this point, she still thinks she’s the main girl, but she will quickly learn that she’s at the bottom of the pack. Most of these “Johns” run their business like a horse business. There are the prime horses that have been there for a while, and then there is the new horse that needs to be broken in. This is our new girl.

The older, more experienced girl that’s showing our girl around will probably beat her, verbally abuse her and tell her she’s not worth anything. The “John” might also beat her and explain to her that if she doesn’t follow what the other’s girls say, she’ll be back out on the street.  Our girl probably still thinks that the “John” is going to marry her. But she’s starting to realize that in order to earn her love she has to sell her body. Sometimes she’s out from 7pm to 7am, or until she brings home $2,000 for the John.

She’s afraid to leave for numerous reasons. If she did leave, where would she be going to? Back to the abusive home she left? On the street by herself? To her friend’s at school? What would they think of her now that she’s done all these sexual acts with these men? And she continues to think, he really loves me. And so she stays. Worn down, broken down and quickly learning that the man that she loves may not be who she thinks he is – but she doesn’t want to believe that because that would be one more person in her life that’s let her down.

And so the cycle continues until she is either beaten to death, murdered by one of the men paying for her sex, gets pregnant and dumped, or runs away. Unfortunately, even if she gets away, the “John” still has a hold on her emotions and her mind. I once worked with an 19-year-old who did leave her “John” and was trying to carve out a life for herself. After years in the foster care system, feeling unloved and unwanted, this was the only man who actually appeared to want her. She tried to make it on her own but without a support system, but it was hard. She debated back and forth whether to go back to him, and I thought when she got a job and was making legitimate money she would make it. One day she didn’t show up for our therapy session, and I knew she had gone back. To this day I haven’t heard from her. I just hope she is alive.

What can you do? Support non-profits in your city that are working to help these girls, like ACH Child and Family Services in Fort Worth, where I live. Get involved in your local county or city to find out what coalitions they have working on this issue. The hardest part about working with this population is the red-tape of all the different entities involved from the FBI to your local law enforcement. And just be aware. If you know of a young girl that comes from a broken home, offer some positive attention and support so she won’t fall victim to this merciless crime.

photo by: Linh H. Nguyen


  1. I would love to get involved volunteering at a place who works with these types of girls. Any suggestions where to start looking?