Human trafficking assembly presented at RHS
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Vernon - posted Thu., Dec. 15, 2011
“When people start talking about the sex-slave industry,” said Rockville High School Resource Officer Earl Middleton, “you start thinking about third-world countries and someplace other than here. This is a problem that is happening in the United States, and it's a problem that is happening in our community, right here in Vernon and Rockville.”
Middleton led the Dec. 14 presentation by representatives of Love 146, an international non-profit organization devoted to the abolition of child sex slavery, as well as the aftercare of its victims.
Lamont Hiebert – director of U.S. prevention and co-founder of Love 146 – said he began hearing about human trafficking while working with another non-profit group in the 1990s. He started working undercover with people investigating child sex slavery in Asia, and helped form the organization soon after seeing a young girl in a Thailand brothel, whose “number” was 146.
“There were about 150 to 200 children behind a glass wall,” he said. “Most of them – their eyes were just glazed over. They all looked lifeless and hopeless, except for this one girl. We don't know what her name was, but we noticed that number 146 had a lot of fight left in her eyes. We decided that we would fight in her honor. To us, ‘love’ means to protect, defend, restore and empower.”
Hiebert explained that Love 146 maintains safe homes and aftercare facilities across the world. “Our survivors are so courageous,” he said, adding that when people are trafficked or sold, they lose their ability to have dreams and hopes for their own future, but the well-trained staff members in the organization's environments restore that.
“We help reintegrate them back into society with economic opportunities and safe environments,” he said. “We have an incredible track record.”
Currently, Hiebert said, there are 27 million slaves in the world, falling into the two categories of labor and commercial-sexual exploitation.
Nicole von Oy – training and outreach coordinator for Love 146 – explained that child sex trafficking happens a little differently here in the United States, classified into prostitution, stripping and pornography, and children are recruited using a variety of means, including force, fraud and coercion, and the Internet is, unfortunately, a tool of the trade.
“The Internet is the new 'streets,'” she said, explaining that the web has become the new hunting ground for predators.
“You don't find street prostitution as much anymore. You find it online. People are being trafficked more on places like Facebook, Myspace, and Craigslist,” she said.
More people are trafficked into the United States than out, making the U.S. a “destination country.”
“It's believed that between 14,000 to 17,000 people are trafficked into the U.S. every year,” von Oy said. “Of that number, 50 percent are children. The U.S. is the number-one destination for people seeking sex with a child.”
In Connecticut, von Oy said, several people have been arrested in recent history for involvement in trafficking rings. In the past three years, 84 cases of trafficking victims have been identified in Connecticut – 82 of them were girls, and two of the girls were former RHS students.
“This is something that happens right here in your town,” von Oy said. “It can happen to anyone. Anyone can be manipulated and deceived.”
“Pimps and traffickers know where you guys hang out,” von Oy told the students. “We've had children be recruited from malls, movie theaters, all-age night clubs, bus stations and train stations.”
The glorification of prostitution and pimping in the media, as in movies like “Pretty Woman,” also contribute to ambivalence about the trafficking problem.
“Media glorifies pimps,” Hiebert said. “The reality is, these guys are as cool as Nazi prison guards. Pimping is brutal – it's violent and vile. These guys should not be praised; they should be punished.”
Hiebert and von Oy suggested that RHS students can start local Love 146 task force clubs, which create awareness opportunities. There are also other ways to become involved, which are listed on the organization's website, www.love146.org.
“We need more of you people involved in this fight,” Hiebert said, “so that people of goodwill can tip the scales over people of ill-will, who are the minority.”
Hiebert said Love 146 also touts its successes of legal advocacy, including helping to protect victims who are minors from trafficking prosecution. It also gauges its success mainly on the growth of its awareness campaigns. In Connecticut, the group has educated more than 1,000 students in the classroom settings, and more than 500 adults in various settings.
Feedback from school staff, von Oy said, is the best way to tell if assemblies to large groups really reach students.
“We ask if anyone went to social workers, and see if any kids are contacting us,” she said, adding that school staff also notices if students are talking about it in the hallways.
“It's hard to know if we're really reaching people,” von Oy said, adding that in the smaller classroom four-session workshops, pre- and post-surveys help gauge students’ knowledge of issues related to trafficking.
“We generally have a huge shift from the beginning to the end,” she said. “We also have a lot of kids who are already knowledgeable on the subject, which is interesting.”
Hiebert also offered some parting advice for young men, in the hopes that a respect for women, children and themselves will stay with them. “Here's the secret, guys,” he said. “They're trying to lure and recruit us, too. A business doesn't exist without supply and demand. The women and children are the supply. We're the ones, and may we not be the ones, in future generations to give these guys our money and our souls.”
Similarly, von Oy also gave some advice for young women. “You are not defined by your sexuality,” she said. “No matter what society tries to implant in your minds, that does not define you. You define you. Be your own person.”