By Barney Blakeney
A friend called me a few months ago about a lady in his community who is trying to bring some focus on the issue of human sex trafficking. It’s an issue that got my attention some time ago. Among the police reports I receive have been several in the past couple of years about young women prostituting out of local motels. That, in itself, was nothing new. What was new was that in some cases, the women were being forced to prostitute against their will.
In my time growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, prostitution was one of those enigmas in society – the oldest profession, but illicit. And a decade later, pimpin’ and prostitution gained some aura of glamour. I think women always have gotten the short end of the stick in prostitution, especially those who didn’t approach it as a profession.
But like everything else, I guess prostitution changed. I began seeing police reports of women being forced into prostitution – something most in America usually don’t think about when we think of prostitution. My perception of prostitution changed when I read the report of a young woman who literally escaped from a motel where she was being forced to prostitute. Whatever my male indoctrinated concept of prostitution was before that changed. The picture painted by that report was not a pretty one.
There were several things going through my mind when I finally called the sea island resident a few weeks ago. My friend told me she was trying to get her neighbors to realize that elements in their community were targeting young girls for recruitment into sex trafficking. I couldn’t figure what she was talking about. After a couple of telephone conversations, we met last week for more detailed discussion. The woman outlined a scenario that sounded familiar – stuff many of us see, but never connect the dots to sex trafficking.
I found several aspects of her allegations enlightening. The woman said at 13, her adopted daughter who now is 26, would leave their home without permission sometimes staying away several days. The girl was seeing an older teenager and having sex, the mother said. Eventually the girl was coerced into accusing the woman’s husband of sexually abusing her. The mother said that was a ploy the older boy and others sometimes use to create family discord that can alienate the father. If it’s successful, the father may be forced to leave the home allowing those with negative influence over the girl greater access to her.
I’ve known guys who got caught up in similar webs. Can‘t say the guys I know were or were not molesting the girls, but the scheme the woman put forth seems plausible. She said with the man of the house out of the way, outside figures can assert more dominance. I guess that’s true in some cases, but I know some mothers; huh … those guys would come out better dealin’ with the daddy!
Anyway, mama said the script can go in any number of directions after that. In her case, the department of social services got into it. That added to the problem, she said. DSS dropped the ball. The girl got loose as a goose after that, mom said. The boy still was in the picture, the girl continued to run away and thus began a 13-year ordeal that’s cost mom her husband who ultimately left the home for good, her daughter who slid into a life of deviant behavior, her job because she couldn’t stay focused, her savings which she’s spent in legal fees and now her home which is being foreclosed on.
Mom’s stressed and wants other parents to beware of the traps that can ensnare their children. Over the past 13 years her daughter’s been held captive in a lifestyle that started with her jumping out of her bedroom window into an immature sexual relationship, missed educational opportunities, two children born out of wedlock, criminal activities and drug abuse.
“I’ve lost everything,” Mom says. “My daughter was infected with this thing 13 years ago and I’ve been fighting that giant ever since. Now all our lives are infected. Three generations of my family is caught up in this. This is the new slavery. I need to get my daughter away from here so all those people won’t have access to her.” Asked why she continues the uphill battle, mom said, “I have to fight because I have two grandchildren to care for. All I’ve got left are them and the truth.”
The mother told me her story because she feels it’s one that more families experience than we think. “In our community, we hide things,” she said. “Families feel overwhelmed. The controllers threaten the kids’ families and they sometimes become loyal to them – the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. But our kids need resources – substance abuse treatment and other services.”
I talked with Charleston County council Dist.8 Councilwoman Anna Johnson who represents the Sea Islands. She said she while the woman’s particular situation may not fit our typical perception of sex trafficking, it’s a subject about which our community should be informed. North Charleston Police Det. Charles Benton agreed, noting that predators often prey on runaway children. But he admonishes parents to also look inward. Kids runaway for a reason, he said, so parents must be conscious of what’s going on in their homes.