“The face of human trafficking is not just in Asia, it’s not just in Africa, it’s not just in Latin America… it’s right here. In our metro area.”
The other day I had lunch with Cally, a woman who does anti-human trafficking work in the city. I had met her at an art gallery the week before, we had bonded over our use of flip phones. I told her that Trump had killed my job with his executive order, and she opened up and told me about her life’s work of dismantling human trafficking. I told her that I had a bit of experience in this field through my work at domestic violence shelters, and offered to volunteer at her organization.
Human trafficking right here at home is a scary thing to think about and write about. The more I thought about it, the more I scared myself about getting involved and volunteering to help make change around it. This is a similar theme in my life, and probably for most people as well. For a good amount of time, I feel like I have everything figured out; I’m riding high and super confident with lots of ideas that I believe in. Then I’m taken a few pegs down and all of my fears and vulnerabilities come out. It begins to look like I’m probably never going to leave my apartment again, because why would I want to? I’m a writer and a reader and a thinker and a listener. The world of action and danger is not the place for me.
It’s always when I’m in this place, that I begin to take big leaps that redefine who I am, and how much guts I actually have. Every time that I am in this fearful, paranoid place, I need to push myself by doing something that seems a little bit scary to me. I have to wake myself out of my fearful habits, and to remember that I am a dynamic human being like everyone else, and can change at a moment’s notice.
It was a rainy day, and Cally and I pulled up at a little cafe by her office. The cafe was owned by African Americans, and had black and white people coming through its doors into the tiny cafe. I loved it, and realized I hadn’t been to many cafes like this in Kansas City: Kansas City ranks as the 9th most segregated city in the country.
Cally offered to buy lunch, and I ordered a coffee while she got a salad. We sat down, and she asked me about myself. I told her about my life experiences, and how I liked to learn about people. She smiled, and then began to tell me about herself and the people she serves in the city while I sipped my coffee.
Kansas City is tied with Washington D.C. for number 20 in highest rates of sex trafficking in the country. Human trafficking makes $150 billion globally and there are about 21 million known slaves in the world today, according to the International Labor Organization. Sex traffickers use of force, fraud and coercion to trick women into prostitution, pornography and debt bondage. Sex trafficking is mostly the form of human trafficking found in Kansas City, and 80% of the victims are women and female children.
The age of entry into prostitution in the city is about 11. The younger the “commodity,” the more money traffickers can make. Also, they are able to brainwash children early on. Vulnerable people are prey for traffickers.
Traffickers make lots of money. It is more lucrative to sell a human being, because you don’t have to keep getting another object to sell, like gun and drug trafficking. When traffickers have a “high earner,” they don’t want to let go of the woman; they will track her all over the country making escape practically impossible.
I looked down at my coffee mug, gripping it with both hands and reading the word “Smile” inscribed across its side like a mug you would have in your own home. I took another sip.
Cally told me the reason she had a flip phone was because pimps use spyware to track women’s smart phones. They are able to see where they are at and who they are texting. This is also a tactic used by domestic violence abusers, spouses track their partner’s movements and communications with common smartphone spyware. Human trafficker use of power and control over their victims is similar to domestic violence, but different in the fact that traffickers are career criminals.
Cally explained that her organization works closely with transgender women, as transgender women and especially transgender women of color are especially targeted for trafficking. A lot of them are homeless from an early age because their families do not accept their gender identity. Once they are out on the streets they are prey for traffickers.
“The issue is not just a sex worker issue, but it is a demographic issue as it relates to income, gender, race,” St. Louis detective Clayborn-Muldrow said. “It’s just a social economic problem that begins way before human trafficking is involved.”
Kansas City being in the heart of America is a hub for drug, gun, human smuggling and human trafficking, but it is also a leader in anti-human trafficking legislation. The city has prosecuted more traffickers than pretty much anyone in the country.
I saw so many similarities between Cally and I during our lunch, but there was one big difference. I asked Cally near the end of our lunch if she was ever fearful for her life. She told me knew the risks, but she wasn’t.
National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 1 (888) 373-7888