FLORIDA — Human Trafficking is happening in our own backyard, and that knowledge should make anyone with a conscience “outraged,” said Kevin Malone, the president and co-founder of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, whose organization runs the nation's sole accredited safe house for trafficked boys.
"People need to be outraged that this is happening to our boys and girls all over the country — that it is our own boys and girls,” Malone, a former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers turned activist, told The Christian Post during a candid interview about the horrors of child trafficking. “It's happening internationally, too, but it’s in our own backyards. It's our own kids. They are one or two or three degrees of separation away from being somehow connected to this.”
According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the definition of human trafficking is any situation in which someone experiences “force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control.”
Micah Washinski, the chief operating officer for the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking, told CP: "We often think of the force, we think of the kidnapping, we think of the movie 'Taken' where the girl is kidnapped. I think most of America thinks human trafficking is happening that way. But that is not primarily where we see our kids being trafficked. It's mostly through the use of fraud or coercion that comes into play, oftentimes with people that are known to them. So families are victimizing their own children, their own grandchildren through coercion.”
"Even adults [who are trafficked] don't think that they're useful in any other regard because they've been programmed to be used for their bodies as long as they can remember," she added. "So now they're at a place where they're just resigned to it. They become objectified. So they're an object, they're not made in the image of God, they're viewed as just objects to be used for whatever pleasures or reasons that these manipulators are using.”
As this CP reporter was being driven to the safe house in a remote location to meet some of the boys in the organization's care, a team member of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking shared several stories of the horrors the boys experienced as children and young teens. Sadly, most of the boys have been raped multiple times before the age of 15. One boy was abused so badly he was hospitalized for weeks before being transferred to the safe house.
According to the International Labour Organization, Human trafficking is a $150 billion a year industry worldwide, and Washinski said the U.S. is leading the demand.
Multiple reports have shown that hundreds of thousands of Americans younger than 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade every year. Statistics shared by the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking show that up to 36% of sex-trafficked children in the U.S. are males, with some studies showing that it's as much as 50%.
“The U.S. is the number one consumer of trafficking victims worldwide," Washinski said. "So we're the buyers. We’re the ones that are buying goods and services that are being produced by trafficking victims, by labor trafficking victims, and we're also buying sex at a rapid rate.”
Social media platforms have contributed significantly to the problem as many young people today use these tools to seek attention.
"I think of the social media epidemic as this facade," Washinski explained. "It's not truly who you are, but I'm going to put out there what people want me to be. So we've put on this mask, and our kids have learned to put on this mask to make other people like us. That opens us up to vulnerabilities because now we're so worried about what somebody else thinks versus what God thinks.”
The COO of the faith-based nonprofit stressed that God doesn't desire for His people to look to others for approval.
"Our kids are exploiting themselves through social media. So they're putting themselves out there sexually — whether they want to make money, whether they want to be popular, whether they want to be a professional singer or a model. Then you have traffickers watching and lurking around and identifying the needs,” Washinski continued.
"They're looking to fill a need. So they see a child that needs attention, that isn't getting attention at home, that isn't getting positive attention from either their family or their friends. So they swoop in and they play that role.”
Experts say that often, young girls who are trafficked are approached by a good-looking younger man who preys on her vulnerabilities. Then when he has her in his grasp, he coerces her to “do something for him” which turns into trafficking.
According to Exodus Road, another ministry that's fighting to end sex trafficking, their Operation SCOPE mission has provided police with evidence of traffickers exploiting children by using “pornographic photos of victims as a means of control, threatening to shame them by exposing the photos to their families.” The photos are then sold to porn sites while also being used to exploit the victims who are coerced into prostitution.
"Our society is becoming more and more sexualized every day, and it's going younger and younger," Malone told CP. "Especially girls — the way to get attention, the way to be remembered, the way to make your mark, the way to get what you want is to promote your sexuality. Society embraces that, it encourages that, it wants that.”
Malone, who retired from professional baseball in 2001 after three years as executive vice president and general manager of the LA Dodgers, insists that social media creates the platform for people to be that “sexual creature that will be attractive to other people.”
"I think there's such an emphasis, in America in particular, on who you are sexually," he said. "We talk about sexual identity. We've got boys and girls, but now there's all these other identities out there, transgender, all the pronouns.
"The most important thing, I think, is our identity in Christ. Who are we in Jesus? What does that mean? We know that we're sons and daughters of the King, but do we truly know what it means? What the promises of God are? Who we are, who our identity is in Jesus? The world out there is saying, 'Your identity is not so much who you are, definitely not in God, your identity is who you are sexually. What can you do with your sexuality?'”
Jeannie Ortega Law is a reporter for The Christian Post. Reach her at: email@example.com She's also the author of the book, What Is Happening to Me? How to Defeat Your Unseen Enemy Follow her on Twitter: @jlawcp Facebook: JeannieOMusic