Disclaimer: Letters to the Editor express the opinion of the writer and are not necessarily the opinion of WBIG ownership, management or staff.
Sex trafficking is happening to vulnerable teens right here in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County. Please let this resonate with you a second. Read it again.
The underage prostitution ring involving teens, which was recently uncovered in Pittston, is just the tip of the iceberg. Sex trafficking is happening in every big city in America, including Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. Worldwide, it is a billion dollar industry. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that approximately 100,000 American children are trafficked into the commercial sex industry every year, with up to 300,000 at risk. The average age is 12–14 years old.
Unfortunately, sex trafficking is an issue that is easy for average Americans to disassociate themselves from, and gets little attention. Most people think it only happens in third world countries, or to rebellious runaways from questionable families. The statistics have no faces, no stories, and little sympathy. The victims are not true victims, as they put themselves in harm’s way. No one would ever imagine their own teen or pre-teen daughter, niece, sister, or neighbor as a victim of such exploitation.
First of all, this is simply not true. So many more are at risk than we realize. There are predators stalking our children, and they know how to infiltrate their worlds. They pick up on the outcasts, the kids on the fringes, the socially awkward, the desperate to be noticed or loved, and they use their needs to connect with them, pull them in, and trap them. They use these kids’ interests, their hangouts, their social media accounts, and their cell phones. They are methodical and intentional at reading children and their vulnerabilities, and once they hook them, make them cut all ties to family and friends.
Second of all, if the reasons we wrote victims off were all true — they all come from bad families, they made their own bad decisions, or they actually want the lifestyle they’ve “chosen,” (including being emotionally and physically abused, drugged, controlled, starved, sold, and exploited) — it should still OUTRAGE us that there are grown adults making ridiculous sums of money off of CHILDREN not old enough to vote. It should OUTRAGE us that some of these pimps live in our neighborhood and are making tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars selling kids for sex while they live in subsidized housing and are collecting government assistance paid for by taxpayers. It should OUTRAGE us that when victims are recovered they are treated like criminals, and the real criminals are hardly ever prosecuted because it is their word against the victims’ — who are often too terrified and ashamed to testify.
We need to wake up and get angry. Here are some things you can do:
Educate yourself, and if you have teens at home, talk about the issue openly with them. Some great websites that have a wealth of information are
Familiarize yourself with pictures of runaway teens in the area and always be on the lookout for them. Should you ever even think you see a missing person, immediately call 911, the local police, or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678).
Law enforcement officials, please see the humanity in these girls and look at them as if they were your niece or daughter. Be the men or women in their lives who will fight for them and for justice. Don’t buy into the lie that they’ve chosen their fate. Asia Graves, a survivor or human trafficking, is now an outspoken advocate for sex trafficking victims and studying to be a lawyer (you can see her full story at fairgirls.org). She publicly has credited law enforcement officials for changing her life and helping her see that she truly was a victim. The platform you have and the difference you can make can be so far-reaching.
All slavery should be abolished. Every victim of trafficking is worthy of help, including the marginalized, the broken, and the young making bad choices because they are coerced, manipulated, or have nowhere else to go. Traffickers recognize and capitalize on legitimate needs for love and affection by baiting, psychologically manipulating, and then trapping their victims. They capitalize on the fact that their victims are often the forgotten and the discarded and no one will fight for them. There is far-reaching darkness out there, enveloping the oppressed, and thriving on our ignorance. We can’t afford to be ignorant any longer. Our children are not for sale!
Stacey Espiritu, Mountain Top