Sex Trafficking Myths: Understanding What It Looks Like In Real Life

Thursday, June 27th 2024, 9:07 pm

By: Lori Fullbright

Sex trafficking is now featured in songs, movies and TV shows, so a lot of people now worry about it.

But police say people need to understand what sex trafficking looks like in Oklahoma and, more importantly, what it does not look like.

They say it is not women handcuffed to a man walking through an airport, it is not kids being kidnapped out of bathrooms or people driving around in white vans looking for children, and it's not men and women being kept in cages.

Officers say these misconceptions cause people to miss trafficking right in front of them.

News On 6 has interviewed victims and agencies that help victims before, but this is a rare one-on-one interview with the head of TPD's human trafficking unit. Because of his job, we can't show his face or use his name.

Even though he's been an officer on the streets of Tulsa for more than 20 years, when he became the head of TPD's trafficking unit 18 months ago, he was shocked by how big the problem is.

"People believe it's just prostitution. It is not, absolutely, 100 percent, it is not," he said.

He says trafficking is deceptive and hiding in plain sight.

It starts with the victim believing they're in a relationship, and the predator uses affection at first, then manipulation, control, and even violence to force the victim to bend to their will.

"They are so bonded in this relationship, they feel as though they can't go against their perceived boyfriend-girlfriend status, and that causes huge problems."

Victims feel they owe a debt, and once they're forced into the commercial sex trade, they've broken the law, another reason they're reluctant to go to the police.

Predators look for victims who can be manipulated or maybe have mental health issues.

"Our victims come from all walks of life, all types of previous relationships, successful family life."

He says another horrifying thing they see is mothers and fathers or other relatives selling their children for sex. That type of strong emotional family bond makes it nearly impossible for the victim to escape, plus it's hard for people to believe.

"As a police officer, it's hard to wrap my head around," he said. "You would traffic your own child. Sex abuse of a child is hard, but selling your child as property, as a police officer, it's hard to even think about."

He says, without judgment, talk to the young people in your life about their relationships and look for warning signs: being isolated from family and friends, disappearing for a span of time, being controlled by their partner and signs of abuse. Parents, ask questions, check kids' phones and social media activity, and be involved in their lives.

"12 points of contact with a victim before they accept services."

A police officer tells them about services, that's one.

A family member offers them help, that's two.

It takes so many times because they don't see themselves as a victim but as someone in a relationship. And, when a victim is ready, it's not as simple as walking away from the trafficker and into a new life.

They literally need everything to start over.

"Clothes, they need housing, a driver's license because the trafficker takes all forms of ID so they can run away. It's not physical chains, but mental chains."

The Oklahoma Coalition Against Human Trafficking not only has great help available but also offers speakers to go to churches and groups and educate people about trafficking and how to help.