Karla Jacinto was a 12-year-old living in an impoverished abusive household in Tenancingo, Mexico, when a boy selling candy approached her in a car as she was waiting for some friends near a Mexico City subway station.
She was charmed by him. Soon after, he introduced her to an older man, who impressed the child with his wealth and his stories of his own abuse as a child. Within three months, she was living with the man, and soon afterward, he forced her into a life of forced servitude.
She spent the next four years as a prostitute in Guadalajara.
At age 15, she gave birth to the pimp’s child, whom he repeatedly threatened in order to keep Karla in line. When the police raided the hotel she was staying at, she briefly believed she’d been rescued.
But she said the police took her and several girls, some as young as 10, and forced them into compromising positions that the men then used to blackmail the girls. Karla estimated she was forced to have sex with up to 30 men per day, seven days a week, for about four years
She even has a number for the amount of times she was raped — 43,200.
— CNN report September 2017.
Barbara Amaya was 12 when she ran away from an abusive home in North Virginia.
She was picked up by sex traffickers on the streets of Washington, D.C., and forced into a decade of prostitution in New York City. During her time in the control of the human trafficker, she contracted uterine cancer related to HPV, which she contracted while being forced to have sex with strangers.
She became addicted to heroin. And she suffered from Trauma Bonding and Stockholm Syndrome, which victims resistant to the opportunity to escape.
She only broke away when, at the age of 22, her pimp was arrested and sent to jail. She checked herself into drug rehab, where special people led her out of that life.
Today, she warns parents that traffickers can be right in their own living room, on their TV, their computer, their iPhone or iPad. It happens in streets, at school.
“Wherever there are people, there are traffickers waiting,” she says.
— MTV Staying Alive, January 2017.
In Nigeria, Iraq and Syria, organizations like Boko Haram and the Islamic State offer women and girls they kidnap to jihadist fighters as sex slaves to entice new members and retain current ones.
In addition, terrorist groups use the millions of dollars they receive from sex trafficking to finance their terrorist operations.
It’s estimated that the Islamic State generated $30 million in 2016 from sex trafficking and ransoms for kidnap victims. Many kidnap victims are deliberately impregnated to help produce the next generation of terrorists.
Since its insurgency in 2009, the Islamist militant group Boko Haram has abducted thousands of girls and women in northeast Nigeria.
The most notable kidnapping took place in 2014, when Boko Haram took 276 girls from the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok and turned them into sex slaves, wives for terrorists and suicide bombers. The tales of horror from survivors, rescuers and local militia have been revealed over the years.
There have been stories of victims being sold for ransom, with the kidnappers releasing videos of girls being raped as proof they were alive.
Two victims were found by a local militia group, raped, half-dead and tied to a tree. Four other girls with them were killed for their disobedience and buried nearby.
— Reuters, October 2017.
Joe Garman had been working for years alongside Cambodian Christian leaders who had witnessed girls disappearing from their villages to be sold and exploited.
One day, he witnessed a woman nearly being sold into slavery by her parents. He later became aware of thousands of women being taken and sold into human trafficking.
Upon returning to the United States, he and his daughter, Stephanie Garman Freed, started an international safe house, Rapha House, for children rescued from slavery and exploitation.
Since 2003, Rapha House has helped hundreds of children get their lives back together.
Rapha is the Hebrew word for “healing.”
These are the stories of human trafficking, a plague that affects nearly 25 million people worldwide.
It affects mostly women and girls, but men and boys are also exploited. Half the cases worldwide involve sex trafficking. Many organizations, including the U.S. Department of Defense, consider human slavery to be the fastest growing crime in the world.
And it’s not just happening in other countries. Through June 2018, the U.S. had more than 5,100 reported cases of human trafficking, including over 3,700 sex trafficking cases.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, the top five states for human trafficking through June were California (760 cases), Texas (455), Florida (367), Ohio (219) and New York (206).
In 2013, the New York State Bar Association issued a report that found that human trafficking in America generates $32 billion a year. In New York alone, the report estimated the state had nearly 12,000 cases of human trafficking between 2000 and 2013.
About 58 percent of the nearly 11,300 sex trafficking victims in New York were under age 18, the report found.
It is a karmic act of the universe, or perhaps just a coincidental quirk of the calendar, that Christmas Day falls exactly a week before the start of the new year, that the season of joy and giving is immediately followed by the season of resolution and renewal and hope.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, take time today to think about the joy and hope that is being ripped from millions of people through the greed, violence and cruelty of human traffickers.
It’s not someone else’s problem. It’s not a problem limited to unknown faces a world away. It happens in places we know. In Mexico. In other states. In our own state of New York, upstate and downstate. It can happen to our own children.
Contact your state lawmakers and members of Congress and urge them to pass legislation to support efforts to crack down on human trafficking. Support organizations like Rapha House and Polaris through donations.
Make yourself aware of the problem and join with others to stop it.
No one should live the life Karla Jacinto has lived. No one should consider themselves lucky when 10 years of sex slavery comes to an end. No one should live in fear that one minute they could be walking down the street and the next they could be living the life of a sex slave.
Much is being done to stop this practice. Much more needs to be done.
It requires hope that leads to resolution.
It requires awareness that leads to action.