Sunday, April 24, 2016

Can you see the victim?

The Kentucky Derby is in two weeks, and preparations for the influx of visitors is well underway. Every news cast is full of Derby news. There will be special Derby themed fund raising events. Residents are being advised of changes in traffic patterns. The city is sprucing up the landscape along the roads leading to Churchill Downs.

And an army of individuals are arming local businesses with the national HUMAN TRAFFICKING hotline number.

Cities love big events because big events draw big money. People will be in our restaurants, buying our gas, and staying in our hotels. Most of these visitors will come, enjoy our city, and then leave. But a percentage of them will do something else while they are here. A few of them will buy a human for the night.

The Kentucky Derby, like all major sports events, triggers an increase in human trafficking in our area. Traffickers are opportunistic, they know that this city will be be full of people looking for a party. They will travel here, just like the Derby goers, but only to make money. The ads on BackPage (and other sources) will increase. The number of solicitation arrests will increase. The number of young women/men/children exploited will increase.

I saw this happen once. My husband attended a tech conference in San Francisco, and I tagged along. (I have since learned that tech conferences are also high on the list for human traffickers.) As my husband and I sat in the restaurant of a 5 star hotel eating Japanese food neither of us could pronounce, I pointed out a victim to him. He was astonished. "How can you tell? It just looks like a couple having dinner to me."

And that's when I realized that I could see things others couldn't. To me, it was obvious. I could see beyond the couple and look at the individuals sitting there. I could see the details, the symptoms, the evidence, but I had to point them out to my husband (and waiter).

The poor girl simply did not fit in. Her "date" was a well-groomed man, 50's, resembling Harrison Ford in many ways, wearing tailored designer clothes, and had manicured hands. He sat, dignified, in his seat, employing all of the rules of etiquette appropriate for this setting. This man looked a lot like all of the other people in the restaurant.

She, on the other hand...

  • ...arrived after he did, and had trouble walking in her heels.
  • ...was very young. At most, she was in her mid 20's.
  • ...wore a cheap black club dress that didn't fit her. 
  • ...she had two tattoos, both of them simple and without color. I'm not into tattoos, but I know enough about art to recognize that these tats lacked color, depth, and line. They were not professional tattoos.
  • ...was high out of her mind. The poor girl could not sit still. She rocked in her seat, flipped her head back and forth, and (this was the biggest tell) continually rubbed her cheek and nose. Opiates. Opiates will make your face itch. My guess is the girl shot up heroin before meeting this john.
  • ...her hair showed signs of long term malnutrition. It was thin, stringy, and frizzy. She did not have it styled, but more or less pushed out of her face. 
  • ...had loose skin from sudden weight loss under her arms. Again, this was a young woman.
I watched her through my entire meal. I was hoping she would go to the restroom so I could go talk to her. I didn't have any HT info on me, but I have a smart phone. I googled the hotline number and called. I have no idea what happened to her, but I will forever have her picture in my mind.

At one point during our meal, I asked the waited if he had seen her before, and he asked why.  I told him she is prostitute, obviously high, and likely being held by a pimp for drugs. "She needs help," I said. He just shrugged, and said "it happens," and walked away. My husband was speechless, both at my ability to see her as a victim, and the waiter's inability to do the same.

This is why the outreach Free2Hope is doing next week is so important. Without education and training, the employees in our hotels, restaurants, and gas stations will not see these victims. They will not see the crimes happening right under their noses. They will not see the young women, the young men, or the children being sold for sex. They will simply shrug their shoulders and say "it happens."

Not in my city.

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