Human Sex Trafficking. It is real. It is happening now. And it is in Delaware. It could be in your neighborhood. It could be a student in a school. In some circumstances, it could be your own child.
There are few things more gut-wrenching than a child being sold into slavery to perform sex acts. Even more horrifying is that it is happening now, in real-time, in our state. How does this happen? It happens in various ways, but the truest injustice is how Delaware laws are not strong enough to prevent it. The victims of these crimes, often American children, are treated like social pariahs.
IT CAN’T HAPPEN HERE
But it does. Every single day. To date, since legislation specifically dealing with Human Trafficking passed in the Delaware General Assembly, there has been one prosecution in Delaware. One. In Maryland, there have been over 140 in the last year alone. Does that mean it doesn’t happen here? Far from it. It means our law enforcement, attorneys, legislators, and state government do not have the knowledge and training to truly tackle the issue. There are many reasons why they don’t, but the simple fact exists that there are human beings sold into sex slavery within our state right now. It is our moral responsibility as a state to make sure this never happens again.
The top of Delaware is in the middle of what is known as the I-95 corridor. Delaware is actually the perfect spot for pimps to take advantage of The First State with these crimes. It is not a coincidence that Delaware has over 90 massage parlors that are suspected of human trafficking.
Yolanda Schlabach, from Greenwood, DE, has made it her mission to end human sex trafficking in Delaware. She founded Zoe Ministries of Delaware, a non-profit whose number one priority is to bring awareness to the horrible crimes happening in our own state. To date, she has met with over 8,500 Delawareans to bring attention to the issue. Schlabach has traveled up and down the state, with no agenda but to help the victims and bring attention to an issue far too many of us don’t even know is happening. She has met with resistance at all levels because it is a very uncomfortable topic and people don’t want to believe it could happen here. If it is a documented fact that this is happening, in the 49 other states of this country, what makes Delaware think it is immune to these crimes? If anything, we are more prone to it because of our lax laws in regards to Human Sex Trafficking. In a News Journal article published March 24th, Schlabach said the following:
“If it is happening in all of our surrounding states, and it is happening in all 49 states, just because Delaware does not have statistics does not mean it isn’t happening,” Schlabach said. “It simply means we don’t have statistics because we don’t know how to identify it, how to prosecute it (and) we don’t know how to investigate it as a state.”
DEALING WITH THE DELAWARE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Schlabach approached the Markell administration about this issue and met with stiff resistance. After years of advocating for these modern-day sex slaves, newly elected Governor John Carney proclaimed January, 2017 as Human Sex Trafficking Month in Delaware. In response, House Concurrent Resolution #3, sponsored by State Rep. Paul Baumbach and State Senators Margaret Rose-Henry and Gerald Hocker, also recognized the Governor’s action. But is that enough? Not even close.
This is not the first legislation to address Human Sex Trafficking in Delaware. In 2014, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 197. Two-thirds of the Delaware Senate signed on as co-sponsors and almost 40% of the House. This legislation, meant to strengthen Delaware state code and give stiffer penalties to those who traffic human beings whether in sex acts or forced labor, also gives the state to right to seize property owned by the sex trafficker who is found guilty of violating the law. It also created a Human Traffic Coordinating Council. The original intent and the implementation have been two very different things. Today, not even three years later, the council is down to three members. The state police are not one of those members. This is who was supposed to be on it:
Obviously, we have a huge problem in Delaware. The law also was meant to guarantee training for law enforcement, something which has not happened with fidelity. Many blame this on funding, but if the state were to take advantage of property seizure, where the pimps can make up to a million a year from their victims, perhaps our current $385 million dollar budget deficit wouldn’t be as large as it is.
YOUNG LIVES, INSANE PROFIT
Last August, Schlabach was one of the guest speakers at TedX Wilmington where she gave a controversial speech called “Sex Trafficking In The U.S.: Young Lives, Insane Profit”. As you watch the below video, note how certain pictures were NOT included in the final cut of the video. The first picture in this article was shown in the presentation. But it didn’t make the cut in the video. Why? Is it too horrible for people to see what is happening in their very own communities?
BACKPAGE, RUBMAPS, CRAIGSLIST & KIK
While Schlabach discussed how this happens in Delaware, I did some digging of my own based on her talk. She mentioned a website called Backpage.com which solicits prostitution via massage parlors and hotel rooms. She also talked about Rubmaps.com which is a review site which, according to her talk, clearly shows these are not health-based businesses. But we can’t forget Craigslist and an app called Kik. All of these help to perpetuate the disgusting and appalling continuation of child sex acts. Many prostitute ads appear on Craigslist and Backpage and potential johns are asked to either reply to the ad, call a phone number, email them, or contact them via Kik.
Kik Messenger is predominantly a cell-phone app. It is based out of Canada which makes it favorable to pimps because it is very difficult to get records, even with a subpoena, since they are not based out of the USA. As well, many children and teenagers use Kik. Pimps main goals with online websites and apps are not just to sell their victims to johns, but also to lure new victims into their web as well. Vaulty, Snapchat, Burn Note, Line., Omegle, Tinder, Blendr., Yik Yak, and Ask.fm. Parents of minors should be very aware of what apps are on their child’s cellphone and take appropriate action.
In a hand-out given to participants in one of Schlabach’s presentations, KiK messenger is specifically mentioned as having the following attributes:
Kids are using Reddit and other forums to place classified ads for sex by giving out their KiK usernames. KiK does not offer any parental controls and there is no way of authenticating users, this making it easy for sexual predators to use the app to interact with minors.
Pimps love to recruit new victims. Sex trafficked prostitutes are not always from other countries. In fact, statistics show most are American and many are children under the age of 18. Most are female, but males are also trafficked by pimps. They are not always from broken homes either. It could be any child who is susceptible to a situation where they are easily coerced. Roughly 60% of these victims are in the foster care system. Many are runaways. They are the broken children of our society, those shunned by the adults who should care for them the most.
*The above pictures from Craigslist and Backpage were from TODAY, in the past half hour. I edited out not-safe-for-work words and phone numbers provided in the ads.
WHY DON’T THESE VICTIMS RUN AWAY FROM THEIR PIMPS?
They are slaves, in every sense of the word. Forced to perform sex acts to more than willing johns. They have to meet quotas they must give to their pimps. They are beaten if they disobey. They are branded with tattoos so their pimps can find them. According to Schlabach, other pimps will turn the victims back over to the original pimp if they see the victim has a particular brand on them. To their pimps, they are property. They threaten to harm or kill the victim’s families. They blackmail them into prostitution by stating they will show videos of them having sex to their families. In essence, they are broken down so horribly and violently, they are numb. Many victims of sex trafficking are forced to take drugs like heroin. They are shuffled around towns and cities and never stay in one place for too long.
The pimps aren’t the pimps you see in the movies and on tv. The stereotype of the pimp is not the same as the reality. Pimps can be anyone. There are pimps who sell their own children into sex acts. Fathers, mothers, grandparents. It could be a co-worker, or a neighbor, or just a normal person you see walking down the street. In Maryland, a charter school teacher was prosecuted for trafficking one of his students. But there are three things they do: Coerce, control and force.
The victims of Human Sex Trafficking suffer from trauma most people cannot relate to. They are physically, mentally, and sexually abused, for years on end. As the first picture in this article shows, the average life expectancy is seven years for many of these victims. These ARE the MOST vulnerable people in this country.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
- Call Zoe Ministries and ask how you can help.
- Attend the quarterly meetings of the Human Traffic Coordinating Council.
- If you see something suspicious, contact the State Police, Local Police (if applicable), and the federal Human Trafficking Resource Center at (888) 373-7888. I would call all three, as Schlabach suggests.
- Spread the word.
- Share this article with as many people as you can.
- Share the TedX talk.
- Contact your legislators and demand they act. There are five different drafts of legislation dealing with Human Sex Trafficking waiting for sponsors in Legislative Hall.
- If you are an educator, talk to your administrator about having Yolanda Schlabach come into your school to talk about this issue. Red Clay, in conjunction with the Beau Biden Foundation and the News Journal, had a whole conference on child abuse today at Cab Calloway and Schlabach gave a two hour presentation on it so it can be done.
- You can even flag ads on Craigslist if you feel there are minors in those ads.
Anyone reading this blog over the past three years knows this is predominantly an education blog. But it is called Exceptional Delaware. I believe ALL the children of Delaware are exceptional, whether they are in school or not. I have always fought for the most vulnerable of children in our schools. This issue is just one more on my list of things I want to see eradicated from Delaware. I have no doubt there are kids in our schools who are sexually and physically abused daily. I also believe there could be victims of sex trafficking in our classrooms. This is a damn serious issue that needs to be put into the spotlight immediately, more than ever before. It isn’t enough that our legislators and 8,500 Delawareans know about it. We should ALL know about it. This is OUR state. These are OUR children. I will be writing much more about Human Sex Trafficking. I feel it is my moral obligation to do so. I am just sorry I wasn’t so aware of it until recently. This is our mission as human beings: when we see a wrong we should do everything in our power to not only address it, but attempt to get rid of it. Only through speaking out can we bring awareness. I haven’t even fully dove into this subject and I have no doubt I will quickly find out much more about this topic which I will share with all of you. It is ugly, but it is real.