(The Root) — “He’d take wooden bats and hit me. I thought he loved me, but he’d turn around and beat me and all the girls in his house. But you just can’t get up and leave. He would threaten me about my family… I was afraid of getting hurt, so I just stayed.”
The speaker, who says she met her pimp when she was 11 years old, is seen in shadow to protect her identity. But you can tell that she’s black, and she sounds like she’s still young.
She’s not the only one who fits that description. In another segment of a YouTube video projected onto a screen in a packed Washington Convention Center ballroom at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference session on Modern Slavery and Sexual Trafficking is “Erika.” She says she was 13 or 14 years old when she was lured into forced prostitution.
“I was shaped like a boy. Very stringy, very thin, very underdeveloped. It flabbergasts me that the people who were coming to buy us — the Johns, if you will — they knew I was a child. “
When the screen goes dark, April Jones, the moderator of the two-hour “brain trust” conversation of experts on human trafficking, expresses what many in the room are no doubt thinking.
“The thing I noticed most about that video,” she says, “is that everyone spoke perfect English. Everyone was from this country. This is not something that happened hundreds of years ago. It’s happening here and now.”
“It,” of course, is slavery. From the point of view of panelist Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, director of the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, to call it anything else is a euphemism just as avoidant as previous ones in American history like “servitude” or “our peculiar institution.”
Today, he says, its victims are diverse. “It’s a woman lured from her home in another country with the promise of a good job. It’s the man recruited to work on a fishing boat, who, once land is out of sight, is forced to work 20 hours a day, who’s made to eat the bait, who’s raped by the ship’s operator.”
But in the United States, when it comes to sexual slavery, it’s often girls like Erika.
Panelist Malika Saadar Sar is a hero of the anti-trafficking community for her work with the Rebecca Project for Human Rights. She worked to shut down Craigslist ads that led to kids being sold for sex. “People sold for sex in this country are American children who are disproportionately black and brown,” she says. “They are between the ages of 12 and 13 — middle school aged. “
Indeed, according to the most recent FBI report on the issue, 83 percent of victims of confirmed sex-trafficking cases were identified as U.S. citizens. Forty percent of the victims and 62 percent of the suspected perpetrators were black.
In some places, the demographic breakdown is even more dramatic, like in Houston. The jurisdiction of panel host Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee is what she calls a “hub” of sexual slavery. According to panelist Ann Johnson, Harris County, Texas, prosecutor and human trafficking specialist, the breakdown of victims there is “roughly 55 African American, 25 Hispanic and 20 Caucasian.”