We believe sex trafficking is a rapidly growing, very lucrative crime in our state. When we hear the phrase “human trafficking,” an image of organized criminals forcing immigrants to perform difficult or dangerous work or sex for little or no compensation often comes to mind. In reality, human trafficking and sex trafficking can take different forms, making it very challenging to identify. In Alaska, we know that domestic trafficking, where a man or woman is coerced, forced, or deceived into prostitution occurs and the victims are often very young.
In fact, most trafficking victims are first exploited as children. This generally occurs between 12-14 years old for girls, and 11-13 years old for boys. Sadly, known traffickers target the youth at Covenant House and the bus station in downtown Anchorage. Covenant House youth are instructed of this danger and how to avoid it, and additional security measures are employed. The threat, however, is proven and menacingly real.
On September 11th, First Lady Sandy Parnell, Senator Lisa Murkowski and I will co-chair a fundraising fashion show event on behalf of Priceless, an organization working directly with victims of sex trafficking to help them establish security and build new lives. Priceless networks all state and national resources to bring awareness, prevention and intervention. Many victims have turned their lives around with the loving support of the Priceless mentoring team. Many have acquired housing, job skills, employment and counseling as they take big steps forward.
Sex trafficking is easily concealed, and it is vital that we be aware of its existence, warning signs, and risk factors. Most victims have a strong sense of distrust, are not aware that help is available, or do not self-identify as victims. Some of the common risk factors include poverty, youth, limited education, homelessness, and a previous history of sexual abuse.
Being a victim of sex trafficking is devastating. Victims are often coerced into a life of addiction, poverty, disease, abuse and manipulation. While we don’t have specific figures, we do know that 17 statewide programs that provide services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault were surveyed. Of the 17 surveyed, 11 confirmed that they had provided assistance to known trafficking victims.
A Washington Post opinion piece asserts that, “Across the United States, there are child sex markets not terribly dissimilar to those in Cambodia, Thailand and India. Girls are sold in this country with the same disregard for human dignity, and they are often tortured in the same ways when they try to escape.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-child-prostitute/2014/02/14/631ebd26-8ec7-11e3-b227-12a45d109e03_story.html
The prevalence and pervasiveness of the challenge that we face in our state is significant, but Governor Bill Walker’s administration is committed to addressing sexual violence in all of its forms, including trafficking. Believing victims, having response systems in place, providing support services to help victims of trauma heal, and assisting with safe and affordable housing — these are services that must be in place for every victim.
Priceless, a non-governmental entity dependent on private contributions, is playing a vital role in aiding dozens of victims with these services. Its mission also extends to walking with these victims as they seek a new life while helping them redefine their own worth.
If you are unable to attend the fundraising event, please consider contributing to help give these victims assurance that light is indeed shining into their darkness offering hope and a hand up.
First Lady Donna Walker is an attorney and former OCS Caseworker. Learn more about Priceless and their fundraiser fashion show at www.pricelessalaska.com.