HEALTH MATTERS: Human trafficking can hit close to home

Rachel Thomas and Jessica Midkiff shared their personal stories as human trafficking survivors during a panel discussion hosted by Shaun Robinson, the founder of the S.H.A.U.N. Foundation and sponsored by Ford Motor Company Fund. (Photo by Louis Kengi Carr)

Human trafficking is a global epidemic and is characterized as the modern-day slavery.

Jessica Midkiff was 11 years old when she was introduced to human trafficking under the guise of being employed to clean houses. Rachel Thomas was a junior in college when she was approached by a young man who told her that she should be a model and he could make it happen.

“I came from a two-parent stable household and lived in Pasadena before I left for college in Georgia,” said Thomas, who modeled in high school and was active as an athlete. “When the charming smile and compliments from a guy didn’t work, 30 minutes later a beautiful friendly girl my age came up to me and told me this guy was the number one agent in Atlanta and could jump start my life.”

Thomas called him and six weeks later she found herself in the midst of human trafficking.

“From 11 years old until the age of 21, a family member set me up to clean houses but in reality it was to offer me up for money,” Midkiff said. “In the beginning, I did not realize it was human trafficking because I was conditioned to do what I was told.” The abuse would occur several times a day.

“My only safe haven was with my grandparents’ home,” Midkiff said. She thought the mental, emotional and sexual abuse was normal in most households, with the exception of her grandparents’.

Girls and boys are targeted by traffickers, who are typically a family member, a love interest or someone who offers friendship or a business opportunity. The Blue Campaign, a unified voice for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.

Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked in countries around the world, including the United States. The DHS calls it a hidden crime. The movement of women, girls and boys is disguised as sex slaves, labor and prostitution.

“When you think about human trafficking most people think that it’s happening overseas,” said Emmy award-winning TV personality Shaun Robinson at the Ford Motor Company Fund-sponsored panel discussion, “The Empowered Girl – How Not to be a Victim of Human Trafficking,” held at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.

“What I realized is that it is happening to girls right here in the United States. It’s happening on high school and college campuses and right in your own home without your knowledge.”

More than 200 men, women, and children attended the event to get more information about human trafficking and to get involved with the movement to end this international crime.

Poet and vocalist Gina Loring kicked off the discussion with a song and poetry of inspiration.

The panel led by Robinson included actress Garcelle Beauvais, Thomas and Midkiff; Joan Pera, supervising deputy probation officer for Los Angeles County; Kim Biddle, founder and CEO of Saving Innocence; and Tracey Webb, former cyber crime and child abuse prosecutor for Los Angeles County.

“It is estimated that human trafficking generates many billions of dollars of profit per year, second only to drug trafficking as the most profitable form of transnational crime,” Webb told the gathering.

“Ford Motor Company Fund has been incredible about putting their power behind events like this one and getting the word out about human trafficking,” Robinson said.

As with any trauma incident, the mind, body and soul can be damaged.

Experts such as Dr. Judith Lewis Herman, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, states, “Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is typically the result of exposure to repeated or prolonged instances or multiple forms of interpersonal trauma, often occurring under circumstances where escape is not possible due to physical, psychological, maturational, family/environmental or social constraints. Such traumatic stressors include childhood physical and sexual abuse, recruitment into armed conflict as a child, being a victim of domestic violence, sex trafficking or slave trade; experiencing torture and exposure to genocide campaigns or other forms of organized violence.”

Herman’s book describes the healing process of people who struggle with a combination of problems related to unwanted, abusive or traumatic experiences in their past. The problems may include:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions and impulses.

  • Emotional numbing.

  • Anger and aggression.

  • Substance addictions.

  • Behavioral addictions (porn, anonymous sex, gambling, etc.)

  • Self-harming behaviors (cutting, burning, etc.).

  • And dissociation (spacing out, blanking out, losing time, etc.).

There is a three-stage healing process of dealing with and overcoming such problems, which is adapted by numerous organizations including Saving Innocence.

Stage 1 involves getting a road map of the healing process; setting treatment goals and learning about helpful approaches to reaching those goals; establishing safety and stability in one’s body, one’s relationships, and the rest of one’s life; tapping into and developing one’s own inner strengths, and any other potentially available resources for healing; learning how to regulate one’s emotions and manage symptoms that cause suffering or make one feel unsafe; developing and strengthening skills for managing painful and unwanted experiences, and minimizing unhelpful responses to them.

Stage 2 of recovery and treatment is often referred to as remembrance and mourning and involves reviewing and/or discussing memories to lessen their emotional intensity, to revise their meanings for one’s life and identity, etc.; working through grief about unwanted or abusive experiences and their negative effects on one’s life; and mourning or working through grief about good experiences that one did not have, but that all children deserve.

Stage 3 focuses on reconnecting with people, meaningful activities and other aspects of life.

“As far as treatment, many of the youth may not be ready to process until later, but when they are, they need to meet with trauma-informed, and therapists who specialize in [eye movement desensitization and reprocessing], which has been an effective treatment,” said Amber Davies, director of clinical programs for Saving Innocence.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is a new psychotherapy technique, using bilateral stimulation, right/left eye movement, or tactile stimulation, which activates the opposite sides of the brain, releasing emotional experiences that are “trapped” in the nervous system.

“What we try and do in the interim is try and help the youth feel safe, creating safety plans, and helping to bring together the treatment teams who work with the youth,” Davies said. “We believe that relationship is the best intervention, and that rebuilding trust with an advocate is one of the best ways kids can heal from the trauma.”

Saving Innocence has worked with nearly 700 youth since its founding in 2010.

Shaun Robinson presented Kim Biddle of Saving Innocence with a $5,000 grant underwritten by Ford Motor Company Fund. From left, Danielle Rodriquez, Kim Biddle of Saving Innocence, Shaun Robinson, Yisel Cabera and Garcelle Beauvais. Photo: Louis Kengi Carr

“Between 60 and 70 percent of the youth we work with have had previous involvement in child welfare and juvenile justice systems,” Davies said. “There is a statistic that only 1 percent of trafficking victims ever escape, but if that’s true, it means there have been a lot more.”

Parents can look for changes in behavior, lack of interest in school, provocative dress, a new, older boyfriend, secrecy, unknown whereabouts and money, new clothes or cell phone without parent’s help.

Children who are at risk are those that have been sexually or physically abused, runaways, children who live in high poverty areas, have parents who are on drugs, have inadequate family support, lack of adult supervision and children who are exposed to sex trafficking within their homes or families.

What else can parents do? “Know your children’s friends, their families and talk to your child even if they don’t like it,” said Midkiff. “Predators know how to use sites like Backpage, Craig’s List and hidden phone apps to get to your child.”

To continue to raise awareness and keep children save on a global level, Beauvais, who has two sons, talked about her involvement in “Lalo’s House,” a film about human trafficking in Haiti. The audience was able to watch a preview and hear from the director Kelley Kali. On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake left the country of Haiti in complete devastation. Thousands of children were left in extreme poverty, exposed to greater risk of family separation and more vulnerable to violence and abuse, including sexual and gender-based violence as well as trafficking.

Children often sell themselves, or are sold by their parents, because they feel as if they have no other choice.


EMDR-Therapy –

Judith Lewis Herman – Trauma and recovery: the aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror.

Ford Motor Company Fund –

Lalo’s House –

Saving Innocence –

S.H.A.U.N. Foundation for Girls –

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes –

U.S. Department of Homeland Security –

#HumanTrafficking #ShaunRobinson #FordMotorCompanyFund #LosAngelesWaveNewspaper #PlatinumStarPR #SavingInnocence

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