The CEO of New Friends New Life explains human trafficking
by Allison Hatfield | January 14, 2020
Kim Robinson is the chief executive officer for New Friends New Life, the Dallas-based nonprofit that helps women and children who have been trafficking victims start over with access to education, job training, and a variety of support services. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and there’s a disturbing reality that many of us are unfamiliar with. We asked Robinson to explain what trafficking is, who the victims are, and what Texas is doing to help survivors.
Q: Holy cow! The stats on your website about human trafficking in Texas and sex trafficking in North Texas are shocking. We had no idea. Will you explain what these terms mean?
You are not alone, most people are astonished when they realize sex trafficking is happening in our own backyard, especially when they learn that Texas ranks second in the U.S. for the most human trafficking and 400 teens are sold on the streets of Dallas each night.
First, I want to briefly touch on what sex trafficking is not. Most people have the idea that sex trafficking victims are always kidnapped. This idea overshadows the much more common and subtle tactics that traffickers utilize to trap their victims, like grooming.
Human trafficking is the term used to describe the two major forms of trafficking where force, fraud, or coercion are utilized for sex or for labor.
Sex trafficking occurs when someone uses force, fraud, or coercion to cause a commercial sex act with an adult. A commercial sex act includes pornography, prostitution, and sexual performance done in exchange for any item of value, such as money, drugs, shelter, food, or clothes. It is critical to know that if this person is a minor, force, fraud, or coercion do not need to be present. When minors are engaged in commercial sex acts, it is automatically child sex trafficking — and it is a crime.
Labor trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of work. Labor trafficking victims receive little or no payment for work. Some also find themselves in employment situations that are different from what was expected when they took the job. They may be afraid to reveal their immigration status or may be coming from backgrounds of extreme poverty that make it difficult for victims of labor trafficking to seek help.
Q: Who are the victims and what’s the root of this problem?
Although anyone can be a victim of sex trafficking, teens are more susceptible to the manipulation and grooming tactics used by traffickers; 15 is the average age a girl is sold for sex in America.
There is also a pipeline of vulnerability — poverty, homelessness, abuse at home, the foster system, and glamorization of the sex industry. According to National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, one in seven endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims.
Traffickers target social media sites, schools, malls, parks, shelters, and group homes — runaway or homeless youth and those with a history of physical or sexual abuse have a higher risk of being trafficked.
Realize that no youth is immune to being a target — a girl or boy from an economically stable family could just as easily fall prey in malls, through acquaintances, or on the internet. Traffickers troll the internet posing as a teen interested in friendship, which begins without threat until an unsuspecting child reveals secrets, sends compromising photos, or agrees to meet them. This opens the door for a trafficker to move in and begin separating them from their safety nets.
The demand for commercialized sex leads to opportunities for traffickers to exploit women and children. It is a lucrative business, as traffickers can make large profits by selling someone’s body multiple times to an endless cycle of buyers. In North Texas alone the sex trade is a $99 million crime.
Q: It seems like a big issue that’s not getting enough attention. Is that a fair statement? Can you explain why it might be overlooked?
There is truth to your statement. Trafficking has received a great deal of publicity recently with many groups and individuals raising awareness, in addition to heightened efforts to fight this crime by law enforcement and the governor’s office. However, there is always a need to do more to educate the public, along with businesses and local civic and faith groups — as it takes a multi-pronged approach to spread broad awareness and make change.
There are several reasons this issue is often overlooked:
- Many individuals believe that “trafficking” requires that victims be moved or transported to another country when the reality is that a great number of victims are being trafficked locally — even in their own hometown or residence.
- There is the misconception that women and girls are just making bad choices, when we hear every day at New Friends New Life that no woman or girl wants this life for herself.
- There is little awareness of the gateways and linkages to sex trafficking, which include strip clubs, pornography, and other behaviors that are often viewed as harmless rites of passage to manhood. We know that sex trafficking is not a victimless crime.
Q: Tell me about the legislation that was passed last year in Texas and why it’s important.
Last June, New Friends New Life was honored to host the governor’s press conference where five bills were signed into law that addressed human trafficking and sexual assault. These efforts were monumental in not only combating trafficking and sexual assault crimes but illustrated the commitment of Texas lawmakers.
These bills took effect September 1, 2019:
- Senate Bill 20 (Huffman/S. Thompson) enhances tools to fight online sex trafficking, increases the penalties for buyers and creates a process for victims to clear their records of certain offenses committed solely as a victim of trafficking.
- House Bill 8 (Neave/Nelson) tackles the rape kit backlog in Texas by requiring an audit of untested kits, establishing timelines for results to be submitted, and extending the statute of limitations.
- House Bill 1590 (Howard/Watson) creates a Sexual Assault Survivors’ Task Force within the Office of the Governor to catalog services, identify gaps, and coordinate efforts across the state to strategically address sexual assault.
- House Bill 2613 (Frullo/Huffman) directs forfeited proceeds from stash houses to services that aid victims of human trafficking.
- Senate Bill 71 (Nelson/S. Thompson) establishes a statewide telehealth center to expand victim access to specially trained sexual assault nurse examiners.
Q: New Friends New Life restores and empowers exploited women and children. What does that mean exactly?
At New Friends New Life, we have identified several critical components to recovery that will give a survivor the opportunity to make peace with her past and build a life for herself and her family. These include:
1) counseling to address the complex trauma victims have experienced,
2) case management to help her provide the basic needs of food, shelter, and safety for herself and her children, and
3) economic empowerment. If a survivor is unable to earn a livable wage due to a criminal record, lack of education, or any other barrier, she is at risk of returning to her dangerous and damaging past.
We have seen a 90% membership increase in our Women’s Program, which is a four-phase opportunity to access these services, free of cost.
When a survivor reaches a milestone — whether she learns to write a resume, or obtains safe housing, or earns her GED — she is engaging in the process of restoration and empowerment. When women are empowered to live independently and are able to sustain themselves and their children emotionally and financially, a stronger community is created. They become living proof that they can escape the life of trafficking and can thrive in a new life that they created for themselves.
Human Trafficking Awareness Month is important, but this problem knows no season. To find out how you can help, go to New Friends New Life.
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