Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Though it may sound farfetched to some, human sex trafficking is real and regularly occurs throughout the nation, Linda Inmon, Extension specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. As inconceivable as it may seem, the crime also occurs in Arkansas.
“According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there have been 231 cases of sex trafficking in Arkansas since 2012,” she said. “In 2018 alone, there were 29 cases reported in our state. Over 40,000 cases have been reported across the nation since 2007.”
According to the hotline’s website, this crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his or her will.
Sex traffickers look for vulnerabilities in children as young as 12 years old, Inmon said. They commonly target children through the internet.
“The predator begins by flattering a child and appearing as their protector,” she said. “The young mind perceives this attention as love and care, only to later find out that it was all a mind game to introduce them into a world of sexual exploitation.”
In sex trafficking cases, a predator commonly uses a real or perceived threat of death, a sense of no escape, isolation and acts of kindness to create a trauma bond with their victims. When these four factors are present, it’s not likely that the victim will turn on their predator, but oftentimes will protect them instead.
Trauma bond results from ongoing cycles of abuse in which an alternating reinforcement of reward and punishment creates a powerful emotional bond resistant to change, Inmon said.
“As a society, keeping children safe is our shared responsibility,” she said. “As parents, teachers and community leaders, we need to ensure that our children know they are loved, wanted and are a vital part of our society. We must provide safe havens, build up the self-esteem of all children and become observant of their behaviors, as well as the behavior of others.”
Inmon said it’s important for parents to be knowledgeable of their child’s friendships, whereabouts and internet activity, as well as their physical and emotional wellbeing.
“Don’t be afraid to set limits with your children – they expect us to,” she said. “In my own experience, to this day when my adult daughters visit, they know I need to know where they are going and with whom. As a precaution, I ask them to keep their cell phones on, and be back home no later than 12 a.m., when all the doors and windows will be locked.”
For more information on human sex trafficking or sexual exploitation, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text 233733 (BEFREE), or visit humantraffickinghotline.org.
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