Mon, Dec 5th 2011 12:00 am
It is rare that I use this space as a launching pad for a future article, if fact, I don’t believe I have ever done so. But this week I am making an exception.
I have been researching a story for the past few months, and sometime before the end of the year it will be ready for print. It’s an article that I not only hope everyone reads, but that they’ll pass it on to a friend, co-worker, relative, neighbor – you get the idea.
The topic: human sex trafficking.
Like me, at first you might wonder what kind of local angle there could be with such a topic. That’s something that only happens in such faraway places as Thailand, China and Russia. Certainly in 2011 in the United States of America, the trafficking of human beings doesn’t occur, does it?
That was my naivety until I did some research. The facts are grim: Not only does it occur, there is an astonishing number of cases right here in Western New York. As a border region not only to Canada but also Pennsylvania, trafficking in young girls (and boys) for illicit purposes is an all-too-real business.
It’s a business that is estimated to be second only to drug trafficking in the black-market trades, bringing in $32 billion worldwide each year.
I don’t want to give away too much of what you will be reading about later this month, but to dispel the notion that human trafficking doesn’t happen in the United States, I share this sobering fact with you: America is the No. 1 destination worldwide for Americans looking to have sex with a child. They don’t go to Europe; they don’t go to Asia. They stay right here at home. What does that tell you? The demand is being met.
There are a number of individuals committed to fighting human trafficking in Western New York. I have spoken to some of them; others I will be reaching out to in the next two weeks as I continue to paint the picture of this dirty little secret that many people are painfully unaware exists right in our own backyard.
A few weeks back, I wrote about the prostitution sting that took place in Tonawanda. Many people I spoke with viewed that as women choosing to sell their bodies – a simple business transaction. Though the women arrested may have been in their 20s and 30s, do you really think they woke up one day and decided they wanted to have sex for money? For many of them, life as a sex worker is anything but a choice.
To illustrate that point, I was at a presentation a last month on the issue of human trafficking in Western New York and heard one of the most telling statistics yet: The average age of enslavement for a sex worker in the United States is between 12 and 13.
As the father of a 6-year-old girl, that sentence took something which been an abstract concept somewhere halfway across the world and brought it home in a hurry.
Western New York is littered with strip clubs, massage parlors and prostitutes selling themselves for as little as $20 to complete strangers, risking their lives with every transaction to earn what I spent on my lunch yesterday.
If you think those establishments and street corners are filled with consenting adults making sound, wise career choices, think again. The statistics show that for many of them, their life in the industry began way before they had the ability to choose for themselves. And worse yet, statistically, it is likely that among the “legal” sex workers in the region, there are people being trafficked against their will – made to turn a profit before they are “used up” and eventually discarded.
They are someone’s daughter, sister, mother. They are victims and they are here, now, in Western New York.
Matt Chandler is associate editor of the Buffalo Law Journal. firstname.lastname@example.org