The University of Idaho Center for Volunteerism and Social Action hosted a lecture on the realities of human trafficking Tuesday evening, the first in a series of lectures on raising awareness of different types of sexual exploitation during “National Human Trafficking Awareness Month.”
The Rev. Dawn Beamish, the director of the Campus Christian Center at the university, said human trafficking is one of the least covered forms of exploitation in America.
“One of the things I know for sure is that human trafficking is underreported,” Beamish said. “When you look at most forms of sexual assault, you’ll find the same type of thing.”
The Campus Christian Center hosts a separate series, “Stopping Sexploitation,” every Tuesday until Feb. 27. Beamish said the biggest challenge in terms of stopping human trafficking is its constant evolution that increases with the expansion of technology.
“No matter how certain you are that you know how (human trafficking) works, it adapts and evolves,” Beamish said, “it’s like a virus.”
The main speaker during the lecture was Lynsie Clott, an alumna and student program coordinator at UI who has extensive experience in human trafficking across the country.
Clott’s presentation discussed human trafficking topics such as data, root causes, prevention methods and how and why victims are targeted.
One of Clott’s main points to begin the lecture was understanding the definition of human trafficking and what the word means in terms of legal action.
One of the big differences she pointed out was between minor and adult victims.
“A minor is a sex trafficking victim if that minor is induced into commercial sex, period,” Clott said. “Whereas adults have to prove the use of force, extortion or coercion being used against them. This requirement is key when it comes to prosecution. Without it, there is no case.”
Clott covered multiple maps that showed estimated rates of trafficking across the United States, and explained how such crime can occur anywhere.
Beamish said trafficking can occur in places many would not expect.
“In my research I have found that this business is done in storefronts – legitimate businesses,” Beamish said. “Like a chiropracting office or massage parlors.”
While legitimate fronts would be the more business savvy way to commit such a crime, Beamish said she has seen trafficking in much less refined ways.
“I was in a community recently (outside of Idaho) where parents were discovered trafficking their middle school daughter to older men in the parking lot of their local school theater,” Beamish said. “Teachers were able to recognize that their students were dressed very scantily. As it turned out, the mom would be going around drumming up business, while the father was handling money just outside the van.”
While trafficking has been a growing problem for many years, Beamish said the growth of the internet, social media and backdoor chatrooms have widely expanded traffickers’ ability to advertise and distribute their illegal business.
“Perpetrators consider themselves to be entrepreneurs,” Beamish said. “They keep expanding what they consider to be creative business practices – that’s what I mean when I said the practice evolves.”
Beamish said her area of expertise is in finding characteristics that could make people vulnerable to traffickers. She said one of the more dangerous ways to live, especially in a diverse community like a college campus, is in isolation.
It is dangerous for a person to be socially, politically and emotionally disconnected from their environment.
“Maybe they may have a bad relationship with their family, traffickers will play right off that,” Beamish said. “They’ll say things like ‘I’m paying for your rent, and I’m paying for your food. You don’t need them.’ Traffickers do these things to cause victims to back away from their relationships, and then all of the victim’s support network is gone before they know it.”
Hannah Reinhold, an undergraduate student who attended the seminar, said she enjoyed the presentation and thought it was filled with valuable information.
Reinholt said she attended the presentation because she was confronted with the reality of human trafficking when she was young, and it has inspired her to do what she can to raise awareness for this targeted group of people.
“In seventh grade I was in Canada on a trip for marching band, and while I was there I saw a movie on sex trafficking that was very graphic – it was really heavy on my heart,” Reinholt said. “Ever since then I’ve wanted to know things I can do to raise awareness, big or small.”
Beamish said the biggest challenges undermining efforts to raise awareness are apathy and ignorance.
“People don’t think (human trafficking) is a problem,” Beamish said. “It may not be an area of high crime here, but there is crime. It is naive to think it can’t happen here. It’s here, it’s in rural areas and it’s in big cities. It’s all over.”
Andrew Ward can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @WardOfTheWorlds
*This story has been updated due to reporter error.