Welcome to Wichita, Sex Trafficking Capitol of the US
Though I now live in Southeast Kansas where I go to school, I grew up in Overland Park—a suburb of Kansas City—where, on the surface, the biggest problem faced by the populace is which brand of sparkling water to buy. My family was perfectly middle class, but I went to the “rich kid” high school and lived next to the rich neighborhood. Because of its proximity to the golf course, it was called Nottingham by the Green—we called in Snottingham.
Many of my friends lived there. It is a “good” area. Two or three years ago, I found out that this clean, busy, affluent area is part of the sex trafficking capital of the United States. More specifically, Wichita, which is about a three-hour drive from Overland Park, is one of the top cities for sex trafficking in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers Wichita the 5th originating city—the place from which children are recruited before being transported elsewhere for exploitation. Wichita is probably such a popular hunting ground because it is in the middle of the country and crisscrossed by several interstate highways.
Sex Trafficking Targets Children
But no amount of justification can make the revelation any less shocking.
According to police reports, the number of sex trafficking victims almost tripled in just one year – between 2011 and 2012. The Department of Justice estimates that anywhere from 100,000 to 300,000 children are at risk for entering the commercial sex trade in the United States. These statistics make the commercial exploitation of US children and youth tied with illegal arms trade as the second largest and fastest criminal enterprise, after the illicit drug. In Wichita alone, between 300 and 400 youth are at risk of sex trafficking each year.
To address the problem, the Wichita Children’s Home began a programme specifically to reach these children. Of the 250 residents at the home between 2007 and 2008, 100 had been forced into sexual exploitation. Keep in mind, these statistics show only those who escaped or were rescued from these situations and were able to report about them. How many more have died or been lost?
Part of what makes sex trafficking so dangerously successful is how lucrative it is. A pimp can make $150,000-$200,000 a year per child, and may exploit as many as 6 victims at a time. But what is worse is that many of those enslaved by sex trafficking do not see themselves as victims. They are brainwashed by their pimps to think that they are working as an act of love for this adult figure who they see as a caretaker and provider. They are made to feel indebted to and appreciative of their pimps. They are taught to hate and blame themselves and to fear law enforcement. But their failure to see themselves as victims does not change their status as such.
The heartbreaking truth is that most children who are absorbed into child sex trafficking have been previously sexually abused their whole lives. Most children being exploited by sex trafficking, a staggering 70-90%, were abused prior to being forced into the sex trade. They are:
- runaways, drug addicts
- some are victims of highly dysfunctional and neglectful families
- 30% reported sexual abuse by a family member.
- 14% reported sexual abused by both a family member and another individual outside the family.
An Absence Of TrueWorthiness
These children begin to see themselves as worthy or capable only of performing sexually for adults, so they are unable to recognize that what they are being forced to do is incredibly wrong. What do we do?
An increasing number of police precincts have units designated to stop child sex trafficking. Officers are trained to identify potential victims and help remove them from these dangerous and damaging situations. But civilians who have been educated and enlightened about the realities of the US sex trade are learning to intervene as well.
There are justice-determined vigilantes who train themselves to recognize the signs and know where to find help. Potential red flags for sex trafficking include:
- Individuals living with their employers, or living with multiple other sex workers in cramped and poor conditions.
- They may appear always to be scripted and rehearsed and they are unable to speak to others alone.
- There may be signs of physical abuse but it is also likely that there are no visible indicators and the victim is merely submissive or fearful.
Can We Help?
If you find yourself able to privately speak to such a person without their pimp watching, you might ask them whether they could leave the job if they wanted to or come and go as they please. Remember that many victims of the sex trade do not realize that they are victims and will not ask for or accept help if directly presented with it. If you do suspect that someone is involved in an unsafe situation, call the police. Do not attempt to rescue this person on your own.
Whenever I go home for a long weekend, it is still hard for me to see my hometown as a hotbed for child sex trafficking. With new apartment complexes and Whole Foods locations opening on practically every corner, I wonder where they can even be keeping their victims. I take my dog around the block and stop to let her lick young faces and grubby hands and I ache for the children who have lost their childhoods to this thing, who think that they are worth no more than the sex they are used for. I study faces at the grocery store, the playground, the mall, see who can not meet my gaze. I smile like a friend.
So many need a friend.
Katelyn Roth double-majored in Creative Writing and Psychology at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS. She remains at the university doing her Masters in Poetry and is also teaching freshman composition classes. She resides in Pittsburgwith her boyfriend and their husky mix, Inara. Read her most recent article, “9 Things Every Woman Should Do This Fall,” here.
This is the first in a five-part series looking at prostitution and those in the sex trade through lenses of compassion. The rationale for doing this series is detailed here and Neelma Tashfeen, our Contributor from Pakistan, will post next week Wednesday the third installment in this series. Do Subscribe to receive a daily email update of our posts as well as my monthly newsletter and affirmation.