Stopping the Scourge of Sexual Slavery

News: Commentary
by Fr. Paul John Kalchik  •  •  July 8, 2023   

Sex trafficking even at parishes

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Sex trafficking is thriving in America today, and with unescorted minors annually entering our country by the thousands, this industry is growing exponentially.

Scars run deep

In the United States, estimates of the number of sex-trafficked individuals per year range from 25,000 to 50,000. Despite the tens of thousands of individuals being sex trafficked, very few cases are brought to court, and even fewer individuals involved in these heinous crimes get any prison time. In 2020, our courts handed down only 658 convictions against sex traffickers.

Brush aside all your former thoughts and understanding of prostitutes. Most of these are derived from blockbuster Hollywood movies like Pretty Woman, and they're just fiction. "Sex workers," as prostitutes are now called, are nothing more than slaves. Many sex workers are purposely hooked on drugs, to keep them obedient to their pimps. Unlike slaves of old, today's sex slaves are imprisoned in secret locations and unable to make contact with family and friends. Legalized slavery may have ended in the United States over a century ago, but it continues unabated in new and insidious forms.  

Even when the victims manage to escape, or be rescued, the hellish ordeal is not over. A friend of mine who works in a private facility that helps young victims of sex trafficking recently sent me this eye-opening account:

Working with kids who have been victims of trafficking is difficult to say the least. We've got girls that have been trafficked by family members, their parents, friends and people that they know. The majority of the time it's not done by strangers. We've got 14-year-old girls that come in with their faces and necks tattooed with their traffickers' names. They [the traffickers] treat these kids like property. They come in beat up, they've had their hair cut off with knives to scare them, they've been assaulted and abused, they're angry and suicidal. More often than not, they can't even process what's happened to them. I've had 16-year-olds tell me: "They said I'm here for trafficking, but I'm not. I just date older men." It's heartbreaking to see this everyday! They're children. You get them somewhere they feel safe, and they're playing with stuffed animals and asking you to make them macaroni and cheese. They should never have had to live through this kind of trauma. 

My friend's account reminds me of the disappearance of a young woman from my parish in Chicago over 20 years ago.


Very few victims are ever found

The pretty girl of 15, whom I will refer to as "Maria," was active in the parish's youth group. On a Saturday in the spring of 2010, she, along with other young people, had been helping students about to be confirmed at a retreat. She herself had been confirmed just the year before. That was the last day anyone remembered seeing Maria.

Her disappearance was first noted when one of her classmates stopped by her home the next day for their routine walk to Sunday Mass. Maria's mother told the classmate she wasn't home and didn't know where she was.

After the noon Mass, which was popular with the parish's youth group, Maria's friends told me and the deacon that Maria couldn't be found. She was also not communicating with any of them by phone or text. We promised we would check things out with her mother. The deacon and I immediately visited Maria's mother. She looked unperturbed and said she didn't know where Maria was, adding, "She's probably out with some boy. She is 15."

Our deacon, a retired Chicago policeman, was not swayed by the mother's explanation. He obtained consent from Maria's mother to file a missing person report with the police, and we did that forthwith. When the policeman saw a photo of Maria we brought with us, he said, "She's really pretty. She could have been trafficked."

To this day, no one — not even Maria's family or friends — has ever heard from her again. She just vanished from our lives.

About a month after we filed the missing person report, a crackerjack repairman, working on the church roof, overheard a conversation I was having with the deacon about Maria's disappearance.

She's really pretty. She could have been trafficked.

This man, who I'll refer to as "Sam," explained that he spent his free time tracking missing young people being trafficked. He informed me that sex traffickers had been kidnapping dozens of young people from Chicago's large Polish community over the last couple of years. Sam said, "Traffickers prefer pretty girls, often with blond hair and blue eyes." 

As Sam explained how child sex trafficking works in Chicago, my eyes opened and my mind exploded to the prevalence of this horror! I remember asking myself, "How is this happening in my own parish, in my own hometown, not to mention throughout America today?" 

Sam explained how, in consort with other Polish Catholics in the city, he worked with an anti-sex trafficking, not-for-profit organization in the city. His organization completed a thorough search for Maria. Although they spent hours searching on the internet and scouring police reports nationwide, they were unable to discover anything about her. I still appreciate the efforts of this group in trying to find Maria — in contrast to the Chicago Police Department, who pretty much did nothing with the missing person report. 

In the aftermath of Maria's disappearance, our deacon organized a parish workshop for the young people and their parents to prevent another disappearance. 

One thing we learned was how traffickers use social media to target victims. Evil people are always trolling social media sites for their next target, and often both parents and young people reveal too much information on social media. I clearly remember the workshop's presenter offering this advice: "It's one thing for grandma to boast about her gorgeous granddaughter at the church breakfast. But, don't post the girl's photo on Facebook and tell the world where the girl goes to school." Among the grandmas in the gathering, many had to hide their shame for making such posts.

American truck stop

Another point that the presenter brought home was that law enforcement agencies were woefully inadequate to combat rampant sex trafficking in the United States. Prevention of sex trafficking was the best defense. The moral of the story: Guard your children, and guard what they post on social media. 

One misconception is that sex trafficking happens only in big cities. My sister recently fled Illinois to make a better life for her family in Michigan. As she was getting acclimated to country living, she met a local sheriff, who, in no uncertain terms, counseled her about the dangers of sex trafficking in rural areas. "See your pretty daughters over there, with their blond hair and blue eyes, keep them away from our truck stops and gas stations," he said. "Every month we lose many of our girls there. Western Michigan is one of their favorite harvest grounds." Indeed, rural Western Michigan, with the big interstates of US-94, I-75 and US-131, make the numerous truck stops along these highways favorite sites for youths to be "harvested," to use the sheriff's word.

Evil people are always trolling social media sites for their next target.

I remember Maria with tears in my eyes and prayers in my heart. Despite the grieving, my prayers were answered, in one sense, when I met the many good men and women working behind the scenes to stop modern slavery and protect kids. If you're so inclined, think about becoming one of them and volunteering with a local not-for-profit organization that works to rescue kids and bring modern slavery to an end. 

My friend who works with rescued kids agrees with me: 

This is a huge problem that people like to ignore because it's hard to stomach, but there are so many victims that we don't even have the space or placements to house them all. It's time for people to open their eyes and make changes to do something about it. Someone has to protect our children. 

Finding even one victim comes down to a lot of hard work, as my friend's account shows. Moreover, those individuals who survive being trafficked need help after being rescued to get back on with their lives and reconnect with their families.  

One last word: There should be no unescorted minors coming into the United States right now. No young people without a parent or personal guardian to protect them from exploitation should be permitted to cross our border. These kids are easy prey. In this past year, 85,000 unescorted children have been lost. The enormity of this number disturbs me greatly. Each and every one of these children is special in God's eyes. Let's work together to end the evils of sex trafficking and exploitation. Contact your elected officials to make your position known.

Sound of Freedom | Official Trailer | Angel Studios

The scope of the sex trafficking business and the number of victims seems to be getting more attention. This July Fourth, a new movie dramatizing the horrors of modern slavery is coming to the big screen: Sound of Freedom. Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrayed Our Lord in The Passion of the Christ, stars in the film.

I plan on seeing this movie, for Maria's sake. I'll always remember her as the young woman whom I assisted with First Holy Communion and confirmation. But, sadly, I'll also remember her as the girl who just disappeared one night, never to be seen again.

--- Campaign 31877 ---


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