ADVOCATES FOR FREEDOM AND THE POLARIS PROJECT

It is our usual custom to reserve this feature for one individual who is a shining example of all that is good in South Mississippi. We honor their integrity, character, and business acumen because they are the leaders of today and tomorrow. This time, we have chosen two remarkable organizations that work tirelessly, night and day in order to protect innocent lives. The Polaris Project and Advocates For Freedom are doing everything within their power to address the subject of Human Trafficking. The members of these organizations are fiercely dedicated men and women who can be counted upon around the clock, doing whatever they can regardless of the hour, in order to help someone in need of a way out and safe refuge. Last month, the city of Biloxi was host to the Advocates For Freedom Winter Conference, which focused on Domestic Minor Human Trafficking. It was a huge success.
  The Polaris Project was founded in 2002 by two Brown University college students who discovered a dreadful secret that haunted them and they simply could not ignore it. People were being sold for sex in the college town of Providence, Rhode Island where they went to school. Horrified and appalled that the sex trade was happening in their beloved city, they decided to do something about it. They bravely formed the Polaris Project, which was named after the North star that guided slaves to freedom. Today, the organization flourishes and has expanded throughout the country and abroad. This unspeakable crime knows no boundaries, and it is growing at an alarming rate.
The Polaris Project is a nonprofit organization that offers a 24 hour Hot Line. The Hot Line is represented in 172 languages. A call specialist, with a kind and friendly voice is available every minute of every day. A variety of services is offered, which begins with connecting victims to services that are available anywhere in the country. Requests from victims are most often for shelter. This can be of an immediate emergency nature or a less frantic transitional situation but either way, a victim will most definitely find safe refuge thanks to the Polaris Project staff. Throughout America, specially trained Law Enforcement contacts stand at the ready to respond to tips and any inside information that arrives through the Hot Line. These are men and women are highly experienced in the crimes associated with Human Trafficking, and are able to investigate and assist in the prosecution of these crimes. A wealth of information is available through the National Human Trafficking Resource Center: web based training, and all kinds of promotional materials and outreach materials that people can share and use in the fight against Human Trafficking.
A Policy Department works on promoting legislative change and has been quite instrumental in various efforts to promote changes within governmental jurisdictions. Under federal law, the definition of Human Trafficking is when a person is forced, frauded or coerced into labor, trafficking or commercial sex. If a person is under the age of 18 and induced into commercial sex, that person is automatically a victim of sex trafficking. Children engaged in commercial sex are automatically victims of Human Trafficking. This definition is rather broad based because it covers both sex, forced sex and forced labor, and is also covers adults and minors, as well as U. S citizens and foreign nationals.
At present, Human Trafficking is on the rise. It is a low risk, high reward proposition. The crime goes unnoticed, is misidentified, and misunderstood which makes it a very “attractive” crime for those who wish to engage is such practices. It is very easy for this sort to take advantage of vulnerable populations, and use them for financial reward. This is a crime of exploitation which is what makes it so lucrative. There are various ethnic groups that are targeted for specific areas of Human Trafficking. Calls that come in on the Polaris Project Hot Line are from all walks of life and from all kinds of victims. For the most part, they are in regard to domestic “pimp” controlled trafficking. Residential brothels are often “staffed” by Latino victims. Massage parlors are known for bringing victims here from Asia and Korea. The victims are forced to engage in commercial sex in order to pay off a debt but the debt never ends and often gets bigger as time passes. Labor exploitation and trafficking victims are also prevalent in the business of Agriculture. Most often the targets are foreign national migrant workers. Again, the South American population is often affected. It is incorrect to assume that this is only a crime against women and children. There are many instances of men being trafficked as well.
Can you possibly imagine even a fleeting thought of your sister, daughter, wife or child being put through the horrors of living this kind of life? of A human being can be trafficked thirty to forty times a day. Weapons and drugs are handled in a very different manner, these items are sold once but a human being will bring in a tremendous amount of money, over and over and over again. A sixteen year old girl working for a pimp can bring in over $333,000 in one year! When you multiply that by three or more, the take is easily a million dollars. The pimp must provide clothing, lodging, and the additional fee of bail money on occasion. Medical attention is often ignored unless it is absolutely necessary. Sleep deprivation is commonplace as well as withholding food and nourishment. Regardless of how long it takes, eight hours or eighteen, daily quotas must be met.  
For the most part, when businesses find out about trafficking going on within their properties…they fight it. Various hotel chains are very proactive to help in any way they can to stop these practices. They work with Law Enforcement and with the National Human Trafficking Resource Center to foil this crime at every opportunity. There are several agencies that work together to eradicate Human Trafficking. The Polaris Project partners with local Law Enforcement as well as at the individual State level. The FBI and Homeland Security are also a very important part of this dedicated team that is on constant vigil. They all have been very successful in bringing Human Traffickers to justice, although these cases are very difficult to prosecute.
There are certain populations that are at high risk for becoming a victim of this crime. A pimp will prey upon a vulnerable young girl when it is apparent that she is being neglected in some way, is a victim of prior sexual abuse or has low self esteem. Runaways are at great risk, as are children from unstable homes, and kids that have been previously abused. Victims are often held captive, they are promised all sorts of wonderful things that never materialize, family members are sometimes threatened, promises of big money and great jobs are dangled in front of the victim like the proverbial carrot…yet nothing ever changes and the situation gets even more unbearable as time passes. On occasion the victim may be a mother of a young child, in this case her captor uses the child as a pawn to make sure the victim follows the rules and does what she is told. The worst case scenario is that the mother and child are sold as a “package deal.” For the most part however, the victims are minors.
Special names are given to specific age groups of trafficked individuals. If they are little children, they are called “Strawberries.” If they are eleven to age fourteen, they are called “Lot Lizards,” because they are sent out to work the truck stops and parking lots around town. Otherwise, if they are just under the age of 18, they are called “Prostitutes.” This kind of life ages these young people in very dramatic ways and they will often look very haggard and quite old regardless of their youth. Those that rebel are often given drugs to calm them down and make them continue to submit to the sexual demands. They never are permitted to live normal lives, and their childhood vanishes without a trace.
Runaways are often picked up in bus stations, and at restaurants. Kids are actually recruited for Human Trafficking via the internet, in places such as facebook. Parents should keep a close watch on the sites their children visit while online and also know who they are chatting with. We must try to be very aware of the people we notice in passing, as well as those who gather in public places…if something doesn’t feel right or look right, it probably isn’t. Does someone seem rather uncomfortable or nervous? Does someone appear extremely stressed and unhappy or lost? There are signs to watch for that indicate that someone may be under the influence of a Human Trafficker. If you think that you have witnessed a possible sex trade in progress or seen an unsavory character lurking about in the shadows, you should call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and advise them of your fears. File a report it and it could possibly save someone’s life! The number is: 1-888-3737-888.
Kudos to Truckers Against Trafficking which is a relatively new organization that is spreading across America. This one particular industry has come together to be self appointed “watch dogs” in order to stop this crime and protect the victims. When they go in for a meal and some rest at their favorite truck stops, they are going above and beyond to help put an end Human Trafficking in these very busy, very favorable spots for the pimp controlled sex trade.
You can also connect with local organizations that are working on this issue, such as Advocates For Freedom right here on the Coast. Human Trafficking thrives in areas where there are international ports and airports, military bases, interstate highway corridors and a large tourism industry. Our beautiful Gulf Coast is an ideal breeding ground for modern day slavery to flourish and go undetected. AFF is a local faith-based organization dedicated to ending the exploitation, sale, and enslavement of men, women and children. Human Trafficking is mainly the sex trade but it also includes forms of labor exploitation, such as domestic servitude, restaurant work, janitorial work, sweatshop factory work and migrant agricultural work. Advocates For Freedom offers a wide variety of services on the local level for victims. Victims often suffer with many mental and physical ailments due to the never ending stresses of their plight. Even after a successful rescue, these victims are consumed with self loathing and despair. The recovery process is long and very difficult.
Advocates For Freedom collaborates with local churches, nonprofits, and human service organizations to help victims learn how to live normal, healthy lives once more. They provide shelter and protection for those caught up in the vile web of Human Trafficking. AFF also offers specialized training programs for local Law Enforcement and Justice dept. workers, as well as human service providers and first responders. The volunteers of this remarkable organization live by the following: How do we stop human trafficking? By helping one victim at a time! For more information, contact 228-806-3492 or write to affstopht@gmail.com
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s