Sex Trafficking Victims Are Silenced by Abuse, We Can't Expect Them to Speak Up for Themselves

Driving down a tree-lined street in the neighborhood of Southlake, it's hard to fathom that human trafficking happens here. People hawking other people like chattel — surely not in my community. Right?Regretfully, no. In my 15 months as the chief federal law enforcement officer in North Texas, I've seen it happen from Dallas to Fort Worth to West Texas.Just last month, for example, our prosecutors convicted a suburban couple of trafficking a Guinean girl named Djena Diallo. She was brought to the U.S. around age 5 and kept for 16 years inside the Toure family's half-million-dollar Southlake home. Denied both wages and an education, Diallo was bullied, belittled even physically abused. But she wasn't chained up, confined in a dark room, or even locked inside the house. She was allowed to move freely about the property. She had access to electronic devices and occasionally joined the family on trips out of state.Not surprisingly, the defense took the all-too-typical blame-the-victim approach: Why didn't she just leave — just walk away? This attitude was repeated over and over by defense attorneys, critics, and even some media. Sadly, that's standard fare for this type of case.Thankfully, a North Texas jury was able to understand that it's just not that simple.It never is in cases of human trafficking.Diallo never ran because she never realized that was a viable option. She never understood there was help available. She never thought she had the right to get help.Her only real contacts here in the United States, the Toures, never let on that she had certain rights. Bottom line: She didn't know she was a victim because she never identified herself as being a victim.Tragically, it's a pattern we see over and over. Trafficking victims — those lured into commercial sex or labor by force, fraud, or coercion — are often either unaware that anything's awry, reluctant to engage with or distrustful of law enforcement, or worse, ashamed of what they've been made to do.Even when they describe a behavior pattern they recognize as unethical or illegal, it's difficult for them to grasp that their traffickers, the people purportedly caring for them, are the ones breaking the law. It's a pattern of abuse that's hard to break.  Continue reading...

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