In September, 2012, Barack Obama articulated the unspeakable trauma that individuals face in the United States during a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative: “…right now, there is a girl, somewhere trapped in a brothel, crying herself to sleep again, and maybe daring to imagine that some day, just maybe, she might be treated not like a piece of property, but as a human being.”

These words narrate only a fraction of the defects found in America; ample malfunctions are cloaked in secrecy.

When I was a child, I use to read fairy tales that involved monsters from distant places wreaking havoc in the life of the protagonist who struggled to escape. Not until I got older did I realize that monsters of a more disturbing caliber exist in real life–right here in the United States. Unlike a childhood story, these monsters never disappear when the book closes.

People of various religious and socioeconomic backgrounds from around the world travel to the United States seeking the “American Dream.”  Unfortunately, the American Dream is just a facade for human beings entering and currently residing in the United States with intentions of selling themselves into sex slavery.

The U.S. Department of State has classified the United States as a Tier 1 country, meaning that all terms of the Trafficking Victims Protection Acts are abided by; however, some of America’s most unsuspecting cities are hubs for sex trafficking. CBSLosAngeles reported that four pimps were arrested last month for holding women hostage in a Cottage Grove, Minneapolis home.

Washington County attorney, Pete Orput described what police witnessed on the day of the incident: “…when police entered, they saw two beds. That’s it. But they also saw a line of guys waiting on a couch–waiting for their turn.” These women had traveled to the United States from China on their pimps’ promise to pay them a minimum of $800 per day.

Investigators were able to pinpoint the responsible sex trafficking ring, headquartered in Irvine, Calif., by utilizing a site called Backpage to find sex ads associated with the traffic ring. Regarding Backpage, The New York Times published a 2012 article titled “Financiers and Sex Trafficking,” declaring the website to be the largest forum used to traffic under-age girls in the United States. In addition to being one of the leading outlets for exploiting young girls, Backpage owns the majority of the market for all prostitution ads and continues to profit from such transactions.

This silent epidemic remains a billion dollar industry, and the proceeds will undeniably reinforce the rapid spread of infection to surrounding neighborhoods and cities. Meanwhile, Backpage’s owners and major shareholders continue to idly watch or assist in facilitating these transactions, when they need to be held accountable for their actions–or lack thereof.

Although some justice has been served accordingly, I believe we have only breached the surface. I think one can argue that monsters are not always sheathed in scales or living in caves; some wear suits and live in penthouse suites. They prey off of ostracizing and sexually exploiting their victims while obtaining financial prosperity from their victims’ misery. What can we do to stop this? The first critical step is to spread awareness through education and communication.

As a kid, I had the luxury of being able to close my story books, leaving them to collect dust on a shelf; however, victims being trafficked live this nightmare every hour of the day.

This is not a story of fictional horrors depicted from half way across the world. This is an alarming reality that individuals face in our communities and cities. These are women, young children, and even men being forced into a world with the belief that there is no other alternative but to sell their bodies to survive another day of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse.

If you want to know what you can do to fight back or report a crime, visit https://humantraffickinghotline.org/ or dial the National Human Traffic Hotline at (888)373-7888.

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