Human Trafficking Exposed: Part Two

Tags: Currents, Crux, Media, World News

By Tamara Laine   

Tyamba Johnson was just 13-year-old when she was drugged and sold into the world of sexual exploitation.

After months of waiting, Tyamba’s mother Ingrid Johnson finally made one phone call that call eventually led to her rescue. 

“She was held against her will,” Johnson explained. “She was beaten, she was thrown from moving cars and our family was threatened.”

Johnson says, “I waited in my car with undercover police behind me. and it took hours, and I gave up many times.”

Johnson and her family are not alone. Across America human trafficking is a hidden problem, one many don’t realize exists.

At a safehouse in an undisclosed location in New York City, Currents News spoke to survivors who were trapped in a world of modern-day slavery. These brave women are now breaking the silence about the tactics predators use to target victims and the power of advocacy. 

They are mothers, students, community members, and administrators. now leaders helping others transition out of what they call “the life.”  

“I cry. I was homeless. I was raped. I was all these things before I got to like where I’m at now,” explained Tiffany, who asked that her last name not be disclosed for safety.. “I’m not telling you like when you leave, everything is peachy bright. You’re going to struggle, but a sober thing.”

Tiffany tells girls her personal story at a Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) intake meeting, where she, Yolanda, and Adriana are three graduates of the program.   

The program was started by Rachel Lloyd, a trafficking a survivor herself, who was recently honored by the Queen of England for her work helping others.

Currents News joined them for dinner to talk about their survivor’s journey.

“You come into it, not even realizing that you’re a victim,” Adriana says, “because you went through it with a different sense of depression, and what it’s like to have a pimp and how to identify the fact that  that there’s an exploiter.”

 Human trafficking has been described as the business of stealing freedom for profit, but it is also about robbing victims of their self worth. 

American children and teenagers may still go to school, attend church, or even live at home, while silently living a life of exploitation. 

 “Trafficking doesn’t always look like black eyes and violence,” explained Queens County Criminal Court Prosecutor Jessica Melton. 

American children and teenagers may still go to school, attend church, or even live at home, while silently living a life of exploitation. 

 “Often psychological manipulation, control and fear that they instill in victims. fear of getting in trouble, fear of being humiliated,” she said. Girls are also tricked into believing they will be living a glamorous lifestyle. “The trafficker presents it as something that is going to be good for them,” she said.  

Victims are targeted and preyed upon in other ways, too.  

“My daughter doesn’t know how she got to New York,” said Johnson. “She was in New Jersey, hanging out with friends and somehow got drugged and ends up in the train station in New York City. She meets a stranger and then after there, she got sold.”

Sister Ann Oestreich has dedicated her life to combating trafficking through Talitha Kum, an international organization of Catholic women established that helps victims of trafficking. She described how a potential victim might be targeted.

“They may say to a young woman, ‘Oh, my, you have a beautiful smile.’ And if the young woman puts her eyes down and says, ‘Oh, no, no, no, I’m not beautiful,’ she’s vulnerable. They catch that right away,” Sr. Oestreich explained. “They can — they can play to that insecurity. But if they say to a young woman, ‘My, you have a beautiful smile,’ And she looks them in the eye and says, ‘Thank you so much,’ and well, they know probably she’s not a candidate.” 

Once a victim is coerced by a predator, then things change. Rules are enforced through intimidation and violence. I.D.’s are taken, or the trafficker will threaten to report the victim to law enforcement.  

 Michael Osborn, who works with victims of human trafficking at the FBI, wants one thing to be clear: “Listen, let’s understand. Kids and women who are involved in human trafficking are commodities,” he says, “and that is what these individuals do, is they sell a commodity and they view this as an opportunity to resell something over and over on the same day.”

 “They don’t have to go out and buy drugs, buy guns, and constantly be resupplying themselves… they are pushing theses, kids and women, multiple times a day.”

That level of dehumanization has an impact. Ingrid said her daughter didn’t feel like she could come back. 

“She was convinced that she could never come home to face her family. And in her mind, she thought she couldn’t go home until she was eighteen,” Ingrid said. 

Much of this goes back to how society views and treats victims of human trafficking. something the women back at the gems safe house, hope to change. 

“When anybody is like arrested for solicitation of sex. the person soliciting sex is the one who does the time.” explained Tiffany, and the Johns, the men soliciting sex only get a class. 

“Meanwhile, she’s like doing right months in Rikers Island,” said Tiffany. “That’s kind of what it made me think of. Like the roles of like, who gets the worst penalty? The female. Like male gets to go home, and okay. And then he comes back and he just takes the class and whatever and he goes back out again.” 

And though there have been major criminal justice reforms, many advocates say more needs to be done to protect victims and prosecute the predators. 

“People make assumptions that people think that they know what you’re going through or they know why you didn’t leave,” said Adriana. 

“Or they feel like because you’re older and they fell like that was something that you wanted to do,” added Yolanda.  

“Just because I’m the age I am now….I mean, I was, like back then, I was only twelve and thirteen,” Yolanda recalled.

And ealing with misconceptions can be painful. Johns explains how the stigma affected her family.  “I felt ashamed,” Johnson said, “I felt no one would understand and I really did think because we were African Americans that people expected that we had some kind of a horrible home, and that would be why they thought she was gone.”

They were tears of a mother’s eternal love, bonded together with her daughter as they heal.

But, as awareness of the problem continues to grow, a new crisis is developing in the dark corners of the web: online child exploitation.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking and needs help, it’s out there. 

Call the National Human Trafficking hotline at 888- 373-7888, or you can visit their website humantraffickinghotline.org