Operation Broken Silence
By: Ryan Dalton
Each year as the summer days approach July 4th, my thoughts turn to the reality of modern slavery in the “land of the free.” Despite the fact that our nation’s chartering document insists that all should be secured their right to liberty, the United States is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children that are forced into involuntary servitude or the commercial sex trade. According to the Department of Justice, 80% of these victims are U.S. citizens and trafficked by other U.S. citizens into the commercial sex trade. This unravels the misconception that trafficking victims are mostly foreign born immigrants and reveals the disturbing irony of traffickers operating within the liberties to which they are entitled to destroy the liberties of their victims.
Many people who ask me about my work with Operation Broken Silence are surprised when I explain to them that human trafficking happens here in Memphis. Rightfully so. Human trafficking is an illicit enterprise that is couched in deceit, operates in the shadows of society, andwithout extreme vigilance will go entirely undetected more often than not. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation investigated the prevalence of human trafficking across the state and discovered Shelby County is one in four counties in Tennessee that documented over 100 cases of sex trafficking of minors and one in eight counties that documented over 100 cases of sex trafficking of adults in the 2 year study window.
Sex trafficking victims are sometimes rescued by law enforcement and West Tennessee has one of the best reputations nationwide for adjudication of trafficking offenses and arrest of traffickers. The TBI is also training law enforcement agencies across the state concerning antitrafficking strategies and victim identification in an effort to increase the pressure on traffickers in Tennessee.
And pressure is increasing. In April of this year a federal jury in Memphis convicted Maurice Mabon of child sex trafficking and he is scheduled to be sentenced on July 13, 2012. Mabon was convicted after a jury found him guilty of trafficking a 15 year old girl into the commercial sex trade by advertising her online through Backpage.com, a classified ads website that is becoming iconic for its facilitation of human trafficking.
So what happens to victims when traffickers like Mabon are arrested? Solutions will vary based on the circumstances of the victim and some even can return to their homes if their home life was not involved in the trafficking offense in any direct way. Others are not so fortunate, and right now in Tennessee a residential care facility for minor victims that have been rescued from sex trafficking is not available. Few states are fortunate enough to host facilities that can provide a specific response to the myriad needs of trafficking survivors and current estimates put the meager number of available beds nationwide just above 300.
As a result, one of the most desperate needs for our city is an interim facility designed to protect and restore recently rescued victims of human trafficking, a place where the survivor may be able to stay for just a couple days before a more sustainable care solution is created for them. Operation Broken Silence intends to open this rescue facility in the coming months, yet we still need the city of Memphis to rally behind this cause and we encourage churches, communities, individuals and groups to contribute to paying for one month of facility costs or alternatively to:
Operation Broken Silence
1177 Poplar Avenue, Memphis, TN
contribute items to furnish the rescue facility.
There are also many other ways to be involved with anti-trafficking work. First, simply knowing the signs of human trafficking can lead to victim identification and rescue. Check out our website for more information on how to identify a possible trafficking circumstance at www.operationbrokensilence.org. Secondly, educating youth and vulnerable communities on the dangers of traffickers and their enticements is a successful method of preventing human trafficking from happening in the first place. After all, the best kind of rescue is no rescue at all. Finally, if you or someone you know suspect human trafficking could be happening, call the Tennessee Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-855-55-TNHTH.
So this July 4th, as you are enjoying the fireworks and the bratwursts (as I know I will be), take a moment and consider how much you value your own freedom and remember those in our own city that have had their freedom revoked by the exploitation of human traffickers. The urgency of protecting our youth from traffickers cannot be overstated and together we can make it harder to traffic people in our state. For more information on our work or to be involved, drop us a line at email@example.com.
(Ryan Dalton is the director of Anti-Trafficking Operations for Operation Broken Silence, which fights to abolish mass atrocities and nodern slavery. You can learn more here.)