LAKE OF THE OZARKS, Mo. — Some crimes are impossible not to notice. Public corruption, acts of violence, theft, and arson are often highly visible and exist in the public consciousness. But when it comes to the horrific crime of human trafficking, many tend to think, “Surely not in our town.” Groups at the Lake of the Ozarks and across Missouri are working to shed light on this dark corner of society, and help put an end to modern slavery.

Christine McDonald works in Missouri to battle human trafficking, and for her, the issue is extremely personal. McDonald was a victim held in virtual bondage for almost two decades, and was trafficked as a commercial sex worker. She was exploited from Oklahoma City to Kansas City and even, on several occasions in Laurie, Missouri. Christine recounts how she would be picked up by her “man/pimp” in Kansas City and brought to a motel in Laurie, Mo. around July 4th weekend, as well as on other holidays when the Lake was bustling with activity. She would be taken to private parties where she would provide sexual services to any and all for money. And 100 percent of that money went back to her handler.

Christine’s story is not unique. But she is one of the few who escape that life. Most victims of human sex trafficking end up dead, either at the hands of a customer who enjoys brutalizing the prostitute when he is finished or at the hands of the pimp who uses physical abuse as a control measure or for internal pleasure himself. Many of the victims are also involved in drug and alcohol abuse as a pain control measure, and they simply die from an accidental overdose. Many just utilize whatever method that is handy, including the drugs, to end a life of pain and horror. 

In those dark years, Christine said daily prayers, asking that she would be killed and end the torture of her life. When a customer actually made her kneel before him so he could put his gun to her head while ordering her to beg for her life, she thought her prayer had been answered. She refused to beg, and that enraged him further. He needed her fear. During the beating that followed, she managed to get her hands on his gun and made him kneel, but she could not bring herself to take a life, even in her rage and pain. She shot into the ground and he fled.

Christine often addresses groups, relating with compassion and even managing humor at the daily miseries of her former life’s sorrows—the low places of hunger and pain and fear and the highs of dope addiction as a pain reliever just to get through each day. Still, at the end of each story, she brings home a point about how a victim becomes a victim.

Christine suffered her first sexual encounter at the age of eight. Her mother regularly gave her to the landlord for the rent payment. He liked pre-pubescent girls. Trafficked by her own drunken mother, McDonald ran away from home.

She says she was caught and sent back home often as she grew through the pre-teen years: put back into the very place where her trafficker could continue to sell her. After telling about this part of her life, Christine makes a profound point about the “family reunification” model of family services divisions in most states: sometimes there is a good and compelling reason the child is running away so often.

At the age of thirteen, Christine escaped. She was taken in by an older man who continued the pattern of sexual exploitation that she would endure for many more years.

Battling Human Trafficking At The Lake

A local organization at the forefront of the fight is the Lake of the Ozarks Stop Human Trafficking Coalition (LOSHTC), organized in June of 2014 by Mike McDonnell and Dr. Sally Kemp through the Saint George Episcopal Church on Old Business Highway 5 in Camdenton. They are in the process of finalizing their 501(c)3 status on both the State and Federal level. As such, they will function in complete autonomy from the church and have a newly installed Board of Directors to guide the efforts.

In their formative year, the organization reached out to the Horizons program at Camdenton High School with a contest to design the logo for the organization. The effort was so successful that not only did several students submit outstanding designs but a design submitted by a student became a poster used by the coalition to raise awareness about human trafficking issues around the Lake.

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At a recent coalition meeting, the speaker was Myrna Blaine, Consumer Support Director of the Camden County Developmental Disability Resources (CCDDR), a Senate Bill 40 organization. Blaine addressed the increased likelihood of victimization by a trafficker when the potential victim suffers some intellectual or developmental disability.

The estimate is that there is a 90 percent chance of sexual abuse during the lifetime of such an individual. Furthermore, prior sexual abuse is one of the elements in the background of many trafficked individuals. Ms. Blaine also told LOSHTC about CCDDR’s efforts in the infamous Lebanon case where a victim was trafficked as a sex slave with life threatening torture sessions in exchange for pay from various clients.

A Global Problem

The criminal practice of Human Trafficking on a global scale currently exists in staggering numbers. Most students learn about slavery as practiced in American history. They understand how kidnapping, transporting, and physically bonding a human being for labor in the field or in the house occurred. But human trafficking is not just an historical fact: it is a present reality across America.

While some are still brought across state, national, and international borders, today many are recruited close to home and never moved far from where they were taken and placed into bondage.

Modern human trafficking does indeed still contain these elements in many places in the world. But the nature of human trafficking is most often more subtle and insidious and consists of two distinctly different types of enslavement.

According to the United Nations and the International Labor Organization as well the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, every nation on earth is involved in human trafficking, defined on the Blue Campaign web page as follows: “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

Some crimes are easy to track because of their nature. But human trafficking is a shadowy business and more difficult to quantify on a global scale. Thus, the statistics may differ from organization to organization, and there are a few trusted sources of data. 

The International Labour Organization generally places the total number of trafficked individuals worldwide at over 20 million people. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports that in 2011, approximately 49 percent of detected victims of trafficking were women, 18 percent were men, 12 percent boys, and 21 percent girls. 

This report also indicates that almost 80 percent of trafficking is for sexual exploitation involving mostly women and girls. Although labor trafficking does occur in agricultural and textile industries as well as domestic help and food service industries, only about 18 percent of those trafficked are for labor purposes.

Conversely, the United Nations Information Service in Vienna places the numbers at 53 percent for sexual exploitation and 40 percent for forced labor, whereas the International Labour Organization reports a higher percentage for labor purposes than for sexual purposes. The percentages differ between organizations based upon different data gathering methods and tools. However, the scope of the problem can not be disputed and the gross numbers of victims is staggering even in the lowest estimates.

The Human Trafficking Center (HTC) defines human trafficking, “As the recruitment and/or movement of someone within or across borders, through the abuse of power/position with the intention of forced exploitation, commercial or otherwise.” Forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation are listed as the primary types of trafficking, but other types include domestic servitude, forced marriage, forced criminal activity, child soldiering, forced begging, and forced prostitution. 

In the United States, the estimates run between 15,000 and 20,000 persons trafficked each year. But two questions arise: what type of person is vulnerable to this bondage, and how are they recruited? Even though many are familiar with the movie version of this, through such films as Taken, a 2008 movie starring Liam Neeson, where two young girls are abducted by Albanian gang members for the purpose of prostitution, the most common enslavement is psychological and emotional. However, real abductions do take place, and the victims can be held for years by psychological shackles.

A recent, high-profile case is that of Jaycee Dugard. Taken in 1991 at a bus stop when she was eleven years old, Dugard lived in tents and flimsy shacks in her abductor’s back yard until her discovery 18 years later. Asking why she did not escape from such a loose captivity, even while bearing two children by her captor, reveals the emotional dependence and bond between a victim and the “captor” that is providing the necessities of life like shelter, food and water.

The most vulnerable among us are those children who, through no fault of their own, grew up in an unstable home as victims of neglect, physical or sexual abuse. Young girls, deprived of an opportunity for normal, healthy emotional development during the early, formative years, and lacking a strong self-image become vulnerable to those who provide some physical stability such as a clean room they can call their own, regular food, and new clothes. This provider can become a “safe person” by providing perceived comfort and safety, even at the high cost of coerced prostitution or physical abuse.

A child raised in a home environment where drug or alcohol addictions made dysfunction, hunger, and fear the norm can be susceptible to emotional and psychological seduction. However, even children raised in loving homes and abducted by strangers can fall prey to predators who traffic the child for purposes of commercial sex trade. Jaycee Dugard’s family home was one with two parents, neither addicted to drugs or alcohol. She was simply making her way home from school and fell victim to a predator.

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This is Part 1 of a two-part series dealing with human trafficking and its local connection to the Lake of the Ozarks. Part 2 to be published in coming days...

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