WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Human trafficking is a serious concern for most parents, and the threat of “stranger danger” has taken on a different feel in the digital age. But many of the methods criminals use to recruit their victims remain the same.
Carol Wilson was a victim of human trafficking and she is talking about her journey, in hopes of making a difference.
After years of being a victim, she is empowered to help others, and hopefully prevent others from falling into the tricks that can trap young people in trafficking.
“This is a serious thing. People are dying in the streets,” Carol Wilson said.
Wilson knows what life on the streets is like.
“There is nothing pretty about being out in the streets and there is nothing glamorous about exchanging your body for cash or exchanging your body for drugs,” Wilson said.
That life was reality for Wilson for more than three decades.
“No one wants to wake up every morning without hope,” Wilson said.
Surviving was a daily struggle.
Wilson first became a victim when she was only a child.
“It starts at home. We were sexually or molested by somebody that we knew, or someone who was close to the family,” Wilson said.
It’s a pattern for many who become victims of sex trafficking.
“The main thing for the men out here that are looking for young girls and sex trafficking them, is they look for a girl that’s broken. One who is not doing well in school, doesn’t feel socially accepted in school, being bullied in school, has been raped or molested, those kind of things,” Wilson said.
It leads to a process of grooming.
“It just tore my self esteem up, it tore it down, because its not a pretty sight,” Wilson said.
Decades ago, when Carol ended up on the streets, it wasn’t through the internet, like it often is today, but the methods traffickers use are very much the same.
“You start believing all those things you’re told,” said Wilson. “You act those things out, and it becomes a vicious cycle and it goes on and on and on.”
TRACKING THE CRIMINALS
Wichita Detective Brent Huhman does much of his work in the Exploited and Missing Child Unit on a computer.
“We monitor, really, about five different sites that are used locally,” Huhman said.
Detective Huhman says it has been about one year since the U.S. Government seized a site predators often used, that has only made their jobs more difficult.
He says those online criminals use many of the same tools of recruitment and manipulation.
“When we have someone who can figure out that kid, that they need a place to stay, or they are hungry, or really have someone who is showing that attention,” Detective Huhman said.
Predators look for those who are most vulnerable, and quickly exploit their need for basic human necessities.
“Within sometimes two days, where they are agreeing to have sex for money, meet them when they have never met them in person,” Detective Huhman said.
He also says much like drug traffickers use the major highways in Kansas, so do predators, so they have easy access to areas like Kansas City and Oklahoma City.
After decades of surviving, rather than living, Wilson “was tired of prostituting myself, for drugs, for money, for a place to stay, to eat, to survive.”
Carol made the decision to ask for help.
“Raise My Head Foundation, for me, was a God send, because I got to do things that I always wanted to do, like heal,” Wilson said.
Raise my Head is a two-year program, giving her time to heal, all while treating her addiction and providing a safe place to live.
She and other women also make all natural skin care products, earning a living wage.
“They pay us $15 an hour and we work part time,” Wilson said.
The program is paying off for Wilson in many ways, she recently graduated with her Medical Billing and Coding certification and will soon move out, on her own.
“This time I get to stand on my own two feet, and show what I have learned in the two years I have been here and in treatment,” Wilson said.
Wilson says Raise my Head saved her life and for the first time in decades she has hope.
Both Carol and Detective Huhman say awareness is key.
INTERVIEW: Raise My Head Executive Director Pat Jones:
Parent Tools from Wichita PD Detective Brent Huhman:
- Although parents need to be aware of their surroundings, it is often times no longer a kidnapping in broad daylight, rather children are becoming victims online.
- Don’t allow your children to have electronics in their bedrooms, it’s harder to make those negative connections when Mom and Dad are supervising.
- Be aware of online recruitment, every social media platform has a messaging function, You tube, Facebook, even online gaming systems can be used by predators.
- Be aware there are hidden private messaging functions, that you also need to be monitoring.
- Be aware of unrestricted access, because that will allow more potential predators into your lives.
- Go through your child’s social media and ask how they know their friends or followers.
- Be aware of the child in your life who is vulnerable.
- Watch for signs of an abusive partner, or children who are disengaging from school or work activities.
- Since a popular recruitment site was seized by the U.S. Government, predators are now using about 10 different sites, and detectives are aware of about 5 that are used to recruit local victims.
RAISE MY HEAD FOUNDATION:
- For more information on Raise my Head Foundation, visit https://raisemyhead.org/
- If you are interested in supporting the mission, by purchasing beauty products, visit their online store at https://raisemyhead.org/shop/