Detroit is prime for human trafficking, and girls are getting caught up in the clutches and underworld of the commercial sex industry. It isn’t random or by accident. The city is plagued with major issues. Hardcore baseline problems are found within the city’s economy and education system. Contributing as a third factor for the easy exploitation of girls is Detroit’s positioning as an international border.
Deena Policicchio, Director of Outreach and Education Service at Alternatives for Girls, has been in the helping business at AFG for close to two decades. She offers insight into the growing problem of human trafficking and suggestions on what can be done to protect our daughters.
AFG provides services to girls needing respite and resources from predators. Through a host of programs, they provide sanctuary from the harsh climate confronting girls. These efforts help participants so they can begin to heal and move forward with their lives. The nonprofit provides a wide continuum of services for girls and women in high-risk situations. Human trafficking falls under the agency’s core area services, which include an after-school program that aims to build strong family units and strong positive peer relationships. Girls enter the program at age 5 and stay through age 19. Planned activities help build skills to avoid becoming involved in human trafficking situations.
The AFG Shelter Program recognizes that within 72 hours, a girl or boy who is homeless will be approached for a sexual situation. Policicchio says that once in the shelter, the activities serve to reduce negative behavior and reinforces the notion of the family unit.
Component Safe Choices is a project that works with girls and women already in the sex industry. Offering street outreach, case planning, exiting sex work/advocacy and awareness building, AFG is not a direct trafficking agency but addresses the issue and has been doing work, even before the movement in Detroit formally acknowledged a need for services and awareness around trafficking. AFG was started because girls were being forced in an out of cars and into gangs. The goal of AFG is to make sure girls and women are not exploited.
Detroit is ripe for targeting young girls, “It is who we have been for a long time. We have a struggling education system that leaves people behind, and an economy that does not provide for its people.” There is historical sexism towards women in the city of Detroit, and we create an environment where people can come, take, hurt and exploit our women, and we don’t do much about it.”
The stark reality of Policiccho’s words hit hard. They explain in frank terms how easily girls are turned out. The lens of human trafficking provided by Hollywood does not tell the real everyday story of how girls are exploited. Pimps are not always the man in the Cadillac with a stable of women.
In many cases, crucial services are not provided to vulnerable populations. Without agency and a voice to articulate what is going on, positive change cannot happen. AFG helps girls to develop and use their voice.
If you ask the average citizen how many girls they believe are involved in human trafficking through various methods, the numbers will vary. Policicchio says there is a reason for this. It isn’t just concerned citizens who can’t give accurate figures. Neither can law enforcement officers or agents working for social change. She says, “There are no real numbers for who is trafficked because not all victims show in the statistics.” People don’t self-identify. According to Policicchio, if you ask a girl if she is trafficked, her response is likely to come back in the form of the question, “What is trafficking?” “I’m his girlfriend.”
There are also girls who are forced into trafficking by mothers to pay for drug costs. When these girls end up on the streets later in life, they too are passed over and not added to the count. Policicchio says that although 600 girls and women serviced through AFG in 2013 identified with working in the sex industry, not everyone in the sex industry is trafficked. Out of the 600 AFG participants, staff can estimate about ten percent were trafficked.
Here are some bare facts:
The Audience Holds the Cash
We call women who are trafficked “bad people.” We don’t look one layer deeper to determine who, how, or why they are they stripping. “Society,” Policicchio explains, “is what needs to be changed.”
Raising Awareness around Human Trafficking
Polociccho says there are lots of ways people can help. They can talk about trafficking and challenge it. She says, “When you see the news reporters calling people disgusting, challenge it. When your favorite rapper has a girl hanging off a pole on his cover, challenge it. When elected officials are caught in immoral acts, demand they be fired. Hold them accountable.” You do not have to write a check, give your time instead.
You can connect girls in trouble to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. (1-888-373-7888.) It will lead girls to support services in their community. Give time or money to support those working to end trafficking, take a kid out of risk by supporting literacy. When girls are literate, they aren’t as easily vulnerable. Also, be specific — donate money to organizations dedicated to protecting girls.
Check List for Girls
Girls need not share all of their personal information on the first date. People don’t need to know your grandma raised you, or that you are in debt. Policicchio says, “Go back to kindergarten and employ the ‘stranger danger rule.’ When given complients on the bus, stop, say thank you, and move on.”
Stop befriending everybody. Having all the friends in the world only means that people are following you and know where you are. Don’t let strangers follow you on social media. Don’t give out all of your information.
Employ Safety Tactics When Out and About
When you go to bars stay together — don’t put your drink down or get in cars. If you are being blackmailed you can call AFG. If your life is in immediate danger call 911. Tell the operator “He’s trying to kill, hurt, or rape me.” Call the National Trafficking Hotline or AFG, 313-361-4000.
Trafficking and exploitation are not only carried out by males. The crimes are also perpetrated by women. Mothers turning daughters out is not new. Often in a male dominated industry when women are no longer viable they are made to become enforcers and perpetrators.
Tips for Parents
Parents can help keep girls safe by allowing for open communication. Make sure children want to talk to you and have clarity on family values. Don’t let them get away with free-will computer use. Monitoring needs to continue through the teenage years. If they are on the computer, review history. The same rules apply for cell phones. As a parent paying the bill, you have the right to information. There is no such thing as privacy. AFG holds expectations. Some parents don’t care what report card grades look like, but girls tell staff they want to have some ground rules. Parents should be consistent with curfews, and not tie it into the power of cell phone bills they can’t pay. If they have new clothing without a job, question it. Inquire about items you have not purchased. Fight for your children.
It can’t be communicated enough that the vast number of people who are introduced into the sex industry are introduced by someone they know. Rarely are they kidnapped. When Pinocchio talks to her girls about perpetrators, it is a boyfriend or someone they met online.