Combating sex trafficking takes all of us

By Debbie Tubertini

I recently went to the movie theater to see “Sound of Freedom” which is based on a true story. It tells of an anti-child sex trafficking organization centered on Operation Underground Railroad by a former federal agent, Tim Ballard. Ballard is portrayed in the film by Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in “Passion of the Christ.”

I was hesitant at first about going to see this movie because I knew it was going to be heart breaking and make me angry. Yes, it was heart breaking and, yes it did make me angry; however, it provided information that made me feel more aware and informed about how this happens all over the world, even in Mississippi. It also made me appreciate how one person can make a difference if they know what to look for and what to do in the event you suspect someone is in this situation.

What is sex trafficking? Sex trafficking involves a wide range of activities where a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act. Trafficked victims can be of any age, race, sex, culture, religion, economic class and any level of education.

The traffickers’ aim is to profit from the exploitation of their victims using a multitude of coercive and deceptive practices. Traffickers can be strangers, acquaintances, or even family members who prey on the most vulnerable in our society. They frequently target victims who are looking for a brighter future, those hesitant to call the police, or those who feel excluded or ostracized from family or their community.

Human trafficking is the fastest growing international crime network the world has experienced. It is a $150 billion-dollar annual industry. The United States is considered one of the top destinations for victims of child trafficking and exploitation. The top recruitment location is the internet. Traffickers also use online dating platforms to identify victims. Traffickers will present themselves as recruiters or modeling agents on these dating platforms luring victims with attractive career opportunities. According to UNODC (United Nations Office on Drug and Crime) female victims continue to be primary targets, however there is a huge increase in male targets.

The following statistics are from Angel Studios Fight Against Child Trafficking website.

  • The United States is #1 in the world for sex trafficking.
  • Over 500,000 children go missing each year in the United States.
  • Greater than 50% of victims are between the ages of 12-15.
  • 25% of child pornography is created by a neighbor or family member.
  • Over 500,000 online sexual predators are active each day.
  • Over 80% of child sex crimes begin on social media.
  • As of 2021, there were 250,000 websites containing images or videos of children sexually abused and that number continues to rise.
  • Globally, 27% of human trafficking victims are children.
    Items to note:
  • “Sound of Freedom” was filmed in 2018 and has just now been made available in the theatres in 2023. According to Jim Caveziel they ran into one roadblock after another with this movie. The movie was first bought by 21st Century Fox but shelved when Disney purchased the studio. The movie was finally acquired by Angel Studios.
  • A common misconception is that human trafficking requires crossing state lines or national borders. The correct term for this is human smuggling. Human trafficking requires no movement. Victims are trafficked in their own states, towns and even in their own homes. In many cases these children are “groomed” by adults they know.

So, what can we do?

  • Pray for the victims who are in this horrible situation.
  • Educate ourselves and our children on the specifics of child trafficking.
  • If you are a parent, educate your children on ways to stay safe on the internet. They need to know how to protect themselves from online exploitation. Also, monitor their social media activity.
  • Make sure your state legislators are putting laws in place to increase accountability for human traffickers in our state.
  • Make sure this topic is kept in the forefront of our national security.
  • For those who feel called to do even more, investigate ways you can educate and help in your own community. A step further, reach out to organizations within your community that are working to rescue and restore trafficked children.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Anti–Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking situations.

(Debbie Tubertini is the Office of Family Life coordinator for the Diocese of Jackson.)