The horrors of the child sex trade
Fathers among those selling children as sex slaves
She was only 11 years old when she went to live with her father, and he sold her as a sex slave.
This is the story of Tracey C*, who, as a child, migrated from Jamaica to the United States with her parents and settled in Florida. But life did not turn out to be a bed of roses for the young girl who was born in Westmoreland.
First, her parents split. Then she was abused by her mother.
“She would beat me in the shower when I had no clothes on,” she told her mentors, recalling the mistreatment at the hands of her mother.
Not able to take the cruelty any longer, Tracey went to live with her father, but little did she know that her nightmare would get worse.
At age 11, her father sold her as a sex slave. And she was again sold as a sex slave by the man who purchased her.
She was forced to do unimaginable things, living a life of hell, until she ran away at age 13 years.
Tracey soon met a man who became her boyfriend and got her pregnant at age 15. But life with him continued her Hell on Earth. He soon sold her into the sex trade.
Battered and abused, the teen was back on the streets, once again seeking an escape.
She moved around, staying with different persons. And with a strong desire to improve herself, Tracey went back to school.
Now 21 years old, Tracey has graduated from college with a degree in communications. She moved from the state of Florida because she feared that the people who sold her into the sex trade would find her.
Tracey’s story came to light when she attended a sex trafficking seminar at Florida International University, and she started crying as participants recounted their stories.
Reluctant at first to share her ordeal, her story finally spilled out under the gentle coaxing of Sandra Gipson, who was one of the organisers of the forum and herself a survivor of child abuse and trafficking.
“She did not want to talk about her experience, but we were able to get the story out of her. She was made aware that she was not alone and that many others have had similar experiences,” Gipson told The Sunday Gleaner.
Gipson was born in Kingston, Jamaica, but went to live in St Mary at a very early age. She shared that she was repeatedly sexually abused by a family member at age six years. She was sent to live with her father and stepmother in Florida in 1979, but the hope for a better life eluded her.
She soon found herself being used as a child labourer, selling weed out of her father’s home and even selling it at school. On several occasions she narrowly escaped being scooped up in police raids on the house.
At risk and living in the United States illegally because her father did not file for her to become a permanent resident, Sandra ended up in child services in Miami, Florida, in the Department of Children and Family Custody.
“My father and stepmother refused to file for me to regularise my status because it was one way of keeping me doing what they wanted me to do,” she said.
At age 17, Sandra got pregnant and found herself in deportation proceedings. However, her child’s father, who was in the US Navy, married her and changed her status, which prevented the deportation.
In 2012, Sandra heard about the National Council of Negro Women and began attending meetings. Here, stories are shared and assistance provided to trafficked persons.
Gipson, who is now the national chairperson of the Diaspora Human Trafficking Awareness Committee, told The Sunday Gleaner that as a victim of sexual abuse and a trafficked child labourer, she urged Jamaican parents to be vigilant about the environment in which they are sending their children to the United States.
According to the mother of three, 90 per cent of girls who experienced sexual abuse at a young age end up being trafficked.
“Many fall into prostitution as a way of life,” said Gipson, also noting that several girls who were trafficked and are now in state care leave the facilities at nights to ply their trade and return in the mornings.
TRAFFICKING QUITE COMMON
The stories of Tracey and Sandra are not unique. Several Jamaican girls have experienced being trafficked both in Jamaica and in the United States. Recently, a shelter in Atlanta rescued a number of Jamaican girls who had been trafficked.
The Jamaican Government itself has recognised the seriousness of the problem and has established the Trafficking in Persons Secretariat. Located in the Ministry of National Security, it is headed by Cheene Russell-Robinson.
Jamaican-born Dr Lavern Deer, head of the Florida-based Caribbean Anti-Trafficking Committee, told The Sunday Gleaner that her organisation is focused on educating young boys and girls on human trafficking.
Working with the Jamaican Consulate in Miami and Consul General Oliver Mair, Dr Deer said that the hope is to spread the education campaign through all the states under the umbrella of the consulate in Miami.
“Our focus is on awareness. I have spoken with victims and survivors of human trafficking, and in many instances, parents do not recognise the signs of a child being trafficked,” Dr Deer shared.
She said that her organisation is also working with the Trafficking in Persons Secretariat in Jamaica. The hope is to have human trafficking taught in the schools in Jamaica. The Caribbean Anti-Trafficking Committee is also working with churches in Jamaica to raise awareness of the issue.
“One way that children are lured by these traffickers is they will tell parents that they can get the child a job in the United States, and because of the parents’ financial plight, they agree to this. In some instances, the child is promised modelling jobs in the States, but on arrival, find that such jobs do not exist,” said Dr Deer, noting that they are then made into sex slaves and fall into prostitution.
Florida is listed as the number three state in the United States for human trafficking. It has also become the first state to have human trafficking taught in all the schools to raise awareness.
Dr Deer said that her organisation has been working with local and state legislators in Florida to bring about awareness to the problem of human trafficking.
January was designated Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the United States, and several events, including seminars, were held to shine a spotlight on the issues.
[*Name changed to protect identity]