The National Human Trafficking Resource Center defines sex trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which individuals perform commercial sex through the use of force, fraud or coercion.”
Similar to Partners Against Trafficking Humans (PATH) founder Louise Allison, thousands of children are victims of sex trafficking in the U.S. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a child victim is first introduced to the industry between ages 13 and 14 on average. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported that in 2015 one in five runaway children were likely trafficking victims, and 74 percent were under social services care upon leaving.
A 2012 estimate from the International Labor Organization stated approximately 4.5 million people are victims of sex trafficking worldwide. According to Little Rock Police Department records, there were 503 prostitution arrests in Little Rock in 2011-14. The average age of those arrested was 35.
Allison said anyone can become a victim of sex trafficking regardless of race, gender or social status. Trafficking may occur through the Internet, street prostitution, strip clubs, massage parlors and truck stops. A person can be lured in through false advertisements for jobs, initial romantic relationships or aggressive kidnapping. Victims are forced to have sex with several men or women and are expected to earn $500-$1,000 per day or night, according to the Polaris Project.
“(Being trafficked) changes the way we feel about ourselves; the manipulation and the fear is what traps more so than the physical restraint,” Allison said. “It was just a hard, nasty life …It changes the mindset of the girls to where we don’t function well in society. We make poor choices; we don’t know how to do relationships. It just messes up the way that we think about ourselves and the world around us.”
Josh Hardin, 2015 alumnus who double majored in criminal justice and psychology, has volunteered regularly for PATH. He was connected to the organization through a chapter of the International Justice Mission sponsored by the university and said his role as a volunteer is to show women in the shelter that “guys can be OK people, too.”
Volunteers are required to undergo training in order to work with the women at PATH, which includes in-depth videos and information about the sex industry and how to work with survivors. Hardin said the training taught him how to interact with the women.
“It’s wonderful to be able to help, but it is heavy stuff, and you hear a lot of dark, dark things,” Hardin said. “You have to be careful not to overwhelm yourself. It’s not uncommon for the volunteers to be traumatized by these other ladies because, if you’re just around it long enough, you become traumatized as if it happened to you. It’s so heavy, but rewarding.”
Sex-trafficking survivor Stacey Loyd stayed with PATH and said she built healthy relationships with volunteers and fellow women staying at the safe house. She said the women are like sisters and remain connected after graduation from PATH.
“(Being a victim of sex trafficking) made me spiritually bankrupt,” Loyd said. “I gave up on God … I knew (what I was doing) was wrong, and I didn’t think I deserved forgiveness. I thought I deserved the lifestyle I was living … PATH helped me learn how to forgive myself. (Those at PATH) loved me when I couldn’t love myself. They helped me learn about forgiveness and that God loved us unconditionally, and he forgives us for all of our sins.”
Stacey Loyd is a fictitious name used to protect the identity of the woman identified in this series.