As the culmination of over a year of preparation, Trevor Lazar ’17, one of this year’s Brace Fellows, presented his thoughts and findings on his research into the trafficking of underaged girls in the United States. During one of the talk’s most powerful moments, Lazar explained how every year 200,000 children are victims of sex trafficking in the U.S., and nearly 98 percent of them are female.
Before applying for a Brace Fellowship, Lazar worked for several months as a research intern at The Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work. For his faculty advisors, Lazar was supported by Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life and Instructor in History, and Flavia Vidal, Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies and Instructor in English, in writing a research paper summarizing his findings. Lazar also prepared a final presentation, entitled “Lives Gamed: The Challenges Facing Underage Homeless Female Victims of Sex Trafficking in the United States.” His talk aimed to analyze and spread awareness of the specific challenges facing underage homeless female victims of sex trafficking as well as highlight constructive measures that will need to be implemented on a wider scale by law enforcement and governing bodies to solve the current problem.
“As defined by the federal government, sex trafficking entails a commercial sex act induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. So essentially, sex trafficking is when a pimp, otherwise known as a trafficker, forces a victim into prostitution through means of violence, coercion, dependency, or even romance,” said Lazar.
One of the stories Lazar came across in his research was of a girl referred to as “Anne” in a story published by “The New York Times” in 2013. “Anne” had run away from home after facing repeated sexual abuse from a family member and accepted an offer to live with an older man in his home in New York City. The man started a relationship with her and later began abusing her, sexually assaulting her, and forcing her to sell sex for his profit.
“Her daily routine, by the end of this, consisted of: she would get up, get beaten by her trafficker, she would then go out into the streets, sell sex for a few hours, she’d return home, the trafficker would take all the money she’d earned, [and] she [would] get beaten again [and] sexually assaulted again,” said Lazar.
In his presentation Lazar pointed out that “Anne’s” story reflects that of a typical victim of sex trafficking. Often, victims are young children who have run away from home due to sexual abuse or some other kind of sexual abuse and find themselves at the mercy of sex traffickers. The younger the runaway is, the more likely he or she will be vulnerable to being approached by a sex trafficker. According to one statistic, one in three runaways will be approached by a trafficker within 48 hours, explained Lazar.
“I thought it was interesting how [Lazar] focused on minor sex-trafficking as opposed to regular sex-trafficking in general. I never considered how the process or situation is different for minors but he talked a lot about the correlation between run-aways and getting caught-up in sex-trafficking…I thought it was an interesting…and felt a personal [connection],” said Leeza Petrov ’18, an attendant to Lazar’s presentation.
Traffickers know how to exploit victims’ previous traumas. In addition, traffickers also aim to create a dependence so that victims rely on them in some way and are not able to leave, whether this be through offering food and shelter or forced usage of drugs and alcohol.
Lazar said, “In situations where the victim has experienced a broken family or familial abuse of some form, traffickers will attempt to create an environment seemingly conducive to a family structure. Pimps often force their victims to refer to the pimp as ‘daddy’ and they will also force the victims… to call each other ‘wifey’ or ‘sister-in-law.’ They will literally forbid them from using their actual names to remove agency from victims… This is especially amplified if the victim is runaway, homeless, living in poverty, that can amplify the extent to which they might be dependent on the trafficker.”
Lazar continued by explaining that the detrimental effects of sex trafficking are not only limited to physical harm caused by violence, but also extend to infection with Sexually Transmitted Illnesses (STIs) and the development of mental health conditions.
“Half of the victims contract STIs, and I think some 40 percent are diagnosed with some mental health condition of some sort and so the effects are devastating…” said Lazar.
Lazar argues that combatting sex trafficking starts on a small scale by making it less acceptable for people to call sex ads and educating the greater population about the negative effects of sex trafficking.
“I think that having a basic understanding of things such as consent, affirmative consent, and really adopting feminism and taking that applying it to any aspect of your living life is a really good starting point because the more that we change the culture surrounding [sex trafficking] the less likely it is that the potential buyer [for] prostitution would actually go forth with the actual [deal],” said Lazar.