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  • Writer's picturePOWW Team

New podcast alert: We gotta stop sex trafficking now

Meet Sally Alghazali, a law student based in Washington DC and the founder of Human Rights Weekly, a research blog hat sheds the light on human rights violations worldwide and analyzing them from both legal and policy perspectives. Among various topics we discuss how sex trafficking works, the misinformation and stigma surrounding the topic, as well as ways in which we can contribute to eradicate this human rights issue.

New podcast out now on Spotify, Apple, Google Podcasts & any other podcast medium.

Prefer the transcript? Enjoy reading it below :)

POWW Podcast Host 0:14

Hello, everyone, and welcome to September in POWW. This month we're gonna be talking about sex trafficking. And today we are inviting Sally to tell us a little bit more about sex trafficking is specifically about her research in the United States in Atlanta. So welcome, Sally. We're so happy to have you here. Tell us where you calling us from.

Sally 0:43

Thank you so much, Lauren. I'm so happy to be back. I admire the group of POWW. I used to be part of you guys. But I'm so glad to be able to contribute a little bit with your group, because I think a bunch of powerful women are doing amazing things in this world that I would love to contribute, even if it's a little bit. So to answer your questions, I'm currently in Arlington, Virginia. So I'm calling from the United States. And, you know, just living in the DMV area for whatever period of time since the pandemic.

POWW Podcast Host 1:18

That's awesome. Thank you. We're so happy to have you back. And can you tell us a little bit more about yourself? Like, what are you doing in Virginia, and what have you been doing in the past years, academically speaking,

Sally 1:31

So I'm currently a third year law student at George Mason University Law School. But I'm visiting this year, my final year of law school, I'm visiting at Georgetown University to take classes in international law and human rights law. Because this is my focus. I plan to practice international law and human rights law after graduation, my experience have been extensively in that field, including sex trafficking, which is why I'm here. I've been focusing a lot on human rights, or I think, as I've been someone who have been affected by human rights violation, I have extreme passion and extreme interest to try to advocate in that field and try to bring justice in that field. I am also currently the editor in chief of the International Law Journal at my school. So even academically, I have more experience than that. And you know, just overall, very interested in anything that involves the Human Rights field and the international law. So this is an a great opportunity to raise awareness and continue the advocacy work.

POWW Podcast Host 2:27

Absolutely. Amazing. So let's jump into the topic a little bit more. And let's start with a really basic question. What is sex trafficking? How would you describe it? Describe it in simple terms?

Sally 2:38

Absolutely. So before I get into the simple terms, and the definition of sex trafficking, there's one thing that I really want to emphasise, for the listeners for the people who are watching us. There's a huge difference between prostitution and sex trafficking and sex trafficking is only one type of the human trafficking and I know you guys are covering the extent topic, which is human trafficking and sex trafficking is only one type. And the reason I say there's a difference between sex trafficking and prostitution is because a lot of lack of awareness on the extent of sex trafficking in the United States and around the world, goes down to this whole misconception that prostitutes and sex trafficking victims are the same, there is a huge difference between them. The sex trafficking industry is when a pimp a person is forcing or luring another person child or adult girl boys, bisexuals, transgender, anything that can be any person who can be vulnerable to be entered into that industry into having sex. The key word here is lowering and forcing them into having sex, for profit or monetary gain. The prostitution on the other hand, is willingly people are entering the sex trade. They're there, they're engaging in sex activities willingly because they want to and they're getting money in return. The forcing, in key words here and sex trafficking is what makes it not okay, because someone is obviously violating someone else's human rights and forcing them to do something for their gain, getting them into a lot of abuse, torture, a lot of whether it's psychological or physical, and forcing them to get something to do something that they're not willing to do themselves. And the reason I wanted to emphasise that sex trafficking is only one type of the human trafficking because as you already probably going to cover throughout the month, human trafficking can involve labour trafficking, which is similar forcing people, girls boys, any person who might be vulnerable into that situation to work either for free, I mean for free, meaning the person is not getting wage, but the person trafficking them is getting them the money in return. While there is a lot of abuse, a lot of church are taking place. Sex Trafficking on the other hand, as the name entails include the sex industry, the activity and the forcing is taking place in the sex industry, not the labour industry.

POWW Podcast Host 4:58

Right. That that is really important distinction because when I was doing this research, I thought there were a lot of confusion right between one and the other. But now that you've explained it in that way, I think it makes it really clear for us listeners to really distinguish one from the other. However, could you tell us a bit more about how the sex trafficking work? Like, how is this process happening? And where can we see it?

Sally 5:23

Of course. So I want to start by explaining how I got introduced to the sex trafficking industry and how I knew that this industry is taking place in the United States. So I came to the United States as a refugee in 2013. I lived in Jordan, and I'm originally from Iraq. So I lived in Iraq in the Middle East, for the majority of my life. And when I came to the States, I obviously went into the whole education system and was studying and two years after my arrival, I was in class at Georgia State University doing public policy. And it was literally my first class ever in policy. And the professor showed us a video by if I remember correctly, it was Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith's wife. And it was called children for sale. And it was a CNN documentary on human trafficking. And it was majorly focused on sex trafficking in Atlanta. So I remember watching the video and one thing that one question that never, I mean, left my mind was how is this thing happening in the United States, where I thought as someone coming from developing countries that these things only happen over there. And I could not put my head around the idea that these things are taking place in the United States, in Atlanta, in a city where I live, and in neighbourhoods where I know, people are living and enjoying their life. And what really struck me is that a lot of people who were living in the United States who were born in the United States did not know that either. So I had to kind of try to tell myself that if I'm someone who's only been in the United States for a few years, and doesn't know about this, and people who have been living there their entire life, and still don't know about this, and how big this is, how many people don't actually know about it, how, what is the nature of this industry, and obviously, it's a very underground nature, because not a lot of people are aware of it. So I have to do a lot of research. I remember going back home and reading case after case trying to read reports and statistics just to keep my head around this whole industry that I was extremely shocked that it exists in the United States. And I realised, first of all, the misconception between process, teaching and sex industry contribute a lot to why people are not aware that this exists in the first place. But also the factors and the way it happens is another reason why people think it's not a sex trafficking industry, they think it's okay, they think people who are doing these kinds of things are doing good for either right reasons are they're doing good, because they're, I'm sorry to hear these words, but like stupid, they don't know what they're doing. They have to kind of this is the consequences of their actions. So to answer your question, I'm just gonna list a little bit of factors of how people get into the trafficking industry. As I said, One important distinction that we have to make here is the forcing part, people are being forced into that industry, or being lured in that industry. And the reason I used lorring manipulation is because children can be involved in In fact, children are a big part of that sex trafficking industry in most of the victims being traffic are children, and under age. And as I told you, before, we started that I don't want to make this legal and include a lot of flaws in it. But one important law that I want to mention is a federal law that states any person who's minor under the age of 18, will automatically be considered the victim of sex trafficking, meaning there is no need to show there's a force or coercion, or any of the like to prove that this is a sex trafficking. So when we have a child who is involved in a sex activity, and we have a pimp, who is trafficking, or let's say, paving the road for that child to engage in those sex activity. under federal law, that victim is that person, that child is a victim of sex trafficking, that victim is not a prostitute. That victim is not willingly engaging in these activities. So to answer your question on how it happens, these pins know that these children are vulnerable. They know that these children can be manipulated to that industry. Obviously, there are a lot of adults also who can who are involved in that industry. Usually they start at young age and they continue to their adulthood because they just don't have the resources and they don't get the help to get out of that industry. But there's a lot of children, the majority of people who are unfortunately, victims of these kind of activities are children. So the kids know that these children are vulnerable there. multiple methods and there are multiple, what we call them risk factors that gets the pimp to target these specific victims to get into that industry and be forced in sometimes even believing that what they're doing is okay. And I can go into details into mentioning these factors if you don't if you want me to.

POWW Podcast Host 10:21

Yeah, absolutely. I was that was going to be my follow up question. What are the risk factors?

Sally 10:26

So I just didn't want to keep continuing. But yeah, so go for the main risk factors that I can think of right now, on top of my head, obviously, there's a lot of them but homelessness, poverty, people who don't have have a dysfunctional environment at home, negligence from parents, or guardians, or runaway children, children who have a lot of mental issues and isolation and depression, these type of children don't have the safe environment that tells them that you're okay, you're in a safe place, that you have people who love you. So when when they look for these kind of feelings, when they look for these kinds of assurance and affection, they go outside of the home. And pimps know that these children are vulnerable. And they're looking for that type of support, whether it's mental support, whether it's financial support, you know, these kind of things. So they take those children, they work them into, you know, sometimes just taking the time as a 10 day investment of time to do a relationship with that person. So they they think that they're getting out of a bad situation, but they don't know they're going into a war situation. So it ends up happening is that these children engage in what's called survival sex. And the survival sex means that for example, the simple tell them have sex for one time, and I'll give you money and they will do it. And they will give them say, can you please have sex with someone else, that's my friend, I need the money and something like that manipulation in terms of like, I need the money, please help me blah, blah, blah. As a child, obviously, they're not going to think they don't know anybody else in their life, who can be with them who can support them, except that one person. So they usually are willing to do whatever they ask them to do it, because they want to be near that person. They don't want to lose that person that they only have in their life. So they ended up engaging in that survival sex, and they ended up getting the print obviously ended up getting the money in return. And when that pattern continues for a long period of time, and that person is doing it, for a long period of time, multiple people, multiple customers, we call them John's, it ends up being an industry, it ends up being an activity that the student is taking advantage of that child. And when that person as a child realises that they're engaging in these activities, and they want to run away from it. And they know that it's a no for me, I can't do this anymore. It's either a death threats, it's either I'm gonna cut off the financial from you, you really don't have other places to go. Or sometimes you will, if they have family members, it's threatening to kill family members threatened with bodily injury or any, any type of threat that makes them trapped into that activity they've been involved in for a period of years. So you have a vulnerable child who got into this industry, and you have a pimp who knows exactly what they're doing. They know who they're targeting. They know the tactics they're using. And they know how to keep that victim trapped in that industry. But also they know, the kind of people to market those children for they know the jobs, they know the customers, and they know that there are a lot of people who will continue seeking B services. So this activity can take for take place for a long period of time.

POWW Podcast Host 13:34

And it's just they get stuck there. It's a loop, right? Never Ending Yes. Okay. Yes. That is that it's that it's really difficult. But could you tell us a little bit more, I mean, now that you're also talking about your research, can you tell us what did you find in your research, and specifically, where you were talking about like, we have this idea that in developing countries like the United States, these things don't happen? Is there? Did you get any indication of why was it happening so much in the United States compared to maybe other countries?

Sally 14:08

Yes, absolutely. So, as I mentioned before, one of the big reasons why I think a lot of people don't know about trafficking industry that it takes place in United States is a misconception about its nature. It's a misconception about the victims. The misconception between prostitution and sex trafficking as a whole. And a lot of people when they hear the word trafficking, they think about cartels and militias, and a lot of you know, the things that that we see on TV people being transported in airports and bags and stuff. It's not usually that case it obviously it is part of it, but it's a very small percentage of what takes place in the United States in terms of sex trafficking, usually victims and pimps who are trafficking those children, whether children or adults, they don't even leave the city. They even remain in the same neighbourhood. They even remain in the same state. So it's actually taking place in our backyard, and a lot of People don't know that it's actually taking place around them, for people who they think they're in a relationship, but they don't know they're actually engaging in that survival sex that I was talking about. So when we know that the type of Pimps that are trafficking, it's sometimes even someone we trust, sometimes even family members are trafficking their children for money, we understand that it can happen at any time, and it can happen anywhere. It doesn't matter if this is a developing country, it doesn't matter. This is a developed country, it doesn't matter where we are, because we know that this is driven by money. And this is driven by profit. And it's driven by demand. There's a high demand, unfortunately, by Jon's to seek the services specifically from children. And obviously, it's the second most profitable and lucrative industry after the drug trade. So we're getting all this money, and it's underground nature, a lot of people don't know about it. United States is huge than why not do it. So there is a lot of easements if I may say in the United States to be able to facilitate this, but also because it's underground in nature. There's so much we don't know. And there's so much to explore. And there's so much to be able to unpack, so that we can eradicate this problem completely. Absolutely. But I to answer your question about my research. Specifically, as I mentioned, I was focused more on Atlanta. And what I wanted initially to start my research off with his try to figure out is that when I was doing my research, I realised that a lot of children were being arrested for prostitution, when, as I mentioned, federal law says these are victims of sex trafficking. And then I compare those to the number of arrests for pimps and I realised the discrepancy numbers were huge. I have a lot of children on reports being arrested for prostitution. And I have two or three pimps being arrested for trafficking. And I just couldn't keep my mind around these descriptions. They wanted to know why. Unfortunately, I didn't know why because of the time restraints and the lack of resources that I had as an undergrad, because I had to submit my honours thesis in one semester. So I switched my topic into trying to realise to understand why Atlanta is considered a major hub in sex trafficking. And it is for those who don't know, Atlanta is considered one of the major hubs not only in the United States, but around the world, first extract industry. So I wanted to understand why why do we have this huge industry taking place in Atlanta and continues to grow without any kind of action to stop it or eradicate it or even control it. And I came to three reasons. And one reason I do research and analyse more extensively than the other two. The first one is because Atlanta has the busiest airports in the world. So that means there's a really easy access in and out of the city, a lot of easy access for traffickers, for victims to be transported, and also for customers to come in and out of the airport, in one day, in an hour, the same day, go have sex transaction with a pimp sex then leave after two hours, the law enforcement will not know about it. So this easement makes the trafficking activity and the transaction between the pimp and the john, very easy to take place. The second reason is that Atlanta is known to have a lot of adult entertainment services. So there's a lot of clubs, a lot of strippers, a lot of prostitution, that takes place. And as I mentioned, there's a lot of confusion between the two. And because of the key fusion and because of the lack of understanding that these are two different industry, and there's a lot of demand for those entertainment, places in Atlanta, it's really hard to differentiate between who is doing this willingly and who's doing this forced. Firstly, we don't know who's being trafficked in those entertainment. And we don't know who's not being trafficked. And who's doing this willingly, especially for sex workers who are not doing this, because someone else is forcing the gym. And the third reason is because Atlanta is considered one of the major convention city, meaning there's a lot of events and a lot of businesses that takes place in the city. So for the reasons that I mentioned, for the first two reasons why Atlanta is the hub, because we can't really understand the extent of it. The airport is so hard to measure statistically because my mind was cyclical research. And because the entertainment industry so hard to differentiate who's doing this willingly and who's not, it was really hard for me to kind of grasp why, if any of those reasons is actually affecting the sex trafficking industry, so focused on the third reason I wanted to understand does the outline to being a convention city hosting more than 700 events per year, makes the sex trafficking industry go higher or lower? Or is there any kind of effect or no effect at all in these instances, and unfortunately, my conclusion was in general There is no effect, meaning that just having business conventions and having a lot of events taking place in the city does not affect the sex trade. But the specific type of events, and specifically the sporting events had an increase on sex trafficking activity in the sea. And the reason the sporting events, obviously, you can predict this is because it's male dominated in terms of people coming in the city, in terms of attendees, people who come are, the geographics of the people are usually males will have a lot of money and have a lot of resources, and are there for fun. So you will predict that there's a lot of activity that takes place. Wow,

POWW Podcast Host 20:41

That's really interesting. You know, I would have never imagined that those three factors, of course, in in work with other factors would have made such a difference. And I mean, this is from Atlanta, United States. And how did you were you did you manage to find any sort of strategies or any recommendations to diminish social stigma and misinformation surrounding sex trafficking? You know, especially because we're talking about prostitution and sex trafficking? There is, you know, it's very hard to figure out which one is which is there any way that us as a society as individuals, could help to diminish the social stigma, and, you know, in some way, help to reduce sex trafficking,

Sally 21:29

Of course. So as I mentioned before, the one key thing to keep in mind is that children are not prosecutes automatically, even if they're saying, Well, I'm not doing it forcefully, this is wrong, you do not have the mental state to say no, this is trafficking. So that's out of the way children, not easier to predict, but more likely to know that this person needs hope. for prostitution, specifically, one thing that we as a society need to keep in mind is that sex work is work, you cannot shame person, you cannot say that this person is doing something wrong, just because you don't agree with what they do. If there are willingly engaging in sex activity for money, that's their life, that's their choice, you can't really shame them for what they're doing. And if there's doing so, and they're willingly saying that I'm doing this for profit, I'm happy with what I'm doing, I'm not seeking help. That's prostitution, you don't really have a lot of say, in trying to offer hope for that person. Because they're not asking for help, they don't need help, they are doing this with their whole heart. They believe in it, they like it for whatever reasons, and they, they want to be in it. But for trafficking, usually, there's a lot of indicators that you can tell that this person is not doing it for. for themselves, they're not doing it because they want you usually involves when you see a victim with someone else, usually the pimp, you will see them very close, they don't really have a lot to say it's usually the prince talking for them, it's usually the pimp paying for them, it's usually the pimp telling them what to do and what not to do. You can tell from their facial expression, you can tell from the way they're engaging with people, you can tell from their body language, that they're always afraid that they're always close, they can't really have a say in whatever decision that you're making, including eating or choosing something to, to eat or choosing something to drink, they don't really have much say in anything involving their, their life. And also in terms of as a society and how we can differentiate there is one thing that's really important to know, and it's sex trafficking industry, is that online platforms are being a great source for pimps to continue this activity. So one of the things that we can keep in mind and law enforcement have been doing a lot of work in that area and trying to differentiate between a person who needs hope but a person who is not a prostitute in that area, which I can talk a little bit more about, but is the advertisement they use the specific keywords and key phrases that indicate this is someone being trafficked. And usually when they use those, these are terms that indicate the person is under age, the person is a child, for example, they can use the word amber alerts, or they use fresh or petite or chill cheerleaders. These are teachers that indicate the person is being trafficked as a child, because they know the demand from john the customers is for children, for petite for fresh. So they do it in a way that does not trigger prostitution. They mean does not trigger law enforcement, you know that this is illegal, but at the same time, can give the impression to others that this is prostitution, this is not sex trafficking. So keeping in mind these key terms and keeping in mind these differences between both activities would be a really good way for people to first understand that this happens and also understand that this is a person who needs help. This is a person who should not be shamed or should not be told that what they're doing is wrong. This someone does not need help in that situation. Right. Well,

POWW Podcast Host 24:53

Is there any any sort of, I don't know website you would report this to or do you know anything about the procedure?

Sally 25:00

So for websites specifically, I'm going to go a little bit in details about websites and online platform because it's the the main platforms that are being used currently, with this technology with all the things that we're going through as a world. It's not really recruitment industry. Yes, this happens as we see it in TV. But it's a very, very small percentage of it, most of it is being advertised online. And the research that I conducted was basically getting those data from the websites. So one website is called For our people who live in the United States, they know for example, a Craigslist is a website where people offer services and offer things for help, whether it's like furniture, homes, cars, whatever, but also specific services. So for example, painting, dog walking, stuff like that Mac page was similar to that website. And it had a Services section in it, and it's called adult services. And within that Adult Services section, there was a female escort services. So usually, when you go to these posting, people sometimes are posting things like looking for a lover looking for a couple looking for things that you that are normal, not necessarily something that would trigger illegal activity. But sometimes the posting includes these kind of keywords that I was just telling you about fresh amber alerts. So you know, these posting are actually children being trafficked online under these services. So what I did for my research, specifically, I got the data for all the posting that indicated if an under a child, whether female, male, transgender, from the year of 2014, to 2016. And I got all of them that my trigger sex trafficking, and obviously comparing them to the number of convention that was taking place in the city of Atlanta about 25 plus inventions, specifically, for as I mentioned, the sporting events and business events. And when I say events, I'm talking about something that happens annually on a daily basis, not just companies sending employees to do something over there, it's something that's huge on a very large scale with 1000s of attendees. And when I did statistical regression analysis, the numbers were going higher in terms of posting when there was a sporting event, so you have a sporting event, and then you have a number higher of posting on When this is happening. And when this is not happening, the numbers are going either similar to the past or going lower. So obviously, we're all basing this on assumption, because as I mentioned, this is very underground in nature, there's a lot of things that we have to take into account to fully know the extent of the industry and the actions that we can take. But from a logical standpoint, from a rational statistical analysis standpoint, it's safe to conclude that this was affecting this in terms of attendees, and in terms of ad posting. So the online platforms, thankfully, today, I submitted my thesis that was shut down by the federal government, they realised after doing extensive investigation, and they realised that back page knew exactly that this kind of activity was taking place, and was willingly facilitating the platform for pimps to advertise this posting to jobs. And the way they did it is that they instructed their staff to alter these posting in a way that would indicate to jobs which is the key times to indicate that this is sex trafficking, but would not indicate to law enforcement that this is sex trafficking. So they were instructed in a way to make it safe for them to publish it. So as I said, the federal government shut it down. So we were like, Okay, great, you don't really have a lot to worry about in terms of advertising sex trafficking. Two days after that was I was shut down and another website emerged, which is city city x, I'm not remembering that correctly, but it was also shut down. So city I think city x guys calm, continue doing the exact same thing as backpage was doing same thing in terms of posting facilitating the platform for pimps facility in new platform for John's to seek those services and pay for it.

POWW Podcast Host 29:04

By good thing in 2020, the government shutdown the the second website as well, which is great, not so great for sex trafficking workers, which is a different topic that we can talk about later. But another website that facilitated this activity was all shut down. However, the online platform continues to be the target for pimps because it's easier, you get more diverse customers from all around the world doesn't have to be only in the United States. And you get more postings and more access to those customers and more ability to advertise many victims at the same time because we all know how easy things are on technology and on online platforms. So people have to keep in mind that online and websites, even social media now with the ABS Tiktok and all the alike are really good and good in a bad way. Obviously for him. To use those to target customers and to traffic victims, and also to get victims, new victims to get people more into that industry, because it's easier for them. It's very accessible. And it's very hard for the for the government and for law enforcement to try to monitor those 24. Seven to try to realise what is going on and what is underground? And what is something that might give those ketones For example, to help them figure out who's doing fine.

I had no idea about that, you know, like, this whole conversation has been super enlightening for me, because I, you know, I knew so little about this, right? And, you know, this is just the United States, but I'm sure it's it happens around probably every country around the world. So yet to start finishing our conversation. I know, it's really hard to make, you know, predictions and talk about the future. But do you do you see hope? Do you see that things are changing? Do you see more awareness, maybe in the circles that you're working in, or what you're what you're reading or seeing? Is there any hope?

Sally 31:05

Unfortunately, with the pandemic, because it changed a lot of things, things became more difficult for law enforcement, for people who are trying to control this activity, made things more harder for them, because people were isolating, and there's a lot of things that were not as visible as they used to be after the before the pandemic. Now, as we all transitioning back hopefully, to normal, we might be able to see a little bit of change and a little bit of continuance to what the work that people have been doing law enforcement and officials have been doing in the past. But there's has also been a lot of push in terms of policy in terms of laws. And as you said, a lot of raising awareness, because we want people to know about this, because we want people to know that it's taking place in their neighbourhoods in their cities, and not just in development, like I thought it was like you thought it was, it's actually it can be children that we know it can be neighbours, it can be friends, it can be any person who is in a very vulnerable situation. And as much as I hate using the one variable, it's it's really unfortunate for them to be in a position where someone think that this is a really good chance for them, to attack that person to force them to make them feel like this is their last chance in life. So any person that we have around us, we have to keep an eye open for them, we have to be caring, we have to make sure that the children are getting the support that they need. And whoever is in a very vulnerable position in their life are not being lured into these either second option or survival sex or any survival activity that makes them unfortunately victims of these kind of CO creative activities. Right? Raising awareness about this is a huge step for people to be introduced and to hopefully start doing more research and educating themselves about what they can do, how they can identify victims and the things that they can do to be able to help victims in the future.

POWW Podcast Host 33:06

Absolutely. And that's the whole point of this month, you know, to get all of the information out there to talk to people, not just in English speaking countries, we also want to talk to people in the global south. So you know, we really want to raise awareness this month, and, you know, keep learning because we don't know that much about it. So thank you so much, Sally, for the conversation. I learned so much. And I'm sure our listeners are also going to learn a lot. And it was so good to see you as well.

Sally 33:33

So good to see you too. And I'm so happy to finally be able to do something without so much and I'm so excited for all the work that you guys are gonna do. I have no doubt it's all going to be great.

POWW Podcast Host 33:45

Thank you so much.

Sally 33:46

Thank you so much. You're welcome.

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