Human trafficking relevant in today’s society


Illustration by Victoria Van

Story by Colton Johnson and Emily McMaster

Selling a human is an idea that people believe died when slavery ended, and yet, there are still people with price tags under the radar, circulating in a system of human trafficking. 

But it’s not just a problem happening in foreign countries far from here, it is prevalent in the city of Texarkana. 

“Texarkana is a hotspot for human trafficking because Interstate 30, Interstate 35 and Highway 59 run through this area. These large interstates are easy for traffickers to drive through when covering a large area range,” said Kim Bateman-Neff, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocate. “These areas are also in high demand of construction workers. Many workers are forced into labor so that a trafficker can receive the money.”   

According to Texarkana Today, Kenneth Nelson was arrested in October 2017 after an eight-month investigation in the trafficking of five people in Texarkana, which could mean life in prison for him.

“This particular case involved some local 15-16 year old girls whom Nelson is alleged to have coerced into having sex with him in exchange for drugs,” Public Information Officer Shawn Vaughn said. “The trafficking charges were based upon the fact that he transported them to his house. Those allegations came to light after the children told an adult of the abuse.”

Photo by Langley Leverett

People do not take into consideration how close to home the issue is and how easily it is to get wrapped up in one of these toxic situations. 

“Social media is a huge pathway to becoming a victim. A common method of trafficking is ‘boyfriending’ a victim which is when someone on social media poses as an innocent person and starts flirting with people,” Bateman-Neff said. “Usually the victim begins to open up more to them. The next time the victim is feeling insecure they run to social media or meet up with the guy. This leads to sexual abuse and trafficking.”

Traffickers target those who may feel misunderstood by others. The victims find themselves cornered, feeling as if they have no other place to turn to once they are trapped in the situation. 

“These predators go to great extremes to convince the young person that their friends and family do not understand them and that only they can provide the love and respect that they crave,” Vaughn said. “Unfortunately, when the teen does take the step of leaving home, that is not the reality they find.  They are thrown into a life where they are dependent upon the adult for everything and forced to become involved in prostitution and drug abuse just to survive.”

If someone is sucked into the cycle of trafficking and sexual abuse, it is rare that they can escape it, but even if they do make it out of this labyrinth of horrors, the psychological impact cannot be erased.  

“The main effects from human trafficking are post-traumatic stress disorder, sexually transmitted diseases and disassociation of events,” Bateman-Neff said. “Victims escape to their ‘happy place’ while being abused instead of facing the reality of the situation. This causes them to give in to the abuse and eventually stop seeking help.”

There are some instances of trafficking where the victim is simply not given the option to leave such as those who find themselves drowning in a debt that cannot be paid off. 

“In regards to immigrants, most of the time, U.S. citizens will promise them a place to stay, citizenship and a job,” Bateman-Neff said. “However, the trafficker overprices rent so they never become free of individual labor. This is common in nail salons and Chinese restaurants. If there is a rotation in workers or they know little English, they may be suspect of being trafficked.”

Despite the fact that many of these systems are run under the radar, organizations are taking strides to try to rescue these victims. 

We now have female officers talk to these women away from the scene to try give them an opportunity to ask for help out of the situation without having to fear retribution from a nearby handler or pimp.

— Shawn Vaughn

“We now have female officers talk to these women away from the scene to try give them an opportunity to ask for help out of the situation without having to fear retribution from a nearby handler or pimp,” Vaughn said. “If they do indicate that they want out, we then can refer them to social services to help make that happen.”

It starts with speaking out, with standing up. It starts with believing that there are better things to come. This is the only way that people can find peace, to break the cycle and realize that they are more than a commodity for sale. 

“One client we had was sold by a distant family member in Florida, and she found help after reaching a truck stop in Texarkana,” Bateman-Neff said. “We brought her in and offered a place to stay until she could reunite with her parents in Florida. We were able to find her home; however, her family’s Haitian values would not allow her to be a part of their family again due to the sexual assault she had been through. Our organization worked with a shelter in Florida near her home where she is placed today.”