Words Of Warning
Survivor Gives Glasgow Insight On Human Trafficking
First Of Two Parts
Advocate, speaker and survivor of human trafficker Windie Lazenko made a stop in Glasgow last week. Her topic was a difficult one that doesn't normally draw large crowds, but awareness of a growing domestic problem is starting to spread nationwide. Being so close to the Bakken, the dangers of trafficking to local youth is something that is very real.
As around 80 students gathered into the Glasgow High School library at the end of the day, a few snickers were heard from students as the words sex trafficking came from Lazenko. Those snickers and uncomfortable movements soon slowed as the audience soon became active in listening. Lazenko started out talking very bluntly about the issue, about how most kids thought that there wasn't trafficking in their town, or maybe they're aren't at risk. What she told them had a lot of shocked faces.
"The average age of children being trafficked is 12 to 14 years old," Lazenko said.
She told the kids that trafficking happened in three different ways: force, fraud and coercion. She said that some kids were forced, abducted and placed into slavery. Others are being told they'll do something else, like housekeeping, and once they move to a new job, they're trapped and stuck in a very bad position. The type of trafficking she focused on with the youth was coercion. When boyfriends, or creepers on Facebook sought out the youth and groomed them for a life in sex trafficking.
"They pretend to be your peers on social media. They're a creeper, a trafficker, an exploiter," Lazenko said.
She said that 200,000 to 500,000 kids in the U.S. were at risk. That two of three runaways would be approached by a sexual predator in the first 48 hours, and they'll make an offer. "But we're seeing the boyfriend element typically," she said. "No one is safe in the world now because of the internet."
She explained her story which resonated with the local youth. Several raised their hands when asked if they had known someone to run away. She told the students about how she came from a broken home, she had been sexually abused and when she ran away she figured that anything had to be better than what she had been experiencing. Lazenko explained to the kids she never drank, never did drugs, wasn't promiscuous, she just wanted out of a bad place.
"I know for a fact that if there would have been awareness in the community ... I was giving them every single red flag," she said.
She explained how not long after she ran away she was approached at school by a 16-year-old friend. The girl offered her a place to stay with her older boyfriend. She explained that the game today hasn't changed much from back then, other than the internet has made it a little bit easier to access teens in a bad situation. She was invited to a party that night. The girl offered her free reign to a closet full of name brand clothes. She helped her do her hair and make up and made her look older. During the party she saw drugs, there was loud music and there were adults and drinking.
She thought her friend was having a fight with her boyfriend and was told to go into a room. She hesitated and when she saw money exchanged from a couple to the girl's boyfriend she assumed that a drug deal was about to go down, so she left the room. She said that she wasn't in the room for more than a minute when the couple walked into the room. When she told the kids that they had sex with her, most of the faces were solemn.
"That thrust me into a long life with a trafficker," Lazenko said.
She explained that she didn't leave because of her previous trauma; she just detached from the situation. She later said she threw up for a while after it happened. She didn't fully understand what had happened. "People need to know this is happening to kids."
She explained that the long journey of healing and walking away didn't happen until she was 32. Many years after her 13-year-old self was sold for the first time, for how much she will never know.
She told the kids that she started working with at risk youth years after her own healing process. She wanted to create resources, she wanted to warn the youth before they ended up in prostitution. She said for a while she lived a normal life and worked in youth ministry. She made kids know that there was an adult who cared. Adults who would listen.
Social Media Dangers For Teens
After telling her story she tackled social media. She told the group of teens that men are asking for naked pics from teenage girls. She asked the students if they had been asked, some meekly raised their hands, others nodded recognizing that it was going on.
"If and when you take a naked picture of yourself, it's there forever, you might think it's untraceable in Snap Chat, but I'm telling you it doesn't go away," Lazenko said. "Did you know the company can store those photos?"
She explained that she met a 14-year-old girl who was offered $14,000 for a photo of her topless and kissing another girl. She said that it's a large amount of money for what seems like an easy task. "But that now becomes a sellable product," she said.
She explained that often those photos are used to blackmail girls into performing more tasks. She said that it was a thriving industry and that she was suckered in so quickly, she didn't even realize she was a victim. She explained that domestic minors are becoming more and more at risk and involved in sex trafficking.
Other issues with the media include making it acceptable to objectify women. She said that the "pimp culture," such as rap singers like Snoop Dogg, killing hookers on the video game Grand Theft Auto and hearing songs that talk about prostitution, promiscuity and sex like it's normal are creating a dangerous atmosphere for kids.
"A pimp is just a street name for a trafficker," she said. "What is the message the world is setting out? How sick is that? That they value a girl so low it's OK to kill her."
Stories Of Voiceless Victims
She talked about an 11-year-old who was rescued. The girl's mother had died and she was placed in the custody of her father who was heavily involved in drugs. He sold her for drugs. She was tattooed on her eye lids by her trafficker and grew up in an area where the pimp culture was normal.
She spoke about another girl who was passed around a gang and branded with a cattle brand and a tattoo on her neck. That girl was able to recover after she was rescued but is now searching to get the brands removed. The cattle brand if seen by another gang member could signify to them that she's property and could be raped.
Another example was given about a girl who had the right parents; she was homeschooled, protected, a virgin who was saving herself for marriage. She went to a high school party, was drugged in a drink she had and was sold to the highest bidder for her virginity. None of her peers at the party stopped it. She ended up so ashamed, she spiraled downward and ended up addicted to heroine. Lazenko explained that the girl eventually found herself help.
"There is nothing that can take your value away. You can heal from anything," she said. "It's never too late, there's always hope."
Next week in The Courier: Community members get educated.