Minami Levonowich
KU Statehouse Wire Service
Legislators are considering a measure that would encourage education for state residents about human trafficking and slavery.
House Resolution 6038 seeks to create awareness that traffickers are abducting children in Kansas, aims to educate residents about the problem, and, ultimately, seeks to end such criminal activities.
Jennifer Rapp, deputy director of the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in the Kansas Attorney General’s office, told members of the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs last week that she receives regular phone calls from Kansans who have seen young adults selling products, such as magazines and cleaning products, across the state. Many times they are forced into this activity through “complex psychological manipulation,” and they live in substandard conditions with drugs and alcohol used by traffickers to keep them compliant, she said.
“It’s really sort of like a cult,” Rapp said. “They are usually older teens, young adults who perhaps don’t have the same opportunities as others to attend college, and this sounds like a lucrative or a good opportunity to them.”
Studies show that traffickers frequently prey on the poor, vulnerable, and those living in unsafe environments.
Rep. Tony Barton, R-Leavenworth, said that young people are lured through the Internet, via interactive video games, blogs and chatrooms that target children because they’re “vulnerable, gullible, and there is a market for young victims.”
“This is evil at its core,” Barton said. “These evil souls, cowards (traffickers) take away (the victims’) innocence and destroy their lives without conscience just for a dollar.”
Speaking in support of HR 6038, Barton told lawmakers he hopes the measure can bring freedom to the victims of human trafficking.
“To not consider this resolution is to say that their lives, the lives of these children, men and women do not matter,” Barton said.
Eight years ago, Barton’s daughter, who was about 5 years old at the time, wandered outside their church Sunday morning when a white van pulled up in front of her. When a member of the church hurried over, the van screeched out of the parking lot. Barton feared the worst for his daughter.
“What would’ve happened if this church member had not pulled in at the time he did. Would Rebecca be here today?” Barton said.
Rapp shared a similar personal story about her daughter. Three years ago, her daughter was walking on Massachusetts Street in Lawrence. It was around 7 on a Tuesday night in September, and Rapp’s 16-year-old daughter wanted to shop at the Urban Outfitters store. Not long after Rapp dropped off her daughter, the young woman called, urgently asking her mother to come back to the store. Panicked, Rapp drove back to see her daughter talking to a man neither she nor her daughter knew. Rapp’s daughter said the man had been watching her while she was in the store. She tried to stay inside as long as she could, but when she stepped outside, he approached her and started asking questions about where she was from and where she went to high school. Rapp’s daughter did not give him the information. The man asked the young woman to look at his Facebook page on her phone and to add him as a friend, which she didn’t. Rapp said this was a wake-up call: This was exactly how traffickers prey on a young person’s vulnerabilities, she told the committee.
“If this can happen to my daughter, it can happen to anyone of yours,” Rapp said. “This is happening in our communities.”
The U.S. Department of Justice calls Kansas an “originating” state for human trafficking, which means that traffickers abduct children, men and women to be treated as slaves, to be forced into prostitution, or to work with little or no pay. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, and the International Labor Organization estimates that 20.9 million people are victims of human trafficking globally.
Last summer the Kansas attorney general’s office partnered with Clear Channel Outdoors and Lamar Advertising to launch a statewide anti-trafficking effort. The campaign featured billboards that read: “Human trafficking is happening in Kansas. If you see something, report it.” The billboard gives a number for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. The campaign was aimed at reaching trafficking victims to let them know that resources exist to help them and to encourage community members to recognize trafficking.
Rapp said the media have not done a good job differentiating between human trafficking and human smuggling. Human trafficking is a crime against a person; human smuggling is a crime in which a person crosses a border illegally
Trafficking affects all kinds of businesses across Kansas, especially in the southwestern part of our state in the agricultural industry, Rapp said.
“A lot of what we hear in the media is about foreign-born victims being brought into our country and trafficked,” Rapp said. “But the truth of the matter is more than 80 percent of human trafficking involves domestic victims, and the majority of these are children.”
Rapp advised Kansans to get as much information as possible if they encounter someone they suspect is a trafficking victim. Asking where they are from and who they work for is a good start. Obtaining that kind of information will help law enforcement, she said. However, she cautioned that when asking questions, individuals should not be intrusive or put themselves in danger, she said. Since human trafficking generates an estimated $150 billion globally, it is a dangerous criminal enterprise and getting involved can be risky, she warned.
No opponents to the bill testified during the hearing.
If approved, the bill would recommend, but not require, education. It now goes to the full House for consideration.
To learn more, visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center website at http://traffickingresourcecenter.org/ Or call, 1-888-373-7888.