**TW: discussion of sexual assault and human trafficking.**

Sometimes I remember that I am connected to a large chain of human traffickers and I just think to myself “Whoa.” And then I think about how that chain of people has threatened my families lives and I think “that’s wild.”
It sounds so bizarre, doesn’t it?
But then again, most of the time people really have no grasp of how it actually works. They assume people just get hijacked in their cars or thrown into the back of vans all the time, like they do in the movies. Sometimes it does happen that way, but most of the time it does not. I used to think that was how it worked too, until my cousin became my window into the world.
So here is what they don’t tell you in the movies:
-Trafficking victims often don’t realize they are trafficking victims.
-Most of the time, traffickers are targeting young vulnerable girls. The girls from broken homes, the girls who have behavioral issues, who have had to be too independent, who “act out” and get ostracized by everyone.
-They target girls who are alone, vulnerable, financially unstable, who are desperate to be loved and find security and then they prey on those needs. They send in other trafficked victims to befriend them or they target them through pretending to be in a relationship with them. They shower then with attention, security… But all it really is is bait.
-The next move is psychological warfare. Pushing them to drop their boundaries. Many times they are pressured into drugs and form addictions and often they are drugged and then gaslighted to form and maintain those addictions. It’s easy to control someone when you sedate them and create an addiction that you have the fix for.
-They use the addiction to steer them into sex for drugs. Sweet talk them, make it seem casual- make them feel disgusting for it later. Tear them down and make them feel like they could never be accepted by others again.
-Before you know it, they are the broken pawns, beaten into submission, locked in motel rooms and posted on “sex worker/cortisone” sites. They are victims of domestic violence, coerced addiction, and trafficking and are totally convinced it was their choice.
-Victims often aren’t cut off from their families… my cousins trafficker brought her across states to see us… but later that became an even greater source of control. “Do what I say or we will kill your family.”
-Sex trafficked victims look like your cousin, Your sister, your friend

Currently, my cousin sits in a prison cell after being hunted down by the federal government for being a part of a massive heroin dealing chain (surprise! national drug rings are the same rings that traffic humans). She was arrested along with several others, including her abuser who would turn her out to sell her body and the drugs. She has blood on her hands, a trail of overdose victims connected to all of these people… to her. All because she was a broken little girl who got trapped in a nationwide ring of sex traffickers.
My cousin will not stand trial against her abusers. She will not admit to being a victim. Not because she isn’t one. Noit’s to protect her family. Because they know where we are. She’s a small pawn in a massive game and we are just collateral if she makes the wrong move.
That’s all the things they don’t tell you

Does it blow your mind to know that movies have it wrong? That it’s not the innocent girl next door, who has a perfect life. It’s the girl you avoid or forget. The girl with too much trauma. The girl the system failed and discarded.
This isn’t just based on my experience- we were taught this research in one of my psychology courses- around the same time we had realized my cousin was being trafficked. Isn’t that crazy? During that time she would frequently go missing and the only way I knew she was alive was because I would keep track of her advertisements for sex work on obscure sites.

I remember when we were little… so little…our babysitter sexually abused her. She went on, throughout childhood, to be sexually, physically, and emotionally abused and neglected by the people who were supposed to love and protect her.
She was used and outcast before she even knew the meaning of those words… She was the perfect victim.

Its terrible, and astounding. Surreal, the sheer magnitude of it. All I can think is “Whoa… Wild.”

I hope this helps to quell your fears of all those recycled social media posts of being followed at the grocery store. But more than anything, I hope you stop to take a second look and choose compassion over judgement. I can’t help but to wonder, if the world had been kinder to her, would she have been such an easy target? Would I also think it happens like the movies if I didn’t have this window and this collateral target on my family?… Wild, isn’t it?

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