Nobody will tell you they’re in favor of child trafficking, but plenty of people are comfortable not doing anything to stop it.
That’s what Nicole Smith, a Selah resident and Brigham Young University student, means when she talks about the need to raise awareness. Smith, who helped organize anti-trafficking demonstrations in Selah and Yakima on Thursday, understands that people already know about the concept of child-trafficking; they just don’t necessarily understand how pervasive it is.
“Our main thing is to just raise awareness,” she said in a phone interview in advance of the demonstrations. “We’re trying to get the word out about what’s going on in the world. And in the United States. And even here in the Yakima Valley.”
Though Smith wasn’t able to speak to the incidence of trafficking locally, it certainly happens. Ten men and a woman, the victim’s mother, were arrested earlier this month on sex-trafficking charges after a 15-year-old girl told police her mother had got her addicted to pain pills and began arranging for her to have sex for money to pay for the drugs. The police responded initially because the girl was going through opioid withdrawal; had that not happened, the trafficking likely wouldn’t have come to light.
Smith, who has been researching human trafficking and volunteering for the anti-trafficking organization Operation Underground Railroad, said people can be quickly lured into trafficking when drugs are part of the equation. But that’s not the only method predators use to find victims; social media has become a huge recruiting method, she said.
“Parents need to watch their kids’ profiles and stuff on social media,” Smith said. “The kids don’t know what they’re doing.”
That’s another part of what “awareness” means, she said. It’s about knowing what to watch for. Toward that end, she recommended visiting Operation Underground Railroad’s website, ourrescue.org, for more information and tips.
“When you have awareness, that’s one more opportunity for someone to notice someone being trafficked,” Smith said.