“Sex trafficking” was a term I heard often growing up but I was unaware of what it truly was. I’m from a small town about 45 minutes from the Atlanta airport and for a long time thought that trafficking involved girls getting kidnapped, taken to the airport, and flown somewhere far away. I was given all the classic warnings to keep myself safe like looking for zip ties on my car, locking my doors while I got gas, and never walking alone in the parking lot at night.
It honestly wasn’t until I learned about Pedal the Pacific that I started to realize what was really going on. Since then, I have learned that sex trafficking isn’t always, or even usually, some big kidnapping event, people are being trafficked right in front of us and it is going completely unnoticed. It wasn’t just the girls you see on the news who have gone missing, there are thousands of people who are being exploited by those they thought they could trust.
One of the most shocking things I’ve learned is that there are girls who are 11, 12, and 13 who are being trafficked. When I was that age, I was worried about volleyball games, homework, and when I would be able to get my braces off. Those are the things that middle schoolers should be worried about, not being sold for sex. It’s even more upsetting to learn that they are usually being trafficked by a family member, romantic partner, or someone else they trust. Why do some young teens have to worry about being trafficked and others, like me, get to worry about normal teenage problems?
I know that I had a very privileged childhood. I had a family and friends who loved me and taught me what healthy relationships looked like. I was given opportunities to grow and received constant support. I was taught how to recognize a dangerous situation, and if I were to have gone missing, there probably would have been people doing everything they could to find me. There are so many people out there who do not have that kind of support system. Traffickers take advantage of these people because they think that nobody will care if they go missing. While there are girls who are like me that go missing, most of the time traffickers prey on those who are already vulnerable.
I am so grateful to have been given the opportunities I’ve had and the truth is, I could keep quietly living my life the way I always have and be fine. However, now that I know what I know I can’t just do nothing.
Sex trafficking is not easy to talk about, but nothing will change if we don’t start. There are so many people out there who are like I was and just don’t know what is actually going on and never will if nothing changes. We need to start these difficult conversations because everyone deserves to feel loved and supported, especially when you are just a kid.