In 2008, I was a brand new aesthetician. I worked alone most of the time in a 350-square-foot office suite in the little town of Onalaska, Wisconsin. I was completely oblivious to sex trafficking, let alone how to spot a potential victim of trafficking until I had an eerie incident that led me to do my research.
One day, a man called my spa to make a same day appointment for his girlfriend for a Brazilian wax. The man from the phone call accompanied this young lady to her appointment and, when they arrived, he insisted on filling out all of her paperwork for her. This young lady was not allowed to speak for herself when asked some general questions before the service. When I received her paperwork, the client’s name given on the phone when the appointment was scheduled was now different than the name written on her paperwork. When I went to take the client in for her service, the man insisted on being in the room during the service and became increasingly agitated when he was not allowed in. Once in the treatment room, the young lady seemed fearful. I noticed some unusual bruising that I asked her about and asked her about her safety. She looked away quickly and never spoke a word. Afterwards, the service was paid for in cash and they both left very rapidly. The last thing I saw as they left was a man’s name tattooed on the back of her neck. I said to myself, “I’m wrong and this cannot be true. My spa is located in a town with a population of about 17,000 people. This is a community of backyard barbeques and children playing in front yards. Something like sex trafficking could not be in my community – this is just a big city problem.”
The fact is that every state in the United States has reports and arrests each year involving sex trafficking, with the highest reports coming from Texas, Florida, California, and New York. There is an estimated 300,000 Americans lured into sex trafficking each year. The UNODC estimates that over 70% of all trafficking victims are female and the average age of targeted victims for sex trafficking is 11 to 14 years old. Victims come from small towns and big cities alike and are lured and forced into trafficking through manipulation, violence, and exploiting vulnerabilities. Often, victims are actually housed in small communities to avoid attention and are then moved frequently between several different locations around the state or country and new victims are brought in.
You may be asking yourself, why would someone involved in sex trafficking come into my spa? The answer is simple: it is called grooming the victim. Grooming is a form of control and manipulation traffickers use to lure someone into sex trafficking. Traffickers aim to gain the victim’s trust by solely providing for the victim’s needs, isolating the victim from friends and family, then forcing them into trafficking. Often, this can include providing them with new clothing, experiences, and even spa services until they have their trust.
HOW CAN YOU SPOT POTENTIAL TRAFFICKING VICTIMS IN YOUR SPA?
- The client is always accompanied by a more dominant individual.
- The accompanying individual insists on being in the treatment room
- The client is unable or unwilling to provide a phone number, e-mail address, or street address.
- The client cannot provide any form of identification.
- The client is not allowed to speak for themselves.
- The client is spoken to in a demeaning or threating manner by the accompanying individual.
- The client appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- The client does not interact with you during services or only gives single word responses.
- The client acts withdrawn, uneasy, or afraid.
- The client has tattoos or brands showing ownership (names, symbols, and so on), typically in highly visible areas.
- There is visible bruising on the client.
- The client shows signs of poor hygiene, malnourishment, or fatigue.
- Services are paid for with cash only.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?
Education and awareness are key to breaking this cycle. Times have changed – social media has become a major platform for sex traffickers. Social media has a dark side and has made it increasingly easy for traffickers to lure victims through insincere promises and relationships. As our use of technology increases, so will the use of it for sex trafficking. Encourage your local schools, PTA groups, and religious organizations to include educational programs about sex trafficking, the dangers of social media, and the signs to watch for. Remember that the target age for sex trafficking victims is 11 to 14 years old.
Volunteer and support anti-trafficking efforts in your community. Search for organizations in your area that are assisting victims of sex trafficking and get involved. If there is not an organization near you, start one. Know who in your community is at the highest risk of being a victim and help them find programs that can assist with their unique situations. The more active a community is, the harder it is for traffickers to blend in with everyone else.
Urge local businesses, gas stations, and restaurants to post resources in the restrooms stalls about how to get help and the phone number to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. These signs are readily available online.
Support efforts outside your community that educate and assist victims of sex trafficking. Most organizations that work to help victims of sex trafficking and human trafficking are supported through donations from people like yourself.
Unfortunately, sex trafficking is a widespread crisis that may even affect some of our clients. We as aestheticians can play a pivotal role in identifying victims and spreading awareness. If you believe someone is in immediate danger, is being sexually exploited, or may be a victim of sex trafficking, report your suspicions to law enforcement by calling 911 or by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or texting “BEFREE” or “HELP” to 233733. Additional resources can always be found at humantraffickinghotline.org.