My Turn, Haley Price: Trying to stop human trafficking

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 2, 2023

My name is Haley Price and I am a survivor-advocate for those coming out of human trafficking situations. I am writing this on behalf of an organization that is very close to my heart, Project Light Rowan. The mission of Project Light Rowan is to disrupt and eradicate human trafficking in our community and one way that we do this is through educational programming and informational presentations. During a recent meeting with our Project Light social media team, the topic of what modern day trafficking looks like came up. And so I thought it might be helpful for our community if I’m able to break some myths and stereotypes and give an accurate picture of human trafficking in our local area. My hope is that this not only equips everyone in the community with the knowledge of what to look for when you think you see someone who may be a victim of human trafficking, but it also hopefully informs parents, guardians, and all of us what tactics traffickers use and how to hopefully prevent even one young person from falling victim to this horrendous crime.

The first thing we need to get clear is that human trafficking does not require transportation of a person by their trafficker to any other location, state, or country. Many are trafficked within the same hometown where they grew up. Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act from the victim. However, in many cases, victims do not come forward or seek help because they do not even view themselves as victims. Wonder why? Let me explain…

Traffickers usually look for victims who are vulnerable because of a lack of social or familial support, unstable housing, previous trauma, abuse, immigration status, limited English proficiency, and/or an inability to see an exploitative situation for what it really is. And unlike what we see on the big screen in films like “Taken,” traffickers are not all mafia-types from Eastern Europe who pluck or children from their beds in the middle of the night to sail them across the sea, never to be seen again. Most of the time, traffickers are successful because they have built trust with the victim and more often than not, the victims family or friends as well. Traffickers may target friends, family, or any mutual connections to potential victims in order to establish contact. And being trafficked may be a gradual process. It may take weeks or months of grooming and manipulation by the trafficker to build rapport with the victim, making them vulnerable to exploitation. A lot of times, victims have the appearance of having a choice in their association with their trafficker; however, victims are often controlled through fear and other forms of mental manipulation. Traffickers don’t even need to be the people directly benefiting from the labor or commercial sex act. Peer to peer recruitment, which occurs when a trafficker coerces or forces a victim into recruiting their friends and/or other peers with payment, promises of better treatment/more “love” or less abuse, may take place within the walls of our children’s own schools. Traffickers have become very adept at recruiting peers to play the role of the significant other for the victim in order to gain their trust and indoctrinate them into the lifestyle of commercial sex work or exploitive labor.

So what does all this mean? Well, it means that human trafficking today does not look like Hollywood. In our community, in our hometown, trafficking often looks like a young person standing outside of a local gas station, begging for money, generally having become addicted to one drug or another. Often times many of us are guilty of putting the blame on that individual. We look at them as drug addicts, junkies, the underbelly of society. But we don’t see the abuse that it took to get that person to a street corner. We don’t see the promises of love that were made by someone that they thought they could trust. What we don’t see is the fear that they live with every day that they will never be anything other than a broken vessel, not useful for much within our “moral and civilized” world. Trafficking can look like a homeless individual who is paid little to nothing for labor by a local handyman company. Where there are no safety regulations. No recourse or ways to report should anyone get hurt or abused while on the job. Because your “boss” is a well respected member of the community so who would believe you anyway?

Human trafficking is a crime where one person or group takes advantage of a vulnerable individual within our community. Whether it’s a boyfriend, pimp, community leader, family member, friend, stranger, employer, or other professional, we need to be aware of the insidious nature of human trafficking so that we can cut it out at the root. We start that process by conversations like this…

And then we start to build community…

And then we teach our youth how to have safe boundaries and healthy relationships.

And then we teach each other how to communicate, having open dialogue both within our families and out in the community. Without judgement and condemnation. With empathy and love.

Finally, I want to implore you to please consider, as part of actively working to end human trafficking in our area, check out Project Light on Facebook or Instagram. We’re at “Project Light Rowan” on both platforms. Here you’ll be able to get updates on events, find out how you can plug-in and volunteer, and what Project Light is doing in the community to make a difference.

We can’t do this alone!

And we don’t want to!

We need every member of our community because each of us has value, and each of us has worth, and each of us deserves a healthy and safe environment to grow and live.


Haley Price lives in Concord. Jim Duncan of Rockwell is founder of Project Light.