When we hear the term “human trafficking,” we think of women from Russia, or Eastern Europe, or South Korea brought to America as sex slaves. That is true, but there are hundreds of thousands of young American girls who are forced into prostitution right here in this country, and by some reports, 40 percent are young, Black girls.
This past week, the State Department released their annual report on human trafficking. Roland Martin went to the State Department to talk to Luís CdeBaca, the man behind the report, and actor and activist Jada Pinkett Smith. Roland asked them about the impact of human trafficking here in the U.S.
MR. MARTIN: When we hear the term “human trafficking,” we think of women from Russia, or Eastern Europe, or South Korea brought to America as sex slaves. That is true, but there are hundreds of thousands of young American girls who are forced inst- — into prostitution right here in this country, and by some reports, 40 percent are young, Black girls.
This week, the State Department released their annual report on human trafficking. I went to the State Department to talk to Luís CdeBaca, the man behind the report, and actor and activist Jada Pinkett Smith. I asked her about the impact of human trafficking here in the U.S.
[ON LOCATION AT THE STATE DEPARTMENT.]
MS. JADA PINKETT SMITH: It – it has a big impact here on the coun- — in the country, especially with our youth. You know, we have a lot of foster care children and runaways that fall susceptible to being trafficked; and so, yes, it – it is a big issue here in the United States for us.
MR. MARTIN: Lou, how do we get people to go from seeing the report, reading the report, but also to – to begin to get them active to be able to make a difference in trying to decrease the amount of sex trafficking – child trafficking that takes place in the United States?
MR. LUÍS CDEBACA: I think one of the things that we see is exactly what happened with the Smith family, going from, first, being exposed to this to then – to then doing your own research, but then taking that and saying, “Well, what do I do?” In this case, you’ve got people who are in the entertainment industry, so they can bring in a different attention to it; but we’ve had people who’ve said, you know, “I’m an accountant, and so I’m going to volunteer to help with” – “Whether it’s people from other countries who’ve been enslaved, or whether it’s American citizens who’ve been held in slavery here, I can help them get new jobs. I can help them put their finances in order.”
I think part of it is, you know, think about what we do, ourselves – what are our skills – and then how could we link those up with the people who are just at the beginning of their path to freedom.
MR. MARTIN: Jada, what – what was it like for you for your daughter to raise – to bring this to your attention, then all of a sudden, for you to go, “Really?” “Seriously?”
MS. SMITH: Yeah, it – it was – [chuckles] – really interesting, because she – you know, the “Kony 2012” video was – was very viral, and from that she learned about child – children that were being trafficked to be soldiers. And then from there, she did her own research on the Internet to find out that there were young girls her age in this country being trafficked for sex.
And she came to me, and she was like, “Mom, did you know that this was happening?”
And I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold it, Willow,” you know?
MR. MARTIN: [Chuckles.]
MS. SMITH: “Let me make sure” – [chuckles] – “you got your facts right.”
And then when I started to do my own research, it just opened up a whole, new world to me. And – and Willow was very adamant about our family being involved, and so from that day forth, that’s what we’ve been doing.
MR. MARTIN: Now, the Internet plays a huge role in this, because all of a sudden you now have young people who are communicating with someone on the other who they think is the same age, but in reality, someone who is older.
MS. SMITH: Right, and – and I think, as parents; and I think in schools, we have to start educating our youth. You know, back in the day, we used to have those after-school messages that would say, “Hey, don’t talk to strangers.”
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MS. SMITH: “Hey, don’t take candy from strangers.” “Do you know where your children are?” – you know.
So, now we have to create new messaging for what our children are facing in this world, where there may be predators. And so we’re doing our research to figure out how to communicate and – and what that messaging should do – what that messaging should be, rather.
MR. MARTIN: [Unintelligible] – I remember, of course, the Liam Niel- — Neeson film “Taken,” and here’s a young lady who goes over to Europe [who] all of a sudden gets caught up in that same thing.
How it happen, how does it work in the United States in terms of the most prevalent casins [sic – phonetic] – cases of trafficking?
MR. CDEBACA: Well, it – there’s two things that appear different to people, if they’re not paying that much attention. There’s people who’re coming in from the other countries who think they’re going to have a better life and a better opportunity for their family, and they get held through force, violence, coercion. And then there’s the Americans – often girls, but not always – often girls who think they’re going to have a better life fall for these false promises of somebody who’s going to exploit them. And then they get held through force and threats and can’t leave. Those are actually universal crimes, whether it’s an American girl who’s 14, who could pick up the phone and call home, but for what this pimp is doing to her; or – or, whether it’s the Mexican man who is picking our tomatoes and – and the onions to come and be put on our table.
So, I think that’s one of the things that we’re looking at – is, how do you look at the universality of this? And at the end of the day, whether speaking English, Spanish, Russian, whatever, these traffickers are actually trafficking in hope.
MS. SMITH: Um-hum.
MR. CDEBACA: They’re — they’re tricking these people, and they’re bringing them in. There’re some cases of kidnapping, and – and those are hor- — they’re horrible, horrible cases; but a lot of them, there’s that relationship that’s built up – grooming, almost – to bring people into that false hope.
MR. MARTIN: Jada, the next step for you in this? And so how do you want to take this beyond just this report and bring an awareness to the next step?
MS. SMITH: We’re really campaigning for awareness, and then my next step in California is to get that CASE Act that we have on the bill – on the ballot – passed. So, that is – those are my two initiatives right now.
MR. MARTIN: A- — and – and three of the top states – excuse me. Three of the top cities in America [for trafficking are] right there in California.
MS. SMITH: Exa- — Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, you know, which is why it’s very important that that CASE Act gets passed.
MR. MARTIN: Right. We cer- — we certainly appreciate it. You know, good luck with it – and, again, raising awareness is absolutely vitally important to getting people to understand what’s going on.
MS. SMITH: Absolutely. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
[BACK IN THE STUDIO.]
MR. MARTIN: The CASE Act provides for higher penalties and fines for sex offenders and will require them to disclose their sex offender status on Facebook and all Internet accounts. So, we salute Jada Pinkett Smith for standing up and fighting this issue.