SPOKANE, Wash. – Human Trafficking is known as modern day slavery, claiming nearly 27-million victims worldwide, and experts say 800,000 victims are added each year.
According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, hundreds of thousand of kids are at risk of being sold into the sex trade, and it is happening right here in the Inland Northwest.
Anti-Trafficking signs are posted in seven different languages in rest stop bathrooms along Interstate-90. The bathroom is often the only place a victim is left alone.
“They just keep them so drugged that they don't even know what's happening to them,” said AmberDawn McCall, who was rescued from traffickers.
Used for sex: women, girls, and even young boys.
“My mother had been a heroin addict,” AmberDawn said. “I remember being drugged as a child.”
AmberDawn was born into the world of human trafficking. A terrifying world she was trapped in until the age of six.
“There's a lot that I am actually pretty grateful that I don't remember,” AmberDawn said.
Like most trafficking victims, AmberDawn’s mother was lured into it with promises of money and a better life. It is an underground world, but if you look closer.
“We don't want to see it, we don't want to see it, because if we really see it, we have to do something,” AmberDawn said.
It may not be as far underground as you think.
“You can't know that there's a girl in the hotel room next door being held against her will being advertised on the internet, and yes that happens here, and not want to do something,” AmberDawn said.
Human trafficking happens in every state across the country, but experts say it is impossible to get exact numbers because traffickers instill terror in their victims and keep them constantly on the move.
“I remember before she died, I'd be in a new school every couple weeks,” AmberDawn said. “You're always move, move, move.”
AmberDawn’s mother was moved around from city to city, on what traffickers call a “circuit.”
“She was moved between Calgary, Vancouver, Seattle, and Marysville, back on around through the Pacific Northwest really, always making a loop back up to Calgary,” said AmberDawn’s Aunt Linda Evans.
Hundreds of thousands of kids are estimated to be at risk of being sold into the sex trade. Experts say every child is a target, and traffickers prey on the ones who are the most vulnerable. They look for kids at places where no one is watching.
“We like to think of trafficking as something that happens in third world countries away out of my reach, I can't fix that,” AmberDawn said. “But, when you find out it's right next door, when you find out it's in your own backyard, when you find out it's this hotel, when you know it could be my kids, that's scary.”
“Trafficking is a 32 billion dollar industry,” said State Representative Kevin Parker. “Traffickers on average make about $68,000 per individual.”
AmberDawn says only one percent of trafficking victims are rescued. Most either die or never get out.
“My life is a miracle,” AmberDawn said.
Today, she is a mom and a wife. She is a pastor at a church and is working on getting her master’s. These are things she never could have done if someone had not decided she was worth fighting for.
“I'm alive today because someone cared enough to risk their own family and their own life to come and get me.”
After AmberDawn’s mother was murdered by traffickers, it was her Aunt Linda who took on an entire biker gang in court, determined to take home her little niece.
“They warned us that we would be putting our life at risk because we were going to be getting a possession that belonged to the biker gangs,” Linda Evans said.
And because someone fought for her life, she can now fight for others.
“We have the ability to stop it if we open our eyes and see what's happening and we're willing to sacrifice and to fight and to do what we have to do to look at hard things, to experience hard things for the sake of people who have no hope without us,” AmberDawn said. “We can end this.”
The signs in rest stop bathrooms are posted in seven different languages, but it is important to know that traffickers can speak any language and be from any country. Traffickers can be foreign nationals, U.S. citizens, men, women, acquaintances, strangers, or intimate partners. It could even be happening in your neighborhood.
There are some red flags to look for in a victim of human trafficking. For example, if they do not speak for themselves, have control over their passport or identification, have very few personal belongings, or do not know where they are. Victims are often unaware of what city they are in or even what day it is.
There are a lot of resources for victims and for those seeking help. Here are a few:
Lutheran Community Services: http://www.lcsnw.org/spokane/humantrafficking.html or Call: 1-866-751-7119
National Human Trafficking Resource Center: http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/the-nhtrc/overview or Call: 1-888-373-7888
Seattle Against Slavery: http://www.seattleagainstslavery.org/
Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network: http://www.warn-trafficking.org/?s=HT+in+WA+State+One+Sheet.pdf&search_404=1 or Call: 206-245-0782