Kym Kurey is a background screening professional and the
founder of ANEW Life
International, a non-profit organization that provides
global education and critical services for survivors of human
trafficking. In honor of National Human Trafficking Prevention
Month, Kym met with us to answer our questions about her work in
the human trafficking world and discuss what we can do as a
society to eliminate human trafficking in the U.S. and beyond.
I've been in background screening for 25 years and have been
involved in every aspect of background screening from being a
researcher, to sales, to compliance, to both a client and consumer
advocate. And on the personal side, I have been involved with outreach
and ministry to teenagers, women, and the homeless for as long as I
I wasn't aware of human trafficking until a trip I made to
visit my son in California back in 2013. There was a lady speaking
at my son’s church who was a founder of a local anti-trafficking
organization. As I listened to her, I was stunned and overwhelmed,
and I knew I needed to get involved.
For five years, I was involved with a Super Bowl task force.
I took all my vacations wherever the Super Bowl was being held.
There was a group of us that worked with local police and FBI, and
we researched and forwarded leads to law enforcement, so they
could recover victims or bust the perpetrators. That was my
introduction to anti-trafficking.
There are three predominant types of human trafficking: sex
trafficking, labor trafficking, and organ trafficking. We primarily
deal with sex trafficking and labor trafficking, and it's really
modern-day slavery. The federal government defines sex trafficking as
the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining,
patronizing, or soliciting of a person for the purpose of a commercial
sex act, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or
coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not
attained 18 years of age.
Labor trafficking is when someone is forced to work and is
underpaid or not paid at all. Examples of this are when immigrants
have their documentation held against their will unless they perform
forced tasks. There are a lot of nannies that are brought over, and
their documents are held and they're not paid, or they're paid very
minimally, and they're required to work 24/7. That is forced labor,
and it is a form of human trafficking.
Very. It is in every single city, in every single state in
this country. The U.S. is one of the top countries for consuming
human trafficking, and if I remember correctly, U.S. citizens are
the number one consumers of sex tourism. We're either propagating it
here, or we're going out to other countries and we're buying. Human
trafficking is so underreported, so the statistics are not very
reliable, but it is absolutely happening here. It's hard to think
that the United States is involved in modern-day slavery, but we
absolutely are. Women and children of all colors are being bought,
sold, traded, used, and abused.
There's a misconception about people who work at strip clubs
or prostitutes on the street that they've chosen this lifestyle.
There might be a few that have for whatever reason, but most do not.
Because of the misconception, we on the outside of that world need
to remember that whatever things look like on the surface, there's
always a story behind the scenes, and we never know what that is.
Another misconception is there is a certain “type” of person
who becomes involved in human trafficking. There's no “type''. It
can happen to anyone. There are groups that are more vulnerable, for
sure – runaways are vulnerable, kids that are in the system are
vulnerable. These kids already don't feel loved. They already don't
feel heard. Groomers and perpetrators latch onto that and know the
right words to say.
Human trafficking is not just a third world problem, nor is
it always a woman or child being abducted and taken away. That does
happen around 3-5% of the time, which is still a lot, but that’s not
the majority of the cases. Human trafficking can happen right in your
home. While kids are on their games, apps, and social media, the
grooming that leads to human trafficking can happen right in their
bedroom through text and private messages. We don't realize how often
our children are approached online. Perpetrators are watching for
keywords. They're watching for the vulnerable kids that are saying, “I
hate my life.” “Nobody loves me.” “I feel so ugly.” They're making
friendships with these kids online, taking them to private chat rooms,
and they're developing dangerous relationships.
A lot of victims that escape human trafficking are addicted
to drugs when they come out, because that's one of the ways that
they cope with life or how the captors keep them. That addiction
needs to be addressed right away, typically through a detox program.
Victims will then enter into a safe house program that is designed
specifically for human trafficking survivors, because there's so much
complex trauma that needs to be considered. Everyone’s path to
recovery is unique, so victims can be enrolled in a program for three
months up to two years, in some cases. When they complete the program,
the next step is transitional housing. We want them to reacclimate
into society: We want to help them find a job, find a place to live,
etc. We work together to empower victims into survivors and thrivers,
doing everything we can to set them up for lasting success. Our model
is that we see victims through their recovery and beyond, because we
want to reduce recidivism. If there comes a time that they hit a bump
in the road, we don’t want them to go back.
I love VINE. Most of the time when we get a
survivor of human trafficking, they need to be hidden at first, so
VINE is critical once there is an arrest and a conviction. If you have
a survivor that testified in court or a victim’s abuser is arrested,
they need to know if that offender is getting out, if they're moving
from jail to jail, or whatever the case may be. This victim
notification service is critical for the peace of mind and safety of
victims. They need to know if they need to go into hiding, or maybe
the offender has been out long enough that they're no longer a threat,
but the victim gets to make that decision. We want the survivor to
feel empowered so that they're no longer at risk. VINE is a tremendous
and critical service.
Parents need to know what their kids are doing online, who
they are talking to, and who their friends are. Kids anymore too
often think they get to be the boss, and that's what's getting
them hurt and killed. Be a safe adult for your child or encourage
them to have a safe adult, and let them know that if they are ever
uncomfortable, if someone threatens them, or they feel scared
because of something they have done, said, or sent, they have a
safe place to go for help.
One of the primary things I try to drive home for parents or
anyone that interacts with children is that you can help your
children for free by pouring love into them. When you have an
opportunity to sit down and play a video game with them, or color
with them, or read to them, do it! Take the time to sow value into
your children. That is key. Because if we can reduce the supply by
decreasing vulnerability, we can help end this. Reducing
vulnerability in kids, will make it so traffickers have less and
less to pull from and recruit into the life. Let's cut it off before
it even starts.
If people can get involved locally, that will also make a
huge difference. You've got some national and international programs
out there. Some of them are doing great work, but we are desperate
for local resources. Local organizations are boots on the ground in
your city or in your county, and they are doing the actual work with
your neighbors, your friends, and your family. I am very grateful
that people want to help. So I would ask that people make sure
they're vetting the organizations that they're giving to in order to
ensure that money is actually going to what is intended – to help
survivors and help end human trafficking. Just because it's a
recognized name does not mean it's legitimate.
I wish more people knew about human trafficking, and knew
the prevalence of it, but not only know about it, but not turn away
from it. My hope is that more people will engage at some level, even
if it’s just having a conversation with their children and helping
them from becoming a victim. That will be huge, in and of itself, in
fighting this battle. Together, we can make a difference.
Thanks to Kym for the amazing work she is doing to help
victims of human trafficking and for how she is working to make
strides in preventing future human trafficking victims. This was an
eye-opening interview, and we hope that more light is shed on this topic.
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