How Raising Valued and Loved Children Can Eliminate Human Trafficking

In honor of National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Kym Kurey, founder of an anti-human trafficking organization, spoke with us about human trafficking and how it impacts all of us.

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.


What is your background, and how did you get started in the human trafficking world?

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 can remember.

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. 


What is human 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. 


How prevalent is human trafficking in the United States?

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.


What are some misconceptions about human trafficking?

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.


What does the path to recovery look like for a victim?

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.


How does a service like VINE help victims?

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.


What are ways to help minimize human trafficking crime? 

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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