Director’s Corner: Focus on Sexually Exploited Youth (SEY)
Human trafficking is defined as compelling someone, through force, fraud, or coercion, to enter into the sex trade or forced labor. Most people think of human trafficking as something that happens far away, but Minneapolis, for multiple reasons, is in fact an international hub for sex trafficking of children and youth.
According to Wilder Research Center’s 2015 homelessness study, more than half of homeless youth have experienced violence and exploitation while homeless. As youth spend more and more time on the streets, their chances of being recruited, coerced and forced into the sex trade increase. Once recruited, it is incredibly difficult and life threatening for youth to escape sex trafficking.
It is imperative that everyone understands the signs of trafficking, so we can all work together to prevent young people from being victimized.
One promising strategy to highlight SEY and intervene is corporate engagement in this issue. One of these leading corporations is the Hyatt, which regularly trains its employees on how to identify potential victims in its hotels. Bridge for Youth Board member, Randy Okan, is the Assistant Director of Finance at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis and explained a few of the signs they look for:
-A minor who appears malnourished or neglected
-An adult arriving with multiple different minors over the course of one or repeated stays
-Staying for a long time without very much luggage
-A young person who doesn’t make eye contact and appears frightened
-People hanging out in hallways appearing to guard a room
Any one of these signs alone may not mean anything, but if a number of them show up, it could be a clue. Some of these indications are unique to the hotel industry, but if you work in an organization where you interact with the public it’s a great idea to research signs of trafficking that might allow you to save a life.
“I can’t imagine how vulnerable it would be, how frightening, how you would feel so trapped,” Randy said. “I feel like we, as outsiders, tend to be naïve. We wonder why victims don’t just run away, or call for help – but we don’t understand the constant fear they’re feeling.”
The youth we serve are highly at risk for becoming victims of sex trafficking. It happens right here in America, right in Minneapolis, right under our noses. We make every effort to reach homeless youth within their first couple of days, so that we can protect them from the trafficking industry.
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