“Think About The One You Can Save”
BAR HARBOR—Rachel Fischer was born in Detroit, Michigan into a gang family. Her dad was the president of a biker club. Her mom? One of the women her father trafficked. At twelve, Fischer was placed into the foster care system and was able to attend a private Christian school. The home was beautiful, respectable. The family? Not so much.
“There was a lot of abuse in many different forms at home. I was also a victim of pornography as a child.” Images and videos of her were taken as a child and uploaded to websites and chats. She didn’t know any kids in her circle that weren’t abused and that weren’t vulnerable.
That vulnerability, she said, was what predators latched onto. At 15, she ran away from her foster home again and again.
The police would pick her up, over and over, and bring her back, but they never asked her what she ran away from. Or what she was running to.
Fischer says that she ran to people on the internet who promised her that she’d become a model with some other girls. She’d be rich, glamorous. She never went to Hollywood or became a model. Instead, they brought her to appointments with business men.
“If I was at home, I was getting abused. If I was getting trafficked, at least they were calling me pretty and that I was doing a good job,” she said.
Nobody at school ever noticed that there were marks all over her neck.
“I thought I was just a bad kid.”
HUMAN TRAFFICKING DEFINED
Modern day slavery. The use of force, fraud, or coercion for sex or labor. A grave crime. A human rights abuse. There are many ways organizations and countries define human trafficking.
Human trafficking, she said, is not just a definition. It’s a reality.
“It’s happening in your schools. It’s happening online. They are targeting victims just like me. It’s not about race, gender, socio-economic class that they are targeting. It’s a vulnerability and nobody’s immune to it. Whether you’re in a rural community or in an urban city,” she said. “These are our kids and it’s happening.”
She and the other girls? They didn’t call it human trafficking. They called it in the life.
Rebecca Lesnak of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, part of the U.S. Department of State said last Thursday that “traffickers use force, fraud or coercion to compel adults and children into forced labor or engage in commercial sex.”
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 provided access to benefits and services for victims and established penalties for human trafficking. This act is renewed annually via Congress.
For a place like Bar Harbor, human trafficking seems a distant possibility, but Fischer stressed that it goes on everywhere.
Bar Harbor’s Special Services Lieutenant and Harbormaster, Chris Wharff agreed, saying,
“Human trafficking is a concern everywhere and often happens in places where you would not expect it. For us to assume that it does not happen here is not realistic. However, we have not had any reports of it happening here. We look to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy (MCJA) and our partners like AMHC (Aroostook Mental Health Services, Inc)and the Next Step to provide us with training and education on these topics.”
The department received what Wharff defined as “extensive training on human trafficking,” a few years ago as part of officers’ annual mandatory training through the MCJA.
“The biggest concern training wise is ensuring that officers are able to identify a possible human trafficking case when they see it, and then follow that up by contacting the appropriate resources to assist the victims in the case,” Wharff said. “We would rely heavily on AMHC in these types of cases as they provide sexual assault advocacy services for all victims in our area and have a wide range of resources to offer. Next Step is another important resource for us in relation to domestic violence and the services that they can provide to victims.”
Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking hotline “has identified 215 cases of human trafficking. 341 victims were identified in these cases” in Maine.
ONE PERSON MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Dave McCleary of Rotary International’s Action Group Against Slavery said that several years ago he spoke to a Rotary club in Georgia and brought a woman to the meeting, a woman who was surviving after having been trafficked. One member owned some McDonald’s franchises in the area. He was moved by her talk and printed up a bit of information, a phone number, put it up in each of his fast food restaurants.
And five girls were saved in two months.
McCleary said, “Don’t get overwhelmed by the 50 million people in the world being trafficked, think about the one in your community that you can save.”
It’s all about your sphere of influence, he said.
The United States Department of Human Services says that signs of human trafficking can include (but may not include all aspects, nor is this list all inclusive):
“I’m never going to be free. It’s always going to be in the back of my mind,” Fischer said. For her she utilizes the pain to give it purpose. “We have to really be educated and understand what these red flags are.”
January was National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and though the month is over, the links below and the problems remain.
To download the Department of Human Services Trafficking Indicator card, click here.
Maine Sex Trafficking and Exploitation Network’s website
Maine resources to stop sexual assault and help victims and survivors
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