Small-town children can be more susceptible to slick manipulation
Created on Wednesday, 24 February 2016 10:14
Having just turned 18, the Clark County, Wash., native wanted to get out and have real-world experiences, do grown-up things and eventually attend medical school to become a nurse.
Then Myers met Nick, a man who promised to help her achieve her dreams. In Myers’ mind, he became the only person who understood her, who treated her like an adult and who took her dreams seriously.
It was fairly easy for Nick to convince her that together they could take on the world, Myers said.
“He validated my feelings and ideas — told me we’ll get there together,” she said.
But medical school is expensive. And though Myers had been doing well to save her wages as a waitress, Nick told her he knew a way she could make exponentially more — as long as she was OK with dancing naked.
In the Taylor-Meade Performing Arts Center auditorium on Pacific University’s Forest Grove campus Thursday night, Myers told an audience of more than 80 the story of how she nearly became a victim of human trafficking.
“It’s so different from what I thought before this happened to me,” said Myers, now 24 and working as a nurse. “We think it’s this scary person that’s out there somewhere, not here. But they are here.”
Myers joined five other panelists for a “Human Trafficking — What Is It?” presentation that focused primarily on sex trafficking, but also discussed the labor trafficking of impoverished and vulnerable people.
At least one person in the audience wondered if there was really sex trafficking in Washington County.
Portland Police Officer Ariana Ridgely, who for the past year has worked undercover with the city’s Sex Trafficking Unit, gave an adamant yes.
“If you think you’re protected in nice, safe small towns, don’t delude yourself,” she said. “Small towns can be even more dangerous than a big city.”
Often, she said, small-town children are the most susceptible to becoming victims of trafficking because they want to get out and see what the world is like beyond the confining borders of their hometowns.
“We don’t want to scare children,” Ridgely said, “but it is good to make them wary.”
Wariness was something Myers admits she didn’t have.
“I was completely manipulated,” she said. “You have to realize that if someone is in a situation that seems sketchy, they probably don’t even realize it.”
Myers offered warning signs that might identify a potential trafficker.
“A guy who is always available to you is a red flag,” Myers said. “They want you to feel special, but they’re just preying on your vulnerabilities.”
Myers danced twice at the strip club before friends and family managed to convince her it was a bad idea. Once she was made to recognize what was happening, Myers cut off the relationship with Nick.
“Education is key,” Lembo said. “If we know the signs, we’re not as vulnerable. The world gets smaller. If you know what you can do to help, then you can do it.”
On a related front, Pacific Chaplain Rev. Dr. Chuck Currie spoke about labor trafficking, another form of modern-day slavery in which people perform labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion, according to traffickingresourcecenter.org.
Because labor is seen as a good character-builder by many evangelical Christians, “it’s harder to get people fired up in terms of sustained activism when you’re talking about tomato pickers,” Currie said.
But “human trafficking shouldn’t be addressed as an isolated issue, separate from other issues including labor trafficking and gender equality,” Currie said after the event. “These are all connected.”