Hu­man traf­fick­ing sur­vivor spreads aware­ness

Shares har­row­ing ex­pe­ri­ence as teen, what to look for

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW RICHARD­SON arichard­son@somd­news.com

Scores of com­mu­nity mem­bers at­tended the “Hu­man Traf­fick­ing in High Def­i­ni­tion” event on Mon- day evening at a New Life Church build­ing in La Plata.

The event, aimed to raise aware- ness on the one of the largest crim- inal en­ter­prises, was spon­sored by the Charles County Depart­ment of So­cial Ser­vices, and was led by in­spi­ra­tional speaker Dr. Mar­lene Car­son, a hu­man traf­fick­ing sur­vivor ded­i­cated to help­ing vic­tims and spread­ing aware­ness.

Car­son, who was ab­ducted from her fam­ily in Columbus, Ohio, at age 15, cap­ti­vated the crowd with her har­row­ing story, and en­cour­aged au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion through open di­a­logue. Men, women and chil­dren of all ages were in at­ten­dance, and many were called upon by Car­son whether they had their hand up or not. As she put it, Car­son was there to have a con­ver­sa­tion with them, and all the

teenagers in the au­di­ence were in­structed to move up to the front row to en­cour­age their par­tic­i­pa­tion be­fore shar­ing more about her strug­gle.

Car­son ex­plained that she grew up in a de­vout Chris­tian house­hold and went to Mass sev­eral times a week be­fore she was tak- en. The prayers and scrip­ture she had learned as a child would later give her hope when her sit­u­a­tion seemed hope­less.

The traf­fick­ers moved into her neigh­bor­hood when she was 13-years-old, she said, and built a rap­port with the local chil­dren and fam­i­lies over the next two years. The seem­ingly nor­mal man and wife would take their neigh­bor’s kids on trips to the zoo and amuse­ment parks, and of­ten had them over to their house. This was the “groom­ing” process, Car­son told the crowd. She later found out that the wife was actu- ally one of the man’s first vic­tims.

Af­ter she had been on sev­eral trips, Car­son, now 15, was one of four girls to travel to New York City with the traf­fick­ers. Her par­ents had fi­nally caved in and agreed to let her go af­ter much pleading.

What was sup­posed to be a fun-filled trip soon proved to be a liv­ing night­mare. The traf­fick­ers told the girls they would never see their fam­i­lies again if they didn’t do what they were told, and threat­ened to kill them and their par­ents.

A few days later, the traf­fick- ers took the girls home. Car­son, trau­ma­tized by what hap­pened to her, did not tell any­one about the abuse.

They would soon come back for her, though, and that time, she was taken for good.

When asked how she was able to even­tu­ally es­cape her sit­u­a­tion years later, she sim­ply gave credit to God.

In 2008, Car­son opened a resi- den­tial treat­ment fa­cil­ity for vic- tims of hu­man traf­fick­ing and pros­ti­tu­tion, and later founded The SWITCH, a na­tional anti-traf- fick­ing net­work. She is a reg­u­lar FBI con­sul­tant on the sub­ject, and has helped many vic­tims change their lives.

Af­ter telling her story, Car­son ad­vised par­ents to fre­quently mon­i­tor their chil­dren’s so­cial me­dia ac­counts, and said vi­o­lent video games and pop cul­ture is “de­sen­si­tiz­ing us. It’s mak­ing us numb to what’s re­ally go­ing on.”

She also told par­ents that they need to be more en­gaged in their chil­dren’s lives, and pointed out that if some­one had “asked the right ques­tions” af­ter she re­turned from her trau­ma­tiz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in New York City, she would not have been taken a sec­ond time. If a child ap­pears to be both­ered by some­thing, just ask­ing what’s wrong is not enough. “You just can’t leave it there,” Car­son said.

Car­son also em­pha­sized that pros­ti­tutes are not the ones po­lice should be ar­rest­ing: they’re the ones who need help.

There is lim­ited hu­man traf­fick­ing ac­tiv­ity in Charles County, Car­son said, but given the tran­sient na­ture of the com­mu­nity and close prox­i­mately to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., traf­fick­ers are known to travel through the area. To re­port tips or sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity, Car­son ad­vised the au­di­ence to call the na­tional hu­man traf­fick­ing hot­line at 1-888-373-7888.

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON

Com­mu­nity mem­bers packed into a New Life Church fa­cil­ity in La Plata on Mon­day evening to learn more about hu­man traf­fick­ing.

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW RICHARD­SON

Dr. Mar­lene Car­son, a hu­man traf­fick­ing sur­vivor, is now ded­i­cated to help­ing vic­tims change their lives, and speaks at events to in­crease aware­ness and pre­vent fu­ture in­ci­dents.

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