Human trafficking affects all communities regardless of income or educational levels as well as people of all ages from males and females to transgenders and transsexuals. Recruiting — which can be done by women, teens and children — can occur at any location including the internet, schools, shopping malls, parks, swimming pools, hotels, movie theaters, amusement parks, etc., the booklet noted.
Lyles said the victims, regardless of where they live or with whom they live with, are being trafficked by peers and/or their own family members right in the county. Risk factors include age, a history of running away or homelessness, sexual abuse, domestic violence, member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community, undocumented immigrants, involvement in child welfare or juvenile justice systems, substance abuse, friend or family involvement in the commercial sex industry, gang or crew involvement and glorification of pimp culture, according to Lyles.
“People who are trafficking children know what to say to children … in order to lure them away from a bad home situation or maybe a good home situation on a bad day,” he said. “In Prince George’s County, we have some truck stops, we have some brothels, residential homes and apartments [where commercial sex is going on], but not too much on the street.”
The different types of commercial sexual exploitation include prostitution, massage parlors, the internet, hotels and motels, spas and strip clubs.
Lyles said hotels and motels are the biggest sources of human trafficking cases in the county.
“The county passed two laws last year,” said Lyles. “One, to limit the hourly or to make it illegal for hotels to have hourly rates and second, to mandate that hotels have a training for their staff on issues surrounding human trafficking and the red flags.”
When it comes to pimp control, recruiters identify victims’ vulnerabilities, needs and dreams. Trust is built on a false sense of care and love. The pimp isolates and manipulates the victim as he or she begins to fulfill their needs. Victims are the introduced to “the game” as they learn the rules, language and consequences, according to Lyles.
Lyles said common terminology used in the pimp culture include phrases like “the life/the game,” “daddy/pimp,” “John/ date/trick,” “bottom girl,” “stroll/ blade/strip”, “quota,” “out of pocket,” “wifey/wife-in-law,” “square” and “renegade.”
“Mostly what you see in the victim-ness of this issue is the person being victimized. You never see the trafficker. You never really see the ‘Johns’ unless there’s a sting,” Lyles said. “Getting the traffickers arrested is difficult. Many times the victims don’t want to testify and even if they don’t testify, I would say the average sentence of a trafficker right now in Maryland is probably no jail time at all and a fine. … If we’re in the realm of children, of course we all see that as a dangerous thing. But I would submit to you that trafficking anybody is a dangerous crime.”
Lyles said human trafficking is not only a human rights issue, but a civil rights issue as well.
“It’s slavery, basically,” he said. “Because the individuals who are being trafficked don’t have freedom to come and go and they don’t have the freedom to even make their own money. In the labor trafficking situation, they are indeed slaves. They’ve been forced to stay on a job site and not get paid which is the definition of slavery and bondage. Between that and sex trafficking … it’s one of the ones that has a more horrible effect on people.”
“I think the biggest thing is that it’s in our neighborhoods. It’s everyplace,” said Marville Wilson of Lanham, president of United Union Methodist Women. “We need to really educate our children. Everybody that appears to be your friend is not your friend. … We need more people like Mr. Lyles going out to make people be aware. In our meeting in September, we’re going to have to discuss this and see what our next move will be so we can head in the right direction.”
To learn more about how to help or report something suspicious, dial 311 in Prince George’s County or call the Human Relations Commission at 301-883-6170.