Little Barbies: Sex Trafficking of Young Girls Is America’s Dirty Little Secret

byJohn W. Whitehead


Children are being targeted and sold for sex in America every day.”—John Ryan, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children


They’re called the Little Barbies.
 
Children, young girls—some as young as 9 years old—are being bought and sold for sex in America. The average age for a young woman being sold for sex is now 13 years old.
 
This is America’s dirty little secret.
 
Sex trafficking—especially when it comes to the buying and selling of young girls—has become big business in America, the fastest growing business in organized crime and the second most-lucrative commodity traded illegally after drugs and guns.
 
As investigative journalist Amy Fine Collins notes, “It’s become more lucrative and much safer to sell malleable teens than drugs or guns. A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day—and a ‘righteous’ pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings.”
 
Consider this: every two minutes, a child is exploited in the sex industry.
 
According to USA Today, adults purchase children for sex at least 2.5 million times a year in the United States.


They could be your co-worker, doctor, pastor or spouse,” writes journalist Tim Swarens, who spent more than a year investigating the sex trade in America.
 
In Georgia alone, it is estimated that 7,200 men (half of them in their 30s) seek to purchase sex with adolescent girls each month, averaging roughly 300 a day.
 
On average, a child might be raped by 6,000 men during a five-year period of servitude.   It is estimated that at least 100,000 children—girls and boys—are bought and sold for sex in the U.S. every year, with as many as 300,000 children in danger of being trafficked each year. Some of these children are forcefully abducted, others are runaways, and still others are sold into the system by relatives and acquaintances.
 
“Human trafficking—the commercial sexual exploitation of American children and women, via the Internet, strip clubs, escort services, or street prostitution—is on its way to becoming one of the worst crimes in the U.S.,” said prosecutor Krishna Patel.
 
This is an industry that revolves around cheap sex on the fly, with young girls and women who are sold to 50 men each day for $25 apiece, while their handlers make $150,000 to $200,000 per child each year.   Who buys a child for sex? Otherwise ordinary men from all walks of life.

This is not a problem found only in big cities.   It’s happening everywhere, right under our noses, in suburbs, cities and towns across the nation.
 
As Ernie Allen of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children points out, “The only way not to find this in any American city is simply not to look for it.”
 
Don’t fool yourselves into believing that this is merely a concern for lower income communities or immigrants.
 
It’s not.
 
It is estimated that there are 100,000 to 150,000 under-aged child sex workers in the U.S. These girls aren’t volunteering to be sex slaves. They’re being lured—forced—trafficked into it. In most cases, they have no choice.
 
In order to avoid detection (in some cases aided and abetted by the police) and cater to male buyers’ demand for sex with different women, pimps and the gangs and crime syndicates they work for have turned sex trafficking into a highly mobile enterprise, with trafficked girls, boys and women constantly being moved from city to city, state to state, and country to country.


For instance, the Baltimore-Washington area, referred to as The Circuit, with its I-95 corridor dotted with rest stops, bus stations and truck stops, is a hub for the sex trade.   No doubt about it: this is a highly profitable, highly organized and highly sophisticated sex trafficking business that operates in towns large and small, raking in upwards of $9.5 billion a year in the U.S. alone by abducting and selling young girls for sex.
 
Every year, the girls being bought and sold gets younger and younger.
 
The average age of those being trafficked is 13. Yet as the head of a group that combats trafficking pointed out, “Let’s think about what average means. That means there are children younger than 13. That means 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds.
 
“For every 10 women rescued, there are 50 to 100 more women who are brought in by the traffickers. Unfortunately, they’re not 18- or 20-year-olds anymore,” noted a 25-year-old victim of trafficking. “They’re minors as young as 13 who are being trafficked. They’re little girls.”
 
Where did this appetite for young girls come from?
 
Look around you. 

Young girls have been sexualized for years now in music videos, on billboards, in television ads, and in clothing stores. Marketers have created a demand for young flesh and a ready supply of over-sexualized children.
 
“All it takes is one look at [certain social media] photos of teens to see examples—if they aren’t imitating porn they’ve actually seen, they’re imitating the porn-inspired images and poses they’ve absorbed elsewhere,” writes Jessica Bennett for Newsweek. “Latex, corsets and stripper heels, once the fashion of porn stars, have made their way into middle and high school.”
 
This is what Bennett refers to as the “pornification of a generation.”
 
“In a market that sells high heels for babies and thongs for tweens, it doesn’t take a genius to see that sex, if not porn, has invaded our lives,” concludes Bennett. “Whether we welcome it or not, television brings it into our living rooms and the Web brings it into our bedrooms. According to a 2007 study from the University of Alberta, as many as 90 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls aged 13 to 14 have accessed sexually explicit content at least once.”
 
In other words, the culture is grooming these young people to be preyed upon by sexual predators. And then we wonder why our young women are being preyed on, trafficked and abused?

Social media makes it all too easy. As one news center reported, “Finding girls is easy for pimps. They look on MySpace, Facebook, and other social networks. They and their assistants cruise malls, high schools and middle schools. They pick them up at bus stops. On the trolley. Girl-to-girl recruitment sometimes happens.” Foster homes and youth shelters have also become prime targets for traffickers.
 
Rarely do these girls enter into prostitution voluntarily. Many start out as runaways or throwaways, only to be snatched up by pimps or larger sex rings. Others, persuaded to meet up with a stranger after interacting online through one of the many social networking sites, find themselves quickly initiated into their new lives as sex slaves.

Debbie, a straight-A student who belonged to a close-knit Air Force family living in Phoenix, Ariz., is an example of this trading of flesh. Debbie was 15 when she was snatched from her driveway by an acquaintance-friend. Forced into a car, Debbie was bound and taken to an unknown location, held at gunpoint and raped by multiple men. She was then crammed into a small dog kennel and forced to eat dog biscuits. Debbie’s captors advertised her services on Craigslist. Those who responded were often married with children, and the money that Debbie “earned” for sex was given to her kidnappers. The gang raping continued. After searching the apartment where Debbie was held captive, police finally found Debbie stuffed in a drawer under a bed. Her harrowing ordeal lasted for 40 days.

While Debbie was fortunate enough to be rescued, others are not so lucky. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, nearly 800,000 children go missing every year (roughly 2,185 children a day).
 
With a growing demand for sexual slavery and an endless supply of girls and women who can be targeted for abduction, this is not a problem that’s going away anytime soon.  For those trafficked, it’s a nightmare from beginning to end.  Those being sold for sex have an average life expectancy of seven years, and those years are a living nightmare of endless rape, forced drugging, humiliation, degradation, threats, disease, pregnancies, abortions, miscarriages, torture, pain, and always the constant fear of being killed or, worse, having those you love hurt or killed.
 
Peter Landesman paints the full horrors of life for those victims of the sex trade in his New York Times article “The Girls Next Door”:

Andrea told me that she and the other children she was held with were frequently beaten to keep them off-balance and obedient. Sometimes they were videotaped while being forced to have sex with adults or one another. Often, she said, she was asked to play roles: the therapist patient or the obedient daughter. Her cell of sex traffickers offered three age ranges of sex partners--toddler to age 4, 5 to 12 and teens--as well as what she called a “damage group.” “In the damage group, they can hit you or do anything they want to,” she explained. “Though sex always hurts when you are little, so it’s always violent, everything was much more painful once you were placed in the damage group.”

What Andrea described next shows just how depraved some portions of American society have become. “They’d get you hungry then to train you” to have oral sex. “They put honey on a man. For the littlest kids, you had to learn not to gag. And they would push things in you so you would open up better. We learned responses. Like if they wanted us to be sultry or sexy or scared. Most of them wanted you scared. When I got older, I’d teach the younger kids how to float away so things didn’t hurt.”

Immigration and customs enforcement agents at the Cyber Crimes Center in Fairfax, Va., report that when it comes to sex, the appetites of many Americans have now changed. What was once considered abnormal is now the norm. These agents are tracking a clear spike in the demand for harder-core pornography on the Internet. As one agent noted, “We’ve become desensitized by the soft stuff; now we need a harder and harder hit.”

This trend is reflected by the treatment many of the girls receive at the hands of the drug traffickers and the men who purchase them. Peter Landesman interviewed Rosario, a Mexican woman who had been trafficked to New York and held captive for a number of years. She said: “In America, we had ‘special jobs.’ Oral sex, anal sex, often with many men. Sex is now more adventurous, harder.”
 
A common thread woven through most survivors’ experiences is being forced to go without sleep or food until they have met their sex quota of at least 40 men. One woman recounts how her trafficker made her lie face down on the floor when she was pregnant and then literally jumped on her back, forcing her to miscarry.
 
Holly Austin Smith was abducted when she was 14 years old, raped, and then forced to prostitute herself. Her pimp, when brought to trial, was only made to serve a year in prison.
 
Barbara Amaya was repeatedly sold between traffickers, abused, shot, stabbed, raped, kidnapped, trafficked, beaten, and jailed all before she was 18 years old. “I had a quota that I was supposed to fill every night. And if I didn’t have that amount of money, I would get beat, thrown down the stairs. He beat me once with wire coat hangers, the kind you hang up clothes, he straightened it out and my whole back was bleeding.”
 
As David McSwane recounts in a chilling piece for the Herald-Tribune: “In Oakland Park, an industrial Fort Lauderdale suburb, federal agents in 2011 encountered a brothel operated by a married couple. Inside ‘The Boom Boom Room,’ as it was known, customers paid a fee and were given a condom and a timer and left alone with one of the brothel’s eight teenagers, children as young as 13. A 16-year-old foster child testified that he acted as security, while a 17-year-old girl told a federal judge she was forced to have sex with as many as 20 men a night.”
 
One particular sex trafficking ring catered specifically to migrant workers employed seasonally on farms throughout the southeastern states, especially the Carolinas and Georgia, although it’s a flourishing business in every state in the country. Traffickers transport the women from farm to farm, where migrant workers would line up outside shacks, as many as 30 at a time, to have sex with them before they were transported to yet another farm where the process would begin all over again.
 
This growing evil is, for all intents and purposes, out in the open.
 
Trafficked women and children are advertised on the internet, transported on the interstate, and bought and sold in swanky hotels.  Indeed, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government’s war on sex trafficking—much like the government’s war on terrorism, drugs and crime—has become a perfect excuse for inflicting more police state tactics (police check points, searches, surveillance, and heightened security) on a vulnerable public, while doing little to make our communities safer.
 
So what can you do?
 
Educate yourselves and your children about this growing menace in our communities.
 
Stop feeding the monster: Sex trafficking is part of a larger continuum in America that runs the gamut from homelessness, poverty, and self-esteem issues to sexualized television, the glorification of a pimp/ho culture—what is often referred to as the pornification of America—and a billion dollar sex industry built on the back of pornography, music, entertainment, etc.
 
This epidemic is largely one of our own making, especially in a corporate age where the value placed on human life takes a backseat to profit. It is estimated that the porn industry brings in more money than Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Yahoo.
 
Call on your city councils, elected officials and police departments to make the battle against sex trafficking a top priority, more so even than the so-called war on terror and drugs and the militarization of law enforcement.  Stop prosecuting adults for victimless “crimes” such as growing lettuce in their front yard and focus on putting away the pimps and buyers who victimize these young women.
 
Finally, the police need to do a better job of training, identifying and responding to these issues; communities and social services need to do a better job of protecting runaways, who are the primary targets of traffickers; legislators need to pass legislation aimed at prosecuting traffickers and “johns,” the buyers who drive the demand for sex slaves; and hotels need to stop enabling these traffickers, by providing them with rooms and cover for their dirty deeds.
 
That so many women and children continue to be victimized, brutalized and treated like human cargo is due to three things: one, a consumer demand that is increasingly lucrative for everyone involved—except the victims; two, a level of corruption so invasive on both a local and international scale that there is little hope of working through established channels for change; and three, an eerie silence from individuals who fail to speak out against such atrocities.
 
But the truth is that we are all guilty of contributing to this human suffering. The traffickers are guilty. The consumers are guilty. The corrupt law enforcement officials are guilty. The women’s groups who do nothing are guilty. The foreign peacekeepers and aid workers who contribute to the demand for sex slaves are guilty. Most of all, every individual who does not raise a hue and cry over the atrocities being committed against women and children in almost every nation around the globe—including the United States—is guilty.



Pennsylvania Civil Rights Attorney Medically Kidnapped for “Mental Health” Evaluation – Whereabouts Unknown

by Brian Shilhavy


Andy Ostrowski was kidnapped by law enforcement from his home in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania this week while live-streaming on Facebook.

Police entered his home without knocking, carrying tasers and clubs, claimed they had a warrant (which they apparently never showed to him) to take him in for a “mental health evaluation,” and proceeded to turn off his computer and remove him from his home by force.

His current whereabouts is unknown at the time of publication.

Here is the recording of the event:



Mr. Ostrowski is a former Civil Rights attorney, past candidate for U.S. Congress, author, radio show host, and judicial reform activist.

Ostrowski exposes judicial corruption, something we have covered extensively at Health Impact News, particularly on our MedicalKidnap.com website.

Medical kidnapping would be almost impossible without corrupt judges participating.

For more on this topic see:

Mr. Ostrowski is a former Civil Rights attorney, past candidate for U.S. Congress, author, radio show host, and judicial reform activist.

Andy Ostrowski for Congress

Retired Arizona Judge Reveals Corruption in Legal System

American Judicial System for Sale: Bribes and Corruption now the Norm


Political Prisoner for Revealing Corruption?

Earlier this year, Ostrowski filed a federal lawsuit in Pennsylvania, naming the “American System of Justice” as a Defendant, along with the Federal Reserve, the Rothschilds, Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, and others who are alleged to have compromised our access to justice, and the loss of basic rights and protections. (Copy here.)

The lawsuit claims that the American System of Justice, as reflected by the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System, lacks constitutional checks and balances by the other two branches of government, and has failed its self-disciplinary feature, making it impossible to achieve justice in certain cases and classes of cases.

It further identifies, and sues, corrupting influences alleged to be behind the culture of secrecy in the courts.

The kids for cash, Penn State/Sandusky, and porngate email scandals are cited as examples of these influences.


Psychiatrists Used to Attack and Stop Andy Ostrowski from Practicing Law

Andy Ostrowski founded the Pennsylvania Civil Rights Law Network, and on this website he explains how he was attacked and prevented from practicing law. (Attorney Censure)

He filed a complaint against Stefan P. Kruszewski, M.D., the psychiatrist allegedly responsible for having his license to practice law revoked. He also filed a licensing complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of State, Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs. The documents are found here.

In his complaint against Dr. Kruszewski and his associates, he claims:

Where is Andy Ostrowski Now?

Reporter Janet Phelan has written two articles on Mr. Ostrowski’s abduction, and was able to contact him by phone on the first day at the first hospital he was taken to.

See:

Judicial Reform Activist And Attorney Abducted By Police While Broadcasting


How To Disappear An Activist (Or, Where IS Andy Ostrowski?)


Janet reports:

Per hospital protocol, Ostrowski was subsequently transferred to another facility. And now, no one can say where he is.

HIPAA—Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—disallows hospitals from confirming if a person is at their facility, if he is on a psych unit. In the conversation on Tuesday, Ostrowski asserted he was most likely to be transferred to First Hospital, in Kingston.

First Hospital, however, will not confirm or deny his presence. As Ostrowski had expressed not only appreciation to this reporter for reaching him at General Hospital, but also asserted the necessity to follow up on his forced incarceration, the failure to reveal his whereabouts becomes a central issue vis-à-vis his right to freedom of association.

However, the hospitals in question do not seem to honor this historical right. The behaviors by staff at both General and First Hospitals couldn’t be more alarming. Yesterday, in an effort to ascertain where he was transferred, I called General Hospital and spoke with a woman who initially identified herself as “Joanne.” Joanne refused to give information as to where Ostrowski was transferred and when asked her full name, she replied “Julia.” According to Joanne/Julia, to disclose where Ostrowski is would violate HIPAA.

When it was suggested that Ostrowski’s right to association trumped HIPAA, Joanne/Julia turned nasty, demanding my data, which I supplied her. She then trounced further on any perception that Ostrowski still has rights, telling me I was “so wrong” about his right to association overriding the hospital’s right to privacy—which is really what HIPAA is protecting here.

Well, it didn’t get much better at First Hospital. This reporter spoke with the media relations director, who not only declined any information as to Ostrowski’s presence, but shot back, “You’ll never know if he is here or not!”

And that may be true and how scary is it….


Contacting the Attorney General’s office apparently did not produce any better results:

In an effort to get assistance in determining his whereabouts, contact was made with the Luzerne County District Attorney’s office. The call was transferred to a “Marilyn,” who, after hearing that a request was being made to locate Andy Ostrowski, promised to look into this. When no call back was received, the DA’s office was repeatedly called, at which point they repeatedly hung up the phone on me. An initial request for an email contact was also refused. “We don’t give out our email addresses,” the receptionist stated.

These are public servants, folks….

Call to Action! We Need to Know Andy Ostrowski is Safe and Demand His Release!

Mr. Ostrowski believes they are using the veil of “mental health” to attack him, since they cannot fight him in the legal system.

The public needs to demand to know where Mr. Ostrowski is located, and ask for his immediate release.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s telephone number is 717-787-3391. Carolyn Simpson is the press officer with the AG’s office at 717 787 5211.

The Luzerne County District Attorney’s office number is 570 825 1675.

The governor of Pennsylvania is Tom Wolf, and he can be contacted here. His Facebook page is here.

Comment on this article at MedicalKidnap.com.


See Also:

Black Businesswoman Held in Psyche Ward at Harlem Hospital Against Her Will

Woman Confined by Force to Psychiatric Ward for Praying and Fasting






Islamic State says it'll mint its own coins

by Maamoun Youssef

 

The leader of the Islamic State group has ordered the terror organization to start minting gold, silver and copper coins for its own currency “ the Islamic dinar. 

A website affiliated with the group posted the order lin November 2014, saying IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi instructed his followers to mint the coins to exhange the tyrannical monetary system modelled on Western economies that enslaved Muslims.                        

This image posted on a militant website on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, shows renderings of a 1 silver dirham coin, a new coin that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State group, ordered the group to start minting for its own currency - the Islamic dinar. The Arabic on the left image shows 1 for the first line and 1436 (Islamic year) for the second. The Arabic on the right image shows the Islamic State for the first line, 1 dirham (smaller denomination of the dinar) for the second line, 2 grams for the third line and A Caliphate Based on the Doctrine of the Prophet for the fourth line.UNCREDITED - AP

The order was approved by the Islamic State group's Shura Council, an advisory board, according to the website. The authenticity of the posting could not be independently verified but the website has been used in the past for IS postings. After seizing large swaths of Iraqi and Syrian territory earlier this year, the Islamic State group proclaimed a caliphate on lands under its control. It has also sought to implement its harsh interpretation of Islamic law, or Sharia, and al-Baghdadi has proclaimed himself the caliph.

According to photographs of coin prototypes, they carry the words in Arabic: The Islamic State / A Caliphate Based on the Doctrine of the Prophet.

It's unclear where the Islamic State group intends to get the gold, silver and copper for the coins. It said the dinar's purchasing power would be its weight in gold, silver or copper.

One of the gold coins carries the symbol of seven stalks of wheat, mentioned in the Quran, while another has the map of the world, a reference to Islam someday ruling the entire world.

One of the silver coins shows a sword and a shield in a reference to holy war, or jihad while another has a minaret symbolizing Damascus mentioned in one of the Prophet Muhammad's sayings. 


Another coin carries the symbol of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, where the Prophet prayed. It's revered as Islam's third-holiest place, complete with the site's iconic gold-topped Dome of the Rock, which enshrines the rock from which Muslims believe the Prophet ascended to heaven.


The copper coins carry the symbol of the crescent moon and three palm trees, also significant in Islam.


The posting said instructions from the Islamic State's treasury department would be forthcoming, explaining to the people how to use the currency.



Victims unprotected as traffickers walk free

by Lisa Bjurwald and Maik Baumgartner

 

BRUSSELS - The top suits in Brussels couldn't be more in agreement: human trafficking is modern-day slavery and needs to be stamped out with force.

Red light district: It's often impossible to get the fear-stricken victims to testify

Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt even made it the surprise topic of his annual Christmas speech. Yet the number of convictions for human trafficking turns out to be shockingly low. And while trafficking is on the rise, the conviction rate is actually declining.

Are slave-traders operating in a state of European impunity?

A sorry example from the German capital: In 2012, Berlin police carried out 680 controls of prostitution milieus in order to identify victims of trafficking. While this led to 64 investigations, a mere two cases resulted in convictions.

In Sweden, it has been illegal to purchase sex since 1999, but internal police reviews admit little is done to enforce the law.

Lack of resources' is the standard police answer across Europe when confronted with meagre results but Swedish police explain in an anti-trafficking paper (2011) that effective counter-trafficking work is not necessarily a matter of resources

A case in point is the Internet. Cyber trafficking (grooming, recruitment, selling of victims) is booming. In a 2013 report, Swedish police even state that Internet is the new red-light district. Yet they have almost no surveillance of online sexual exploitation. And Internet-based research would be an extremely cost-effective means of investigation. 

Many instances of human trafficking end in convictions for procurement  a less serious crime, with a slighter punishment. The fault lies with the courts. They urgently need to be educated on the finer workings of human trafficking, says one frustrated officer in Stockholm. 

"Judges can rule that a case isn't trafficking because the exploited girl had a key to the apartment where she was being kept. In their minds, that means she was free to leave. Trafficking may not be a physical prison, but it is a psychological one, equally impossible to escape," continues the officer.  

It's often impossible to get the fear-stricken victims to testify. Lawyers say witnesses regularly escape during trials. Some are offered money (up to 10,000 euro) in exchange for silence, others are under threat. That's if the case makes it to trial. 

"Investigations are often closed at an early stage. If you lack trust in other humans, you're unlikely to suddenly open up and start revealing sensitive details," says a trauma psychologist specialised in migrant youth

One would think that the witness protection system is particularly well-crafted for trafficking cases. The opposite turns out to be true. In many EU countries, social workers have no right to remain silent in court. Even when they do, pressure is applied.


Stronger witness support


At an international trafficking conference in Berlin last fall, participants revealed that social workers are summoned to court to testify about their clients, a practice that endangers both their own and the victims safety.

 Cecilia MalmstrÃm, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, agrees that a stronger witness support system is needed.

 "Sometimes they're forced to sit in the same court room as the perpetrators, who can lock eyes with them and silently repeat their threats. Girls should be able to testify remotely, and with adequate training the courts will be more competent."

All victims have the right to an unconditional reflection period of at least 30 days before they decide whether to participate in a trial or not, according to the European Council's anti-trafficking convention.

Psychologists suggest at least 3-6 months recuperation from the traumatic experience, which often results in severe health problems such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). The convention has been ratified by 40 member states, including Sweden and Germany, yet NGOs all over Europe reveal systematic breaches.

Leading asylum lawyer Karin Gyllenring has investigated the situation in Sweden.

 "I've discovered that the problem isn't that we don't offer long enough periods, but that we don't even offer the minimum 30 days victims are entitled to."

Gyllenring and her law firm are so concerned that they have created a Swedish civil society platform to assist victims, lobby for greater support and strengthen victims' legal rights.

Across the EU, victims are coerced into taking the stand with the threat of not getting their residence permits. It's a cruel practice by the authorities, as a forced return can mean risking their lives. Many victims dare only go half the distance.

"I told the court that I didn't know [her female trafficker], that she had bought me from someone else," admits one West African ex-victim. 

"The truth is that she's a relative, and the one who brought me to Europe in the first place. But had I exposed her, her men could have hurt my family." 

As so many other traffickers, not least female ones, the woman walked free. Somewhere in Central Europe.


From trafficking victim to perpetrator


It has taken months to make contact with a former Nigerian madame and arrange a meeting.

When Joan finally sits down before us, she strikes us as a beautiful woman, with deep, dark eyes and a soft voice. She can't quite keep her fingers still. Her feet keep wiggling, too. But mostly Joan looks directly into our eyes as she tells a rarely heard story: how she went from trafficking victim to perpetrator.

Joan grew up in Nigeria, with patriarchal structures, oppression and violence, and the belief that there are strong supernatural forces at work: Voodoo, exerted by influential, self-appointed priests. Longing for a better life, she was deceived by a local woman and trafficked to Europe while still very young.

One crucial detail set Joan apart from the other slaves: after a while, she realised that her madame had taken a liking to her. Joan seized the opportunity, deciding to be obedient at all times, no matter how gruelling work was.  Soon, she was teaching new girls how the game worked, reporting their progress and private chatter to the madame. She was rewarded with little freedoms, was treated better than the others and got to keep more money, too.  "A game of stick and carrot," she says today, not without bitterness.

Joan's madame was a master manipulator. She was the chief oppressor, threatening her slaves if they dared talk back, but it was the men on her payroll who were ordered to carry out physical punishments. After the beatings, she would comfort the victims, acting as a surrogate mother to the vulnerable girls, desperate for affection.

"I could see what she was doing. But I had already risen, I was benefitting and I wanted to bring back a sense of control over my own destiny," Joan explains.

She continued climbing, using other victims as stepping stones, until finally she was a madame herself. Using contacts of her old madame, she placed an order for new women to be brought in from Nigeria. She would dress them up, she says, and with the help of a man who became her husband kept a tight leash on them. In a final closing of the circle, she recruited a new Joan, a right-hand woman fiercely loyal because of the possibility of climbing the criminal ladder

Today, Joan doesn't want to talk about how much money she earned as a madame. She has spent time in prison for sexual exploitation, but the police were unable to prove all the things she had done. The sentence was slight. She is a free woman now, not yet 40.

Her belief in the powers of voodoo remains strong. She saw it as her duty to fulfill the contract with her madame, as promised to the spirits, and is remarkably proud of having done so. She admits that she is undergoing therapy, to work through my past, and makes a point of distancing herself from the trafficking scene. She doesn't have anything to do with that business anymore, she assures us.  

But whether she is ashamed of the pain she inflicted on innocent women, many of whom are now suffering daily just as she once did, Joan for some reason will not say. 

Driving back to a large European city, young, fresh-looking girls sprout up like flowers on the side of the garbage-strewn road. Who, like Lilian Solomon, hides a deadly disease? Who, like Victoria, carries an unborn child that will prove her salvation? 

The wheel of the modern-day slave trade keeps spinning, constantly fed with new flesh.






This article was first published in Svenska Dagbladet (Sweden) and Spiegel Online (Germany) in Jan/Feb 2014 and is part of series of investigations into human trafficking.The series was made possible by a working grant from journalismfund.eu