Separating fact from fiction in the underworld of sex trafficking

Posted at 10:27 PM, Mar 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-07 12:11:20-05

Human and sex trafficking, "our" modern day slavery, happens all over the globe. This violent underworld rakes in $150 billion annually.

That's more than Exxon Mobil, Apple and Toyota combined.

But there are plenty of misconceptions about what human and sex trafficking is really all about. So tonight we intend to clear up some of the facts from fiction.

Katie Rhoades was trapped in a sex trafficking web. She was 18, living in her car and already an active alcoholic.

Rhoades says, "I needed money, I was homeless and wasn't really sure how to move on with my life."

A friend suggested stripping to make quick money.

"I ended up getting heavier into drugs," Rhoades says. "I did it not just a couple for months, I ended up meeting a pimp and then was taken to California."

While sex trafficking stories like Katie's are real, the posts you read on the internet are not always factual.

One Facebook post out of Macomb County was about a young woman being stalked in a Meijer grocery store, with two men waiting in a nearby car ready to pounce - but it could not be verified by police.

Stories like these put the community on edge. Experts say girls are not usually being snatched from the store. So that one is false.

FBI Special Agent Michael Glennon says typically sex trafficking is more about deception, with an individual trying to become a girl's boyfriend.

Glennon says, "Most of the exploiters at that level try to get the young child to fall in love with them."

Number two on our fact from fiction list - Human trafficking is the same as sex trafficking. That goes in the fiction column.

Sixty-eight percent of victims are exploited for their labor, 22% of victims like Katie are in forced prostitution.

Rhoades says, "The average age of entry is 12 to 14-years-old, so the likely hood that someone in their 30s started before 18 is pretty high."

A lot of people believe sex trafficking victims are mainly girls in low income families in poor countries. That's fiction.

Sexual exploitation also affects young boys and those in the LGBTQ community and is most often due to financial need and drug abuse.

Special Agent Glennon says most sex trafficking victims are required to make $500.00 to $1,000.00 a day.

Once that quota is met, Special Agent Glennon says, "There's a repayment of drugs, like a heroin packet to continue to make them work."

Number four on our fact from fiction list, it's only in big cities. That's fiction.

Sister Janet Fleischhacker, a Catholic nun in Kalamazoo helps rescue sex trafficking victims.

Sister Janet says, "It's in every city. It's in our high schools. It's in our work place. It's in our hotels."

Another Myth, sex trafficking involves smuggling individuals across the border.

The Fact? Thirty five percent are trafficked close to home, not just in major cities like Detroit, but in small town hotels.

Special Agent Michael Glennon says, "It's prevalent in our suburbs."

Victims are targeted for major sporting events like the Olympics and Super Bowl. Fiction.

In reality, experts say they're forced into sex work long before the male dominated crowds show up.

Special Agent Michael Glennon says, "These pimps start reaching out to these young girls two to three years before and they are persistent."

A person trapped in sex trafficking will try to seek help in public. Fiction.

In reality there is self blame and they often consider leaving impossible.

I asked Katie what stopped her from getting out earlier. She told me it was a combination of fear and violence from her pimp.

Finally, the days of seeing a sex trafficking victim on the street corner is rare.

FBI Agent Michael Glennon says, "By and large ,their numbers are down significantly, the vast majority of exploiting occurs online, Instagram, Facebook, Backpage and Craigslist."

Katie now runs the Healing Action Network in St. Louis, where she helps rescue victims. She know she was one of the lucky ones who escaped.

Katie Rhoades says, "I can look at myself today and say I'm okay, I'm doing good."