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The lives of sex trafficking victims in Maine

Posted April 30, 2013, at 11:40 a.m.
Last modified May 06, 2013, at 12:41 p.m.

Sex trafficking is a vile form of human trafficking. Sex trafficking and exploitation in the greater Portland community, across Maine and the nation is not pretty. It is downright ugly. Human trafficking is the tragedy of battered bodies, confused minds and crushed spirits. Simply put, sex trafficking is the exploitation of vulnerability.

Sex trafficking is all about money, the desire to get it above all else, anyway, anytime, anyhow, without concern for your fellow person. This “cash now at any cost” desire equates to violence. Sex trafficking and traffickers — also known as pimps — have ties to theft, fraud, assault, assault with weapons, severe beating, robbery, rape, money laundering, drug trafficking and homicide.

In recent years, as I and the other members of the Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking and Exploitation began to talk to victims about this issue, we learned many shocking things including that most of the victims we see are younger females. Most have a tough history, an unstable home life and have experienced sexual violence throughout their lives. The victims are our neighbors, family members, mothers and daughters. They share our dreams, goals and aspirations.

Girls from Maine are a hot commodity in the sex trafficking marketplace. In most areas of New England, pimps pay up to $2,500 for a girl. In Maine, it’s as much as $3,500. Pimps buy and sell their “product” — also known as prostitutes — back and forth between each other all the time. Girls from Maine have done “tours” all throughout the country, mostly along the Interstate 95 corridor (just as with drugs, and it’s often the same offenders).

Drugs and violence are used to ensnare, control and strangle the will of the victim. Drug debt bondage, where the victim must sell her body to pay for the drugs that the trafficker forces on them, is very common. Food is often withheld until a victim has met their cash quota for the shift. We are not entirely sure why, but we are told by victims and traffickers that Maine is a fertile recruiting ground for traffickers and pimps to resupply their “stables.”

Maine really is “open for business,” and the traffickers are here.

I think it’s important to hear the real stories of victims. One young woman we’ve worked with told us of being bought and sold upwards of eight times in a couple of years. She estimated being raped hundreds of times and remembers being choked unconscious at least three times. She let go each of those times, figuring her life was over, surprised to awaken and discover her painful, horror-filled life was still going on. She sought drugs, as quickly as possible, as much as possible, to help manage the emotional and physical pain until she awoke one day and heard that three girls she walked the tracks with were found dead under a pier. What would you have done if you were her?

As for the offenders, we’ve encountered them in sting operations and through other crimes. In one case, two males from out of state were accompanied by several females in a local hotel room. One of the girls was underage. One male had the tattoo “straight gorilla pimping” on his forearm. The Urban Dictionary defines that as “someone who pimps [prostitutes] through brute force … such as head-twisting and arm breaking.”

Something tells me they were not in Maine to enjoy the foliage.

We’ve encountered similar offenders involved in very violent incidents. One pair I will never forget included multiple felons, both cooperative, smooth, charismatic. Suddenly another officer and I were fighting with one of them over the other officer’s firearm. Luckily he was subdued with a Taser, although it wasn’t the outcome he was hoping for.

He told me, “Nothing personal, man, I was hoping you’d kill me.” See, these predators, these criminals don’t value human life like you and I do. It’s just part of “the game.”

Sex trafficking is a human tragedy that we can and are mobilizing to interrupt and even prevent here in our own communities. It starts by understanding the issue, recognizing that many prostituted people are really victims, and increasing accountability for offenders, including pimps and “johns,” who create the demand for this “product.” The good news is that we’re already starting to find ways to turn the tide on this human tragedy, but there is much more work to be done.

Tim Farris has been a law enforcement officer with the Portland Police Department for more than 16 years and is co-chairman of the Greater Portland Coalition Against Sex Trafficking and Exploitation. He may be reached at timf@portlandmaine.gov.

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