Melyssa Barrett: Welcome to the Jali Podcast. I’m your host, Melyssa Barrett. This podcast is for those who are interested in the conversation around diversity, inclusion, and equity. Each week I’ll be interviewing a guest who has something special to share or is actively part of building solutions in this space. Let’s get started.
This week on the Jali Podcast, I’m happy to partner with the Stockton Chapter of The Links, Incorporated to increase awareness on the serious problem of human trafficking. January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and we need to raise our voices for those who have been silenced.
The Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act defines human trafficking as a commercial sex act induced by force fraud or coercion, or when a person induced to perform such an act is not yet 18 years old or the recruitment harboring transportation provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Now a word from the President of the Stockton Chapter of The Links, Incorporated.
Karen Rea: Welcome. My name is Karen Rea and I am the president of the Stockton California Chapter of The Links, Incorporated. Thank you for joining us today to hear from experts about the importance of understanding the process, cause and impact of human trafficking on individuals and our community. The Stockton California Chapter has served people of African American descent in communities in San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties since 1966.
Our young boys and girls need our support and the experts with us today will provide the tools we need to spread awareness about this very, very important topic. The Stockton California Chapter thanks you for your attendance, and encourage you to share this podcast with individuals and as many organizations as you can.
Melyssa Barrett: The Stockton chapter of the Links, Incorporated selected a panel of three outstanding women. I want to tell you about these women who come from different perspectives, but are all doing amazing things to create solutions in the space of human trafficking.
Akkia Pride-Polk was born and raised in Stockton, California, and she received her Bachelor of Arts in sociology and journalism from the University of Southern California. Then later received her master’s in social work from UC Berkeley. She’s worked in the field of child welfare for over 21 years, started off as a social worker in Alameda and Yolo Counties. In 2008, she was hired as an adoption supervisor in San Joaquin County and later promoted to child welfare division chief in 2011. In 2020, Akkia was appointed as deputy director for Children’s Services in which she currently oversees Child Protective Services for San Joaquin County. She is currently married with two teenage sons.
Adrienne Livingston has been the director of anti-sex trafficking initiatives global with World Venture. Adrienne is a co-developer of the Girl Empowerment Curriculum, which was created for Christian and secular communities as a sex trafficking and domestic violence prevention curriculum for middle and high school girls. She is the producer and host of the Justice Hope Freedom Podcast to educate about the issues of sex trafficking and exploitation. She received her bachelor’s degree in marketing, international business and international studies from Oregon State University and her master of arts in intercultural studies from Western Ceremony.
A life value she holds is giving back to community and upholding justice and care. She lives that out through the work she does and as a volunteer with organizations that are serving vulnerable communities. One way she incorporates self-care is through practicing and teaching trauma informed yoga, and by being with her two doggies, Puck and Romeo. On the artist’s side, she’s a voiceover actor where she enjoys sharing her voice to bring stories and characters to life in commercials, e-learning documentaries and animation.
Stephany Powell, Dr. Powell, retired from the Los Angeles Police Department as a sergeant in charge of a vice unit, Dr. Stephany Powell’s unique insight into the world of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Gained through her 30 years with LAPD made Dr. Powell an unparalleled choice to lead Journey Out in 2013. Journey Out assists victims of human trafficking in finding their way out of violence and abuse due to sexual exploitation or forced prostitution.
In 2020, she joined the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, and as the Vice President and Director of Law Enforcement Outreach. Dr. Powell’s passion and expertise in this field has translated within the last nine years to new policies for the Los Angeles Fire Department and the National Massage School industry.
She has led education and awareness workshops to various audiences of law enforcement, prosecutors and communities throughout the country and internationally. Dr. Powell has spoken before the California Joint Legislative Committee hearing on human trafficking in the state capitol and addressed the Texas Legislative Black Caucus in Austin, Texas. Since 2013, she has educated over 11,000 people. She has received numerous awards and recognition from Los Angeles County and city officials, as well as the women of the NACP and Masonic organizations.
Dr. Powell is clearly the recognized expert on the subject of human sex trafficking. Additionally, she is the adjunct assistant professor of behavioral science at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, and her expertise on race and law enforcement has been showcased in documentaries, local newspapers and magazines. She’s most recently been highlighted in the PBS documentary And still I Rise by Dr. Henry Louis Gates.
Dr. Powell has been featured on HLN, Chris Cuomo for her expertise in human trafficking, and she recently authored a human trafficking workbook for teens, my Choice, My Body, My Rules. Her workbook is currently being used on a national and international level. She was contributing author for the textbook Teaching Beautiful Brilliant Black Girls. Please join me in welcoming this esteemed panel.
All right, so you wonderful women that are doing such amazing things in the world. I am just so excited and glad to have you all with me, especially during this important month, highlighting a focus on human trafficking. And I know we talk about sex trafficking versus human trafficking, prostitution, there’s so many different aspects of it, but I thought maybe we would just start by talking a little bit about the massive issue that it is. How big is this problem globally, locally, what are some of those impacts?
Adrienne Livingston: Well, I’ll start with statistics, but I just want to caution that not all numbers are counted. It’s a place for us to start. So globally, I believe there are about 43 million that are being trafficked, and that’s all types of trafficking, human trafficking. I know of that mainly a lot of women and children. I know a statistic that globally 1.8 million children are trafficked within the United States. The statistics, they say between 100,000 and 300,000 children are at risk for being trafficked, and there’s a lot to unpack all those numbers.
So really, I think with people, we have to understand it’s not somewhere else. Oftentimes when we bring up this topic of sex trafficking, it’s like, oh, it’s happening in that city, in that state, but never where we are currently at. It is you just have to understand the context and what it looks like, and it’s not what media portrays. The kidnapping is the biggest thing that they always portray. That does happen.
However, there are other ways that you just don’t see it. It’s invisible. Someone, there’s boyfriend, and we can go through kind of the ways, but it’s a huge problem. When you talk about the different international criminal industries, the first is drugs. The second is human trafficking. Again, it incorporates all of human trafficking. And the third is guns and arms. I believe drugs will mainly probably always stay number one, because human trafficking, when someone’s being trafficked, sometimes the traffickers use drug to keep the person victimized or there keeping them addicted to sometimes a person who is a victim. I actually have a friend in this area who was a victim of trafficking. She said, Adrienne, do you think I’d want to be able to be having sex with that many men in my right mind?
I had to drug myself. So that is the second largest criminal industry. When you put money behind it, again, it doesn’t capture all of it, but we get an idea. Human trafficking brings in, it is, oh gosh, $150 billion annually, and that was a 2014 statistic. So it’s probably increased at this point. So I want to really highlight that. Of that, sex trafficking was $99 billion, so of you in that human trafficking quantity.
Melyssa Barrett: And that that’s with a B, billion?
Adrienne Livingston: With a B, well, billion. And mind you, this is tax-free money. I say that because it goes in and out, they use it. How can you calculate it all? It’s not like you have a pimp trafficker there saying, Hey, here’s how much money I made. So it’s something for us to understand. It is a moneymaking industry. It is a business industry, unfortunately, you know, do have people that are using other human beings nefariously, and they don’t care. They see humans, people as commodities. So yeah.
Dr. Stephany Powell: I will add to that, and when you talk about how enormous an issue this is. I just recently read something where it said that human trafficking exists in every continent of the world. It definitely exists here in the United States, like Adrienne said, and there’s not one state where it is not happening. So just because you may not see it, doesn’t mean that it’s not happening. Sometimes it’s extremely visible in terms of prostitution tracks, but sometimes what you don’t see is what we call the end calls where they’re advertising.
They’ll advertise a girl or a guy because it also happens to boys and men as well, and then they will meet that sex buyer in a motel or a hotel. So sometimes you don’t see it. That’s why you’ll have some cities that will say, that’s not happening in my city. And so my response to them is, do you have hotels, motels? Do you have streets? Because it can occur anywhere.
And I think that one of the other things, misnomer that people really need to understand that it’s not just happening to children, that also happens to adults as well in terms of an entryway. And I’m sure we will talk about that as well when we talk about the risk factors. So it is happening everywhere, and I think if people really understand that and recognize that they would want to get involved, and especially when they hear what I’m about to say to you right now, which is, and I’ll do statistics as well, just to give you an idea, I’ve seen statistics at 50%, I’ve seen as high as 62%, that 50 to 60% of victims of human trafficking in the United States are African American. So this is an African American issue that really needs to be addressed.
Melyssa Barrett: Thank you for that. And Akkia, I know you have perspective from the… maybe you could provide from the local county level, but you work specifically with children.
Akkia Pride-Polk: That is correct. So locally, I reside in San Joaquin County, which the largest city in our county is Stockton. And so our county is actually located between two big freeways I-5 and Highway 99. And unfortunately, locations in which there are easy access to different states is where you’re most likely to find traffickers who are looking for children or women, children or other victims, which is unfortunate because of our location.
When it comes to children, as it’s been mentioned, it’s not just children, it’s also adults. But I do want to say when it’s children, we need to look at, it’s both girls and boys. And sometimes there are victims who report that it starts as early as age six years old. And also keeping in mind as it was stated, that it’s not always just this stranger in the night who’s picking up people or putting them in the van.
Sometimes people are being trafficked by people they know are their family members or people who are in their house. It could be their parent, it could be a family friend, it could be a neighbor. So it could be someone who’s really close to home. So that’s also really important to know. And then when it comes to specifically foster youth, unfortunately, they do have a high risk of being trafficked because they are targets. Now, anybody can be a target or at risk of sex trafficking or human trafficking. I do want to point that out. However, sometimes, because our foster youth tend to be a vulnerable population, traffickers reach out to them. They look at developing relationships with them, seeking them out, and then some of the youth, they look at that person as someone that they can trust.
Adrienne Livingston: Can I share what happened to me as an adult woman?
Melyssa Barrett: Absolutely.
Adrienne Livingston: Thank you. So when I was 40, I was in a coffee shop meeting with a friend and dressed nice, dressed professionally. When I went to take my coffee cup, put it away, a guy approached me and he’s like, oh, you have a pretty smile. I said, oh, thank you. And then he said, oh, I have a movie studio and you’d be great. You should give me a call. I said, oh, okay. Gave me his card. And I immediately thought, oh my God, this doesn’t look good. This looks a little shady. Because his business card literally had dollar bill images in the background. Now mind you, I hadn’t learned about this issue of sex trafficking. So this is the key to this story, and I just know, I’m like, okay, this is shady.
But it was one of those things that intrigued me enough because when you looked at him, he looks fine. And so I go home, I’m like, okay, let me go to this website. So I put in the website address, and then it literally takes me to a MySpace page. I was like, wait, did I put it in incorrectly so I had to do it again? And it did, and the page was just, it was nasty. I didn’t know what I was looking at. So I thought, okay, this is obviously shady business. I don’t know who this person is, but I threw the card away. So then six months later, I end up going to a rotary club that they were talking about sex trafficking. And the US attorney, given the presentation at that time, she said, here’s the profile of traffickers. And then on her PowerPoint, all of a sudden I saw images of dollar bills.
And then in her very next sentence, she said, and they recruit on MySpace. Let me tell you, when I was sitting in that seat that transported me six months prior to when I had that business card in my hand, I’m like, oh, oh my God, that could be a pimp or trafficker. And even as an adult, I had to be careful that I thought I just knew it was shady. But I actually did go to a try. I came home, I was like, do I have that business card anywhere? Because I would’ve given it to law enforcement, but nope, I did throw it away. I just thought when I talk to parents, and this is the value of the story, not just to parents, but to youth, is I’ve had so many parents say, oh, it won’t happen to my child.
They know better. I get to say, do as an adult woman, I had a person approach me and I didn’t see that this could have been a pimp or trafficker. So then on top of it, when I’m talking to youth, I say, but what if I didn’t listen to my intuition? What if I didn’t see that, okay, this just didn’t seem right. And I did call him up to go to his studio. What could then have happened to me? And they’re like, oh. I said, yeah, maybe he offered me a bottle of water, and that water could have been roofied and I drank it. And what could have happened? I could have been knocked out, they could have raped me, took pictures and tried to blackmail me.
So even as an adult woman, I have to be careful, but I am so glad that I had that experience and I believe it was a God experience, so that once I did start learning about trafficking, I could point back to a personal story to say, you can’t not be aware of this. You have to be vigilant and alert because there are so many ways that these individuals go out and try to manipulate and put a different spin on things that can trick a person into getting into this industry, from the modeling to the businesses, all of that. So that did happen to me as an adult woman.
Melyssa Barrett: And so one of the questions I have is, I mean, you clearly had this intuition, something that was telling you inside that something was not right. But I don’t know that everybody gets that. And so are there specific signs or things that… especially you’re talking about kids from the age of six, I mean, and quite frankly, even as adults, I mean if you’re on a dating app or anything, to me it’s like you have no idea who you’re meeting, what they’re going to do. I mean, it’s just such a different world. Are there things that people should be looking for?
Akkia Pride-Polk: I think what’s interesting is that recruiters come in all different ages, sizes, colors. There is no prototype of what a recruiter looks like. A recruiter can be a male, it could be a female, it could be another child, it could be a teenager. We’ve seen youth who are maybe 14 years old and they’re recruiting 12 year olds and think that’s even really scary because I think people are looking for a particular type of person, but there’s not.
Melyssa Barrett: Yeah. Well, and I think Dr. Powell said 50% to 60% are African American, because I don’t think I hear really much discussion in the culture about human and sex trafficking.
Dr. Stephany Powell: So I’ll get to that in a minute and then I’ll talk about why that is. I think when you go back to talk about who are the recruiters, who are the traffickers, and Akkia, I think coined it perfectly in that there is no real one stereotype because it blends in so well into our lives, you know meeting that guy, falling in love with that guy. And I always say, and I’m speaking to the women right now because it can happen to men and boys as well, but as women, society for one kind of primes us for this, right? Society says your value as a woman, you step your game up if you have a boyfriend or a husband. If you’re single, what’s wrong with you? And so then a woman or a girl feels like, in order for me to have any value in terms of who I am, I have to have a mate.
So guess what? Traffickers use that as bait. But that doesn’t mean that everybody that you meet is a trafficker that may say really nice things to you, but I think society kind of primes women for this thing. Traffickers, it’s wherever it fits, if that makes sense. A pimp once said, if I cannot find a weakness, I will create one. So what may work for one person may not work for another. That’s why there’s no canned way of doing this. What they do is they find your weakness, they find what is it that you need in your life. Do you need a daddy figure? Do you need to be told that you’re beautiful? Do you need a boyfriend? So as you see just some of the things, and then how did this happen? Sometimes it happens on the internet, sometimes it happens at a party, sometimes it happens at school, sometimes unfortunately, it happens to special need kids as well.
So there’s not just one way that this happens, but how we guard against this is to teach our boys and girls and our women that we are enough, that you are enough, regardless of whether you have a boyfriend or a husband or not. You’re still enough. Because remember I said that they look for that weakness. So I think that that is really important because if you understand that, then it helps you in your aid of prevention. And then when we look at, people will say, I didn’t know that it was mostly African-American girls. I didn’t know. And then the question becomes, why is that?
Melyssa Barrett: Why is that? Yeah.
Dr. Stephany Powell: And listen, some people go-to, although they won’t say it is okay, that makes sense because African-American girls, one, they grow up really fast. They’re oversexed anyway. So it just makes total sense that it would be them. It doesn’t come out here, but that’s the quiet voices in their head. But what we have to look at is the systematic issues that we have to deal with as African Americans. We have to deal with issues of discrimination. We have to deal with the fact that people don’t say, we’re not pretty enough, we’re not enough. So that’s why it could be any type of economic level, poverty. I mean, there’s so many things that make us marginalized in society that also makes us at risk and vulnerable for trafficking. And so it’s reasons for that.
Melyssa Barrett: It’s like generations of trauma.
Dr. Stephany Powell: What did Malcolm X said? Malcolm X said that the black woman is the most vulnerable and unprotected in our society. So why would it not be us? Not to mention pimps will say, I’ll go to jail if I’m trafficking and they don’t use the word trafficking. But if I’m pimping out a white girl, probably not going to go to jail if I pimp out a black girl. What does that tell you about how we’re seen. Well, those are the reasons.
Melyssa Barrett: But that brings up another question about just the entire structure. And I know you working in law enforcement for so many years. I mean we talked a little before this, a little bit about Oregon and some of the changes that are happening or trying to happen in Oregon. But I think with respect to how the system works itself, I mean the fact that somebody can go to jail for trafficking one race versus another or not, I mean that just seems ridiculous.
Dr. Stephany Powell: It’s not so much the system in terms of they would not prosecute somebody as a white. It’s what people care about. So when you look, prostitution’s been going on since the end of time. Prostitution has been an issue in the African American community for a very long time. When it became an issue was when they realized how many white girls were now getting drawn into the game, so to speak. That’s what they call it, the game.
Because when you Google human trafficking victim, you’ll see a blonde hair, blue-eyed girl because she invokes empathy. We have a problem, we rename it. We have a problem. So now we’re going to have, we got to put a stop to this. So that’s what they kind of mean by that. Nobody’s really paying attention when I’m pimping out a black girl, but they’re paying a lot of attention when I’m pimping out a white girl.
Adrienne Livingston: In addition to that, it is, people don’t look at all those systems that connect or intersect with trafficking and looking at how black girls’ bodies are hypersexualized, they’re adultified in schools. So we’re already punished in a way. We are never seen as the victim. And when we are, say a black girl or even woman is picked up by law enforcement for the same thing a white woman is doing, the white woman will be seen as the victim. The black woman or girl will be seen as the criminal.
So we actually also get criminalized more. We get jailed more and the system punished more. So all these things are happening to us that people don’t think of. And I think back when there was the missing girls in the black community, that campaign, that’s huge because how many times does a white girl or boy go missing and everyone is out looking for them? But we have all these black missing kids and no one is out there going looking for them.
Akkia Pride-Polk: I was going to bring that up too, as far as whenever I’m on social media and I see someone sharing an image of a young black girl who’s missing, the first thing that comes to my mind, is she being trafficked? And who’s looking for her? Because you’re right, it’s not when you see a lot of missing girls, specifically black, missing girls, you don’t see that on the news. You don’t see search parties out searching for these girls. And I worry about that.
The other thing I want to talk about specifically with the African American culture when it comes to trafficking, I think historically it has been glorified. Think about all those movies that came out during the 70s that glorified pretty much it’s trafficking. They might have called it a pimp, but they were glorifying trafficking. And that has happened over decades. And so you look at music and how that’s glorified. And I’m not saying it does not happen in other genres of music because it does, but I’m just looking specifically in our African American community and how we really need to look at turning that to where trafficking is no longer glorified. And look at it, what it really is, you have victims.
Adrienne Livingston: And part of that pimping is glorified. That’s the pimp culture.
Dr. Stephany Powell: I had to smile a little bit Akkia when you said that. I was like, oh man, she took it there. I have to agree, but then I also think of, I kid you not, as you were saying that I was thinking systems. I was listening to a documentary because I don’t have anything else to do in my life. I watch a lot of documentary and they were talking and they were to these pimps. And what this pimp said just kind of brought it all back home for me, as I think of this systemic racism and the systemic failure of systems in our society. And he said this, he grew up in the hood and he said, all I saw, all I saw were pimps and drug dealers and people making money. And this person was in LA. What I see around me in LA is nice cars, nice home, that whole thing of LA. I saw no other way to get there than by what I had as a role model in the community.
Now, this is where I almost fell off my chair. He said, there are not enough resources in the community and therefore this is what became my choice. Now, it doesn’t make it right or wrong. It doesn’t, and I’m not saying that in sympathy of this person, but it goes back to the systems. The lack of resources. Akkia, you’re working with the kids in the foster system, you know the throwaway kids that don’t even have the support that’s needed, that even if a pimp comes at them promising them all of these luxury items that they have no other way to get, and they end up saying yes, they make a choice to something where there are no other choices, not because it’s something they’ve always wanted to be in their life. So the lack of resources in the community is something that needs to be held up. So I totally a agree with you.
Melyssa Barrett: Wow, that was a whole lot. What can we do? I mean, I know all of you are involved in specific areas of this process and in many cases, I know several of you are shout out to, I think it’s the Journey podcast, right? What’s it called? Adrienne, you have a podcast too, right?
Justice Hope Freedom Podcast.
Melyssa Barrett: Justice Hope Freedom, sorry. I’m getting them all mixed up. Justice Hope Freedom Podcast. Shout out to them because I know you all are educating people about this as well. And I know we have folks who have written books and curriculum on kind of what we can do. And I love the title, My Choice, My Body, My Rules. Love that. And I think that, if I remember correctly, that is Dr. Powell’s book, right?
Dr. Stephany Powell: Yes, it is my book. Yes, it’s a curriculum.
Melyssa Barrett: And then I think Adrienne has a curriculum, and I know Akkia, the work that you’re doing with children is just amazing. And so I really want to talk a little bit about some of the solutions. What can we do? What can I do as this regular person who has no idea how to even really process a lot of this. I mean, even as a mother with my own daughter and my granddaughter, what can I do to make sure that they are aware of their surroundings and what they need to be paying attention to?
Dr. Stephany Powell: What we can do is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. What you could do is to support the work that, for instance, what a ake is doing. Supporter work, support the nonprofits that are out there that are working. Because I’m telling you right now, the human trafficking nonprofits, they need the money. They need donations. They really do. So you need to support your local nonprofits that are in there doing the work. I think that awareness and education of the community is extremely important. And it starts with the kids, teach the kids, starts with the kids, but also believe the adults that tell you they have fallen into this as well. You’ve got college-aged girls that end up getting turned out. And again, why do they get turned out? Because think of it just this way. So your middle class, upper middle class, I’m just going to use that as an example.
You’ve never seen the hood other than watching it on television. Your mama wouldn’t let you go nowhere. So now you go to college, Lord have mercy, now I get to do whatever I want to do because mama is not telling me what to do. And oh my goodness, that bad guy over there is a lot more interesting than that straight A student, because I went to school with the straight A student, not that guy. So we send our kids to college green. And so then when they meet that guy who may or may not be a pimp that’s able to talk them in anything, why? Because our kids are naive. We teach them to believe, we teach them to believe. And with this idea that we hear about bad guys, but I never saw one, and this guy doesn’t look like a bad guy because he is treating me so nicely. So education has to happen, not only with the little ones, but with our teenage ones. And then we need to talk to our girls who are about to go to college.
Melyssa Barrett: Akkia, one of the things I wanted to ask is, I mean, we talk about education even for the kids. What is an appropriate age? How do you bring, not that you talk about all of the challenges, but how do you make sure they’re educated and what age is the right time?
Akkia Pride-Polk: I almost think you have to start talking to the sooner, the earlier, the better. Because traffickers do and can’t start at an early age. So it might seem early, but I would say elementary school age, we have to start having those conversations and you continue to have those conversations. You don’t just have it one time. It has to be continuous, continued awareness. And obviously the conversation you have starting in elementary school is going to be different versus middle school versus high school versus adults because of the different audience.
But I think it’s really important that we provide our youth with mentors with the positive, let me stress with positive mentors and also encourage a self esteem. Particularly in our African-American girls, we really need to encourage more self-esteem because for some girls or some people, what leads them to, unfortunately some of these traffickers are, they meet them. And if you are a youth, you’re unfortunately in a home where you’re not hearing a lot of positive information, it’s very dysfunctional.
You’re surrounded by, you know, you see an advertisement that says beauty doesn’t look like you, you hear negative things, but then all of a sudden you have this person approaching you, they’re telling you how beautiful you are, how great you are, and you are a person who’s never had anything. And then this person, all of a sudden they’re taking you and they’re getting your nails done for you for the very first time. They’re getting your hair done for you for the very first time. They’re buying you nice clothes that you’ve never seen before, never had before.
You’re going to look at that person and you don’t think they’re doing anything bad to you. And so then when that person does start trafficking them, unfortunately they don’t see that that person is doing anything bad. They might view that person as, you’re my boyfriend, you’re my girlfriend, because it could be a girl too. And they’re seeing that person as they love me and that’s what they think is love. So that’s why I think it’s really important for our kids that they have positive mentors that we really try to self-esteem is so huge that we just really try to encourage that in our youth.
Melyssa Barrett: And Adrienne, I was just going to toss it over to you. In terms of ministry and all of the things, whether it’s connected to a nonprofit or church, are there things that we could be doing for the community to really raise the awareness there?
Adrienne Livingston: I would like to even start within the home, whether it’s an parent or an aunt and uncle. There’s a book called Good Pictures Bad Pictures, and it addresses pornography and it is a read aloud book. So sometimes it’s like, how do I read something like this to our children? And should I, are they too young? They’re not too young, and this is an age appropriate book so that parents can start just talking about images. Because even if they’re not seeing them in their home, maybe their friends are showing it to them on their smartphones, which are many computers that in my opinion they shouldn’t have. But they do. And so I would say just as a parent or sibling, someone that wants to say, what can I do even in my own home? Get that book, start reading it. Allow to your children. Also, I think another thing in tactic that pimps and traffickers use in how they manipulate natural desires is healthy and unhealthy relationship characteristics.
They start off healthy, buying them things as Akkia mentioned and whining and dining them, but it turns unhealthy. But the person, because they’ve been so brainwashed to see. It’s like I’m romanticizing. He’s giving me everything I’ve wanted. When they start to turn, they don’t see it. And so I would say giving not just verbal definition of what healthy and unhealthy relationship characteristics are. Having them actually exercise different examples, giving them examples, walking them through it.
For example, isolation. You could tell them what isolation is, but does it sound like someone’s trying to isolate you when he’s your boyfriend and says, your parents, they really don’t like me and I feel so uncomfortable over there. Can you, and I just hang out right now. And then that message continues to change over time where it doesn’t seem like isolation, but when you look back on the outcome, all of a sudden that girl is isolated and she’s not with her support unit, whether it’s her friends or family.
So it’s literally giving them the visual image and walking through these case scenarios with them so that they can see it. So should it happen. They’re like, wait a minute, this doesn’t feel right. So I think starting to do that at all ages because it could be a friend that’s trying to recruit or groom for the pimp trafficker, stuff like that. And then also I would say believe kids when they report. Oftentimes if they report something is going on because if it’s a family member, sometimes family members, they don’t want to accept that. No, that can never happen.
And so in the curriculum that we have that I co-created with another person, Michelle Lathrop, is we actually have them actually list down five safe people. And three of them cannot be family members because maybe you go to your family members and they don’t do anything. Go to that school counselor, go to your mentor, someone that can do something. There are people who are mandatory reporters. So the ball will get rolling. So reporting is huge. If they don’t think that anyone is going to believe them, they will hold it in and stay in that very dangerous vulnerable situation.
Melyssa Barrett: If I’m on the list as a safe person and someone comes to me and says something, what should I do?
Adrienne Livingston: I definitely want to hear from the others because I know in each state it’s so different. There are a couple of things I would, one, depending on who it is, report it. If it’s a school, definitely report it to the school, Department of Human Services. Just because you’re not a mandatory reporter doesn’t mean that you don’t report it. Then depending on the situation, even law enforcement. But it all depends on the situation and not go to that person. So even if you know that pimp or trafficker don’t go to them, you might put that person in danger even more than they are because you’re not with them 24/7 and not, you might put yourself at risk. Because again, you’re starting to mess with their money. So those would be some recommendations I have. But I would love to hear from the others.
Akkia Pride-Polk: I would agree with reporting to, as you stated, human services and law enforcement. I also agree that when they look into it, they do want to make sure that that person is going to be continue to be safe where they are. So I may also have to look at, is there another safe place that this person has to temporarily be? And then looking at resources, what resources does this person, do they need? Perhaps mental health, mental health services.
A lot of times people have been through trauma, so what type of trauma services? And looking to see what your local jurisdiction has. I know here in San Joaquin County, we have what’s known as the Family Justice Center, which offers a lot of support and resources. We also have the women’s center, which also offers a lot of support. So I think just looking around in your local community to see what resources are available.
Melyssa Barrett: Fabulous. Dr. Powell, any additional?
Dr. Stephany Powell: I think these ladies have done a great job. I have nothing to add to that.
Melyssa Barrett: This is a panel. Wow. So then can we talk a little bit about, now that we know what, there are some solutions. There are resources, and I think one of you talked about the lack of resources that we have, but really ideally, let’s not recreate the wheel and utilize the organizations that are there doing the work and giving. Because I think in a lot of cases, people don’t necessarily connect the dots to let me donate to a nonprofit that’s focused on human trafficking and the impact it can make even on the African American community.
So, can we talk a little bit about prostitution versus human or sex trafficking? Because I know we talked a little bit about it before we got on the podcast. We were talking about Oregon and their attempt at legalizing prostitution. And so can you talk a little bit about how these laws have an impact on what we’re doing and maybe what the black community can do?
Dr. Stephany Powell: So I think, to set the tone of this, not everyone who is in prostitution is a victim of human trafficking, of human sex trafficking. However, human sex trafficking victims are forced into prostitution. So that’s the difference. I think that when the movement first started, it gave this impression that everyone that was in prostitution was a victim of human trafficking. However, having said that, you have those that were, maybe they were a human sex trafficking victim as a child. And then as they became an adult, that morphed into them going into prostitution. But then the question becomes why a lot of it has to do with poverty.
If we say the average age between 12 and 14, even though we know that it happens a lot younger as well. But if we go with that average age, now you’ve got someone who’s 25 years old, they’ve technically kind of aged out, and so they weren’t going to school maybe during that time I was hit and miss. They didn’t have the support system that they needed. So they continued into a life that the only life that they knew in terms of making money. So I think that becomes in extremely important.
What is happening across the nation is that they would like to see fully decriminalization of prostitution. So I think when people hear that and we’re talking about adults now, because human trafficking, by your age alone, if you aren’t in commercial sex, then you’re considered a victim of human trafficking under the age of 18. If you are over the age of 18 and it were to go to court, you have to prove the force, fraud and coercion. Okay, so having said that, I’m talking about adults. So people would say, well, what would she be able to do whatever she wants with her body? Why should that be a problem? Well, here’s the issue. When you look at prostitution in and of itself, regardless of whether someone’s forced into it or not, there’s a lot of trauma that goes into that.
You are objectified, not to mention what happens to your body. Because if you’re a sex trafficking victim, sex trafficking survivors have said that they’ve have had to have sex with 10 to 20 men a night. What does that do to your body? What does that do to your head when you are an object and you’re called everything but a child of God and you are forced to do sex acts that we don’t even want to think about.
And so when you think of that trauma that occurs, when you also look at studies that say that women that are in the sex trade, if they had something else to do, it wouldn’t be that, okay, it’s because of certain circumstances that they’re in it for criminalization, full decriminalization of prostitution will look like this.
So in the state of California, I can’t open up a weed shop. It’s legalized, but I can’t open it up in my house. I’ve got to go through the city, I got to give permits, the whole bit. However, with full decriminalization of prostitution, I can have a brothel legally in my home. That also means that sex buyers are not criminalized as well. When you have a legal system, sometimes people stop looking for the illegal system that’s within that legal system because when you look at pornography, pornography is legal, but you’ve got human trafficking victims, minors and adults that are on screen. So, that becomes the danger in fully decriminalization, and I’m going to leave you with this. I was on a panel with a woman, a white woman, who said, they need to decriminalize prostitution. This is what she said, because it will give black women autonomy over their bodies.
Now, the conversation was about decriminalization. Why did she automatically think black women? So I clutched my pearls and took a deep breath, and I said, well, first of all, African American women do have autonomy over their body, but what you’re saying is that if they make this legal, that that’s going to be our first go-to. So what does that say how you see African-American women? And I said, so what that also means is that I could go to my daughter and say, Hey, do you want to be an attorney? Or do you want to go into prostitution because girl, it’s legal now. Are you going to say that to your daughter? Because the reasoning that they’ll say why it needs to be decriminalized is because disproportionately people of color or an LGBT community are going to jail for prostitution.
So if you make it legal, if you decriminalize it, they won’t be going to jail. What does that say about us? So I think there’s a lot of things that we need to look at as this is happening. And you mentioned Oregon, and I’m going to let Adrienne take it from here, but this is how this happens because when I tell people that they’re trying to decriminalize prostitution, people go like, no, that’s not going to happen.
Okay, well, in Oregon, just this past year, there was a millionaire sex buyer who was also a sex tourist who lived in Oregon. He wanted to put on the ballot to legalize prostitution. Not everyone in Oregon knew about it. But then once, because I worked from the National Center of Sexual Exploitation, I knew about it. I’m also in the links as well. I called the Portland chapter of the links. I said, let me tell you what’s coming down the pipe for you.
And so when they heard about it, they started to rally the community in which Adrienne was part of, and it did not hit the ballot. So when we talk about what we can do, what we can do is also pay attention to the laws and don’t get blindsided when someone tells you, this is going to help the African American community because that same community that they say that they’re trying to protect is going to cause harm. And I’ll let Adrienne take care from there.
Adrienne Livingston: Yes, it’s really sickening when you think of people thinking, oh, this group, oh, they need this help. So even though it’s not what I want my daughter to do, it’s okay for your daughter to do. What they continuously all said was decriminalizing it would make it equal opportunity for all. I’m like, oh, that’s the opportunity you think I want. And what I saw when they came is that there were many politicians that were supporting this bill. There was a human trafficking commission hearing that they invited victims of, not victims, but they called themselves sex workers or past sex workers to speak and provide their testimony before these politicians as to why they should pass this bill or they’re moving it to the ballot. And the group that invited these individuals to give their testimony, when you had survivors of trafficking wanting to also share, they would not invite them to come and share.
So what I spur of all saw in the room is the majority of the audience was white. When you saw the sex workers, they were women of color, white women as well. But you definitely saw that. So to me, you’re like, you’re exploiting their stories still. And you had politicians that it’s really disappointing because as a politician, you were supposed to hear from both sides of your constituency. Is that with all the testimony in favor of them decriminalizing this, not one of them asked, is there anyone else in opposition? And what is your reasoning for this? Every single politician that was there were all in favor of this, which is scary.
So what they were not hearing were stories from survivors that would’ve said, when I was in the life, I would be for this too, because it would help my work. Now that I’m out, I see what I was really in and I was trafficked, even though I didn’t see it at the time, and I would not be for it.
So they weren’t hearing that, that in Las Vegas, not Las Vegas, and let me say in seven counties in Nevada where prostitution is legal, is that $750 million came in of the legal prostitution and strip clubs and all of that. The illegal brought in $5 billion. So where the legal is the illegal abounds, what they didn’t hear is that there are, well, I forget the name of the house, but you had individuals that owned brothels going into high schools, promoting stripping and prostituting as opportunities for employment.
So to then legalize or to decriminalize it here in Oregon, we have more strip clubs per capita than any other state, including Nevada, because our Oregon constitution says that nudity is artistic expression. So when you come here, we actually have sex tourism here because even in our strip clubs, it could, it’s full nudity. So therefore, we are already set to have brothels because although the strip clubs are legal, they’re not necessarily going into high schools now, but it could open that door if it were to become legal or to be decriminalize for any of them to go on school career day to promote this as work to our youth. So you’re already promoting to a vulnerable population.
Akkia Pride-Polk: And then I think we have to look at who are the buyers, because the reason this is a billion dollar industry is because you have buyers and we’ve, I’m just thinking, we’ve had youth tell us they’ve been to houses where the person who bought them was married and had a family, and they see the pictures, they see the family pictures.
So I think that’s really important to note. And that’s really important as we talk about decriminalization of it and laws and who’s making those laws and who’s making those decisions. Because we have to remember and question, who’s the buyer? The buyer is not this, I think people think of, oh, it’s this perverted old man, driving in the car looking for people. It’s not, buyers also coming all sizes and ages. And so I think that’s really, when you talk about trafficking, we really need to look at that too and talk about who is the buyer.
Dr. Stephany Powell: Wow. And all I have to add to that is that part, when I worked for LAPD work advice, the majority of the men that I arrested for buying sex were married.
Melyssa Barrett: My goodness. I feel like we just got started, and I know we’ve been talking a while. I truly appreciate all of you for providing your perspective and being out there on a day-to-day basis, educating and really providing service to victims across the globe, the work you all are doing. And I really wanted to get to, I mean, black women working in this space where you see so many black people and people of color going through this, I’ll call it industry, there has to be some level of connection, I think. And we talk about trauma and the generations of trauma that we see. I know Adrienne does, I think it’s trauma yoga, is that what you call it?
Dr. Stephany Powell: Yeah, yoga, but trauma informed yoga.
Melyssa Barrett: Trauma informed yoga. See, I’m learning. I’m learning too. But there are so many things that we need in terms of resources, and I know we’re running out of time here, but I just feel like there’s so much more to talk about. I feel like we just scratched the surface, and it has been such a pleasure to talk with all of you. So I hope that whoever is listening to this, you will follow connect with Dr. Stephany Powell, Adrienne Livingston, and Akkia Pride-Polk. And the organizations that they are working with. And so I do want to just ask quickly, if you all have items, books, podcasts, things that you want to talk about. Akkia your agency, maybe just give them a quick, how do they get hold or talk to you all?
Akkia Pride-Polk: So from our agency being over foster care, we are always recruiting for people to become foster parents. So when people say, how can they help? How can they be a support, we’re always in need of people to become foster parents for our youth who are in need. And so that phone number is 209465 kids. So 209465 kids. And we are always recruiting for more foster families, for our foster youth.
Melyssa Barrett: Awesome. Thank you.
Dr. Stephany Powell: For me, first of all, I think what Akkia said was just perfect, to be honest with you. For me, I have a curriculum that’s out there called My Choice, My Body, My Rules, it’s for middle and in high school kids, it could be used in the schools, it could be used in church groups, and you can find it on Amazon. For more resources in terms of information about online safety and other things, you could go to our website, which is endsexualexploitation.org, and that’s for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation.
Adrienne Livingston: Yes, for me, I do have a podcast, Justice Hope Freedom, that’s iTunes, several platforms. And then my website, the same, justicehopefreedom.com has my email there, some information about the ministry. And then with the curriculum that I co-wrote, Girl Empowerment curriculum, it is written in a biblical framework and specifically for churches, Christian nonprofits or schools for middle and high school girls. And it’s to train the youth leaders or mentors of the women working with these girls.
And we do have physical self-defense as a part of it, because just from my personal background, I took karate when I was in high school, and my dad later told me as an adult, he’s like, your confidence shot up when you started taking martial arts, which then links to what Akkia said, you know, have these pimps and traffickers that will look for someone who has a lack of confidence. So within this curriculum, it is that we have healthy and unhealthy relationships, characteristics, et cetera, but that whole portion of you can defend yourself, you can’t fight for yourself. So that we’ve included that as well.
Melyssa Barrett: Fantastic. I love it. I mean, all of these nuggets, I think you talked about a book, Good Pictures Bad Pictures. We talked about healthy and unhealthy examples and relationships. I mean, there’s so many nuggets that you guys dropped for us today. And thank you so much for all that you’re doing in the world, and I just, I’m so grateful. So thank you so much.
Adrienne Livingston: Well, thanks for highlighting this issue for everyone.
Dr. Stephany Powell: Thank you.
Melyssa Barrett: Thanks for joining me on the Jali Podcast. Please subscribe so you won’t miss an episode. See you next week.