Justice for child victims of sexual exploitation: Jessica Munoz at TEDxHonolulu


Translator: Mohand Habchi
Reviewer: Mile Živković “The first time I was sold for sex, I was six years old. I was sold by my own mother. In my mind, I wanted to be
anywhere but in that room. I could not change my reality on my own. I was a little girl who stopped
believing in freedom, when I realized
that I could not wish hard enough for the door to open. I missed field trips and dances. I learned hideous things instead. Princesses in fairy tales had parents
who loved and adored them. I had adoring people too. Men who would pay
for sex from a little girl. Doctors, lawyers. Men with nice smiles and evil intentions. These men define my world. When I emerged from that hell, I could not believe in freedom. Three years later, I will help
other girls become free. Because I want fairy tales
in America to be real. I never want another little girl
to experience what I have.” I was like most people who thought
that this issue of human trafficking, our modern day slavery, only happen in countries far, far away. But this story shares the reality
of a hidden slave market that exists right here in America. Children are being bought
and sold for sex on our streets. And with the click of a button,
they can be sold online. It’s a 32 billion dollar a year industry, and unlike guns and drugs, human beings can be
sold for repeat profit. Currently, there’s around
four and half millions victims of sex trafficking globally. The majority of these
are women and children. This is a growing epidemic in America. The number of children
that run away every year, in the US, is around 300,000. Running away poses a great risk. Within 48 hours of a runaway
running away from home, one out of three will be
approached for sex services. Here in Hawaii, we have around
300 children that run away every month. These are high-risk victims. Do you guys recognize this photo? This is the Ohio Stadium. There’s 100,000 seats
in the Ohio Stadium. So I would ask you: take a moment and picture the face
of a child in each one of those seats. That’s the number of newly enslaved
children every year in the US. Now, we think of this promise,
“Oh, is only on the mainland.” Hawaii is not immune to this problem. Our economy is fueled by international
and domestic tourism, a heavy military population, business enterprises in trading
between the East and the West. Each one of these factors makes Hawaii
a prime target for traffickers seeking to exploit a young girl,
a young woman, for repeat profit. Given the hidden nature
and under-reporting of this crime, the true scope of this problem
is not well-known, not just here in Hawaii
but in communities across this country. But the tides are changing. This dark issue is being
brought into the light and communities are
being forced to address it. I’ve told you about the problem, and you’re going to say,
“Well, OK, we have a problem. But why do we have this problem?” We have this problem, because we live in a world that demands a woman
and child be sold for sex. Culture has created a demand, and with that demand, we’ve created misperceptions surrounding the issue of prostitution
and the label of prostitution. Which in many cases, especially
when we’re talking about children, is a direct exploitation of a human life. Clothing lines, movies, music, widespread use of pornography and the glorification
of the pimp and hoe culture, has unwittingly created
an unacceptable tolerance and ignorance to the reality of the sex slave industry
that exists right here in America. We have normalized the sexualization
of young girls and women. We have devalued and objectified them. And with these misperceptions
that we have adopted around prostitution, we have been further contributing
to their exploitation and victimization. And I have to tell you
that up until four years ago, my view of prostitution was skewed. I viewed it in light of the movie
“Pretty Woman”, in which you have
a young girl on a street. She appears to have some friends. She doesn’t seem in any distress. And a rich young man comes along,
takes her on a date, wants to, you know,
puts her up in a nice hotel, buys her a lot of great things, falls in love with her,
and wants to marry her. And that’s good story,
but that’s not reality. It does not show the rape,
the abuse, the torture, and the underground world that exists
surrounding this hideous crime in which she’s not getting paid, and she’s not keeping that money, and she’s being exploited. So along with this idea, and some of the demands we’ve created, we have to say, “Well, are you sure she doesn’t
really choose to be out there?” I can’t tell you how many times
I’ve been asked that question. “If life is really so bad, why doesn’t she just run away?” Well, the reality is
that once on the streets, the desire for hope, love,
and shelter is exploited. And once on the street, she’s deceived, intimidated,
and forced into prostitution. You have to realize that the people
who exploit these young lives, they’re professional con artists in one of the biggest con
schemes known in history. She is no longer in control of her body. She’s forced to service
10 to 15 men a night, and some of these girls
are as young as nine years old. And before you want
to think that it’s a choice, I want to you realize,
she doesn’t have anywhere to go. She likely ran from an abusive situation
to the arms of an abuser. Her last choice was the day
she got into the car with that pimp, who she likely didn’t know was a pimp. She had no idea what hell
would be awaiting her. So I challenge you to think
of it in this way: Someone taught her to stand out
on that street corner. She didn’t wake up one morning saying,
“I want to be a prostitute.” Another misperception commonly thought of, which hasn’t helped with the glorification
of the pimp and hoe culture, is this idea that it’s a victimless crime. Historically, at state-level legislation, we have poorly protected
these young girls. They’re often arrested, charged, and placed into facilities
for their “bad behavior”. While the trafficker
and the buyers go free. Now while they go free, she is left with a vast number
of mental and physical health problems. While the trafficker
and the buyer go free, she is left with degradation,
humiliation, shame, and a society that does not recognize
the trauma of what she’s been through. The oldest profession
needs to be thought of as of the oldest form of slavery, and it’s far from a victimless crime. As of 2009, we had
less than 150 beds nationwide that were specific licensed
residential beds for underage victims who have
been rescued out of trafficking. Now, you remember
that photo of the Ohio Stadium? 100,000 kids a year. We are so behind. And because we do not have
enough after-care, we are further contributing
to their revictimization. Hundreds of thousands of dollars
are put into awareness campaigns, which is important. But a very small amount actually
touches the lives of the victims who have been affected by this crime. This topic can be completely depressing, and you can feel probably
a little bit overwhelmed right now. But you know what? There is hope and true justice
can be sought for this issue. To seek true justice, we have to address this topic
from several levels. Slavery is a dark mark
on America’s history. It’s hardly a bygone concept. The issue of human trafficking,
or sex trafficking of children, is one of the greatest social justice
issues we’re facing in America today. We cannot turn our heads, and close
our eyes, and ignore it any longer. We have to address it. And the way we’re going to address it
is through a few steps. It’s important that we have the education,
information, and awareness raising piece. You have to have that piece. But with that, you have to shed light
on why we have this problem. The demand. Our culture has created a demand,
and it’s not acceptable. The second piece is decreasing
the demand or reducing the demand. We need stronger laws
that protect our kids. The third thing, we need
to limit the supply. We need to be educating
our kids to the risk: a stranger danger of the 21st century. And the last piece is
the rescue and restoration piece, in which we need a licensed residential
facility here in Hawaii for our kids. Now, each one of us carries with us
a piece to the puzzle of this problem. I personally have been inspired
by these justice heroes: Corrie ten Boom, Abraham Lincoln,
Edmund Burke, Harriet Tubman. They’re all people who stood
for a justice issue that surrounded their day. And while they took a stand, I think there’s a common thread
in each one of their stories. It’s almost as if they have
a justice gene in their DNA, and that’s what drives an individual
to make a difference. We often view these people as up here,
as almost superhuman. But the reality is they were
just ordinary people who rallied their community members
to make a change. I can tell you right now
that I’m just an ordinary person. I have job. I have a family. I have to eat. I have to sleep. But ordinary people is the only thing
that ever has changed the world. These people left a legacy
that has benefited mankind to this day. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always been
interested in justice issues. It didn’t matter whether it was
somebody being mistreated in my group of friends, or was it more
as a bigger global atrocity. There’s something in me that always
has stirred up to do something. I don’t know if it’s a justice gene,
maybe it’s a justice gene in my DNA, but I guarantee you that there’s
more people out here who have one, and it just needs to be activated. There’s so many things
that we can do as a community to change the face
of this issue in America. Imagine. This is a TEDx event. Hundreds of people could watch this, become aware that there’s a problem
and be a part of the solution. And together we could change
the face of sex trafficking in America. My passion started
when one person, my sister, told me about the issue
of human trafficking, and I decided to do
a project in graduate school. And I went to educate every
emergency health care professional that we had a problem, that these victims were
coming into our ERs, and we’re not identifying them, and we’re further contributing
to their victimization. And so I set out on a journey to basically talk to anybody
who would listen, and I wanted to get our community
rallied around this cause to stop it. It will take all of us coming together,
saying, “We will not buy. We will not tolerate
the selling of our children. And we’ll create a Pu’uhonua, a safe
place for our young victims to heal. I can’t listen to one more story
of heartbreaking exploitation and continue on with my life. The day I heard about human trafficking, my life has never been the same,
and it will never be the same. So I’d ask you: are you willing
to fight for their freedom? Are you going to close your eyes or are you going to be
a part of the solution? Change only ever came — When we look back on history, and we see Nazi Germany
and what happened in the Civil War, we can say, “Why didn’t
somebody do something?” Change only started
once people became aware, once the community became outraged,
and they took action. It’s the same thing with this cause. This is not those girls. This crime knows no socioeconomic status.
It knows no racial boundaries. It affects all of us.
And these are our girls. This is our community of girls
that are being abused. So I’d ask you: if you believe that it’s wrong
for a child to be sold for sex, would you stand? Each one of you holds the key to the future and the freedom
for these lives. Look around you. Look how many people are standing. When have you ever agreed with this
many people on a same issue? You are now a community of people who believe it’s wrong
for a child to be sold for sex. And I need your help to seek
justice for these girls. For our girls. And I’d ask you to join the legacy
of ordinary people who changed the world. Now you’re aware, take action. Thank you. (Applause)

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