Grover strives to slow growing problem of human trafficking

There are an estimated 200,000 slaves in the United States today.

"It's estimated that less than 20,000 of those 200,000 are international victims coming into the United States as a destination country," said Tomi Lee Grover, Ph.D. "Who are the rest of them? Our kids. Our people, right here in the United States."

Grover spoke about the ongoing problem of human trafficking in this country and abroad in a presentation sponsored by the University of South Dakota Criminal Justice Club Wednesday, Nov. 16.

Working with TraffickStop, an anti-trafficking initiative, Grover educates individuals and groups about what they can do to curb human trafficking through prevention, intervention, education and restoration.

Grover the demand for goods and services by the U.S. contributes to human trafficking because of its place in the global economy – something its citizens might not realize.

"We get goods and services literally from around the world, so we all have a hand in what happens to the global economy with this," she said.

One way in which Americans affect the economy is through their consumption of chocolate.

"It's one of those key things, because almost all of us consume chocolate at one time or another in our lifetime," Grover said. "Most of the chocolate we consume is the United States is produced by slave labor in the Ivory Coast. Children are harvesting the cocoa pods, but they will never in their lifetime taste chocolate.

"So, just think about what you might be doing to contribute to human trafficking by what you're consuming, and look at how you can engage on this. Demanding corporate and social responsibility is a part of deterring and affecting change in the area of human trafficking," she said.

Consumers can estimate their contribution to human trafficking through the Web site slaveryfootprint.org, which asks a series of questions, the answers to which estimate what the user's contribution to the problem might be.

"It's a really cool way of actively engaging to know and monitor your own behaviors," Grover said.

But the highest percentage of slaves is exploited through sex.

"About half of the (world's) 27 million estimated slaves are in commercial sexual exploitation – that includes men, women, boys and girls all across the world," Grover said.

That statistic is monitored in part through the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000.

"This statute is one that can be used against any player in the chain of what trafficking might look like, including those who are the recruiters, those that harbor, those who do the transportation," Grover said.

However, there was an omission in the act until recently.

"Not until 2010 did the United States actually report on itself," Grover said. "So, we went through 10 years where we were not reporting on ourselves. We were reporting on everybody else, but finally we got the message that we should be reporting on ourselves."

There is not any state that does not have minor sex trafficking, she said.

"This is happening right under our noses, and we are almost completely oblivious to it," she said. "In the United States, the rate of exposure has reached what I believe is an all-time high, and the stats are amazing. In our back yards we're finding one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they reach their 18th birthday in the United States."

South Dakota is at risk for several reasons, including its two Interstate Highways, and large events such as the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

"The Interstate Highway System … is a thoroughfare on which children are being trafficked all across the United States," Grover said, later adding, "Everywhere that you have major events, you have prostitution that follows it – and that includes the domestic minor sex trafficking piece of it."

The "normalization of commercial sex by the media" is a contributor to the problem in that what used to be seen as illegal activity is now gaining greater acceptance in popular culture, Grover said.

This can be seen through TV shows like "Pimp My Ride," and the fact that some high schools even have a "pimps and hos" theme for their proms.

"We've made (pimping) a verb as well as a noun, and there's actually a culture that is pervasive," Grover said. "Our children are being hyper-sexualized by music, the media and every other way that you can think of in this current popular culture."

Pornography also has gained wider acceptance in mainstream culture, she said.

"Because it's been so normalized in that generation, they do not see it as morally objectionable any longer," Grover said. "It's not unusual to turn on any television show that's even a prime-time show like 'Two and a Half Men' and not be bombarded with issues surrounding porn. You don't have to go looking for it. It comes looking for you.

"Children have been continually objectified and (fetishized) in this kind of thinking that girls are just sex objects, sex is a commodity that you can buy and trade. And there's a lot of ways that we need to begin looking at how our culture is feeding and fueling this," she said.

For more information, visit www.traffickstop.org.

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