Imagine dreaming about a better life.  You sometimes go to bed hungry or cold.  Every morning, you look for a job, but every night you come home empty-handed.  You are only 15; but, you are expected to help your family.

As you walk through the streets of your hometown, you are enveloped by fear.  The sound of bullets makes you jump.  Violence is very common in this neighborhood.

The idea of going to the United States of America comes to mind.  You have heard of people from your hometown earning lots of money and providing for their family back home.  Opportunities are handed out to anyone who is willing to work or so you are told.  There is nothing impossible in America.  It is where dreams come true.

You convince yourself that leaving your home country is the right thing to do.  The next time the smuggler commonly known as a coyote comes around you will accept his offer to help you cross the border.  He tells you that you will love America and assures you that you will have a great job.  He seems honest.

The time comes for you to leave.  The man you trusted throws you and others in the back of a truck, but you don’t think much of it.  He is certainly taking you to your new job.  You are scared of the unknown.  Nevertheless, your eagerness to be self-sufficient and to support your loved ones pushes you forward.

The bumpy ride finally ends and the doors to the truck open.  You are standing outside a bar, also known as a cantina.  As you enter this bar, you notice that there are only men here.  They look at you from head to toe.  Suddenly, you feel violated.  Their eyes are enough to make you feel used.

With the smuggler gone, you are now in the hands of a woman who manages the bar.  A tight dress is thrown at you, and you are ordered to wear it.  You are told to put on makeup and to flirt with the clients.  If they ask for more than just a sweet smile, then you must cater to their needs.  You refuse to do anything but serve drinks, but the bar manager laughs.  It turns out that it was not a favor and you owe the smuggler money for crossing the border.

This story is fictional, but it is based on facts.  From December 2007 to March 2016, Polaris identified 1,300 survivors of cantina-based sex trafficking in the United States.  Young women and men were recruited mainly from Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, El Salvador, and the USA.

Polaris learned of the recruitment tactics for 191 of the survivor and trafficker records.  34 percent of survivors were recruited through smuggling-related methods.  Those who believed the smuggler’s promise of living in an environment free of violence were susceptible to this type of recruitment.  29 percent were told they would work at a restaurant, but the true nature of their jobs was unknown until they reached the USA.

The number of people in this type of sex trafficking is likely to be higher.  Many are under aged and too afraid to ask for help.  This is one of the reasons recruiters target youth.  They are vulnerable and unaware of how to access assistance.  Polaris determined from 116 sex trafficking survivor records that 96 percent were female and 63 percent were minors.

The means of control vary, but the most commonly used by traffickers is the isolation method.  62 percent of survivors were kept secluded from the outside world.  One way of accomplishing this is by transporting them from one bar to the next preventing them from creating a connection with someone who could help them.

Those who managed to get away were assisted by a potential client who was not aware of their trafficking situation.  Others managed to reach out to a family member or friend who knew to contact an organization that assists sex trafficking survivors.

Each survivor has someone who made the effort to help them.  Together we can create awareness and fight human trafficking.

To receive help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888 or send a text to Polaris at “BeFree” (233733).

Each one of us has the power to change someone’s life.


Stephanie Sandoval

Contributing Writer, Two Wings