You’ve taught your children about stranger danger. You monitor their internet use. Is that enough to protect them from getting kidnapped?
Human trafficking expert Nancy Hartwell believes we can do more.
It starts with understanding the risks. Modern-day slavery is alive and well in the United States, despite the best attempts of law enforcement to stamp it out.
There may even be a human trafficking ring in your town or neighborhood. Google it—I did, and discovered about 20 cases of sex trafficking occurring right now in my tiny rural county.
Find out who traffickers target, how they gain their victims’ trust, and what happens to victims once they’ve been kidnapped. Join the fight to stamp out trafficking in our communities.
Please note: this content may be disturbing to some viewers.
What You’ll Learn
What we need is a nationwide crackdown so that there’s no safe place for any of these predators to operate.”
If it weren’t for Ursula, Nancy Hartwell wouldn’t be sitting here today talking to us..
The story begins over 40 years ago, when one of Nancy’s friends disappeared.
“They found her bicycle next to the road, and nobody ever saw or heard from Ursula since,” Nancy explains.
“Several weeks later, we heard rumors that she had been sold to a sultan in Libya. It made a lot of sense. She was tall, blond, gorgeous. I think about her every day, because that could have been me.”
Nancy began to ask questions, and people began sharing their own stories with her. Nancy eventually used this material to write three fictionalized books about the slave trade in the Middle East. The first, Harem Slave, is an Amazon bestseller that’s been translated into three languages.
(Her interview with us is her 698th interview on the topic.)
She helps people see that human trafficking isn’t an issue that happens somewhere else to someone else.
It happens right where you live, and it’s more common than you realize.
I was amazed to find out that the headquarters of one of the biggest prostitution rings in the U.S. is based in Toledo, Ohio. Not in New York City, not in Miami, not in Dallas, not in Los Angeles. Toledo, Ohio.“
And human trafficking is almost impossible to stamp out. Some communities have human trafficking task forces, but “once one community cracks down, [traffickers] just move to the one next door where things are still looser.”
Those especially at risk include girls under the age of 18, illegal immigrants, and runaways.
Predators excel in selecting the right targets and gaining their confidence and trust. Even if you’ve already warned your child about stranger danger, the standard warnings may not be enough.
Nancy explains, “There was a guy who took a dog to a playground and asked parents if he could try to get the kids to leave with him. The parents said, ‘Oh, they know they’re not supposed to talk to strangers. They’ll never go with you.’ Guess what? Since he had a dog, 8 out of 8 kids left with him, skipping along beside him, holding his hand.”
One solution is have a “family password.” If plans change and you need someone else to pick up your child, tell your child to ask the adult for the password. Make it something easy enough for kids to remember, like the name of a family pet.
Parents also need to monitor their kids’ internet usage. “Do it with them,” Nancy urges, “so that you can point out pictures that never in a million years should have been posted on the Internet, or sites that have a lot of red flags.” She also warns against internet video games, where predators pose as teenagers to gain kids’ trust.
But should children really be exposed to the idea that predators are lurking online or in parks, looking for an opportunity to kidnap them?
Surely that’s the stuff of nightmares.
“We warn our children about other dangers,” Nancy says. “We tell them not to cross the street without looking both ways, because they can get killed. We tell them not to put their hand on a hot stove, because they can get burned. Talk to your kids about this, and be as graphic as you dare so that the kids will have something specific to be scared about.”
She adds: “We’re not trying to traumatize them. We’re simply trying to alert them to a danger. And if we don’t talk to them about the problem, we’re putting them at more risk.”
Another group at risk are teenage runaways.
Predators “promise them a safe place to stay, hot food, exactly what they need so that they’re not living on the streets.” Then these runaways are told exactly how much they owe their “rescuers.”
“If you’re a runaway or if you’re even thinking about running away from home, home might be hell, but you haven’t experienced hell until you have been enslaved,” Nancy warns.
She provides gruesome examples. “There are some brothels in the Middle East that are so brutal, life expectancy is calculated in weeks,” she says.
Even with the best efforts of the police, it’s very difficult to rescue victims once they’ve been trafficked.
In the these harems in the Persian Gulf where a lot of girls are sold (because that’s where the money is), the walls are 12 feet high. There are armed guards at the gate. How are you going to escape?”
Victims of trafficking eventually give up hope of escaping. “If you’re in the sex trade and you don’t bring back to your pimp or your predator a certain quota every day … he’ll beat you until you can’t stand up. And he’ll do it in front of the other girls so that they know what will happen if they don’t reach the quota.”
She adds, “It’s very, very difficult for them to go to the police, because … they have been manipulated and brainwashed so that they’re scared to death of the police.”
That’s especially true for illegal immigrants who fall into the hands of coyotes. Some coyotes help them cross the border, then take them to a slave camp instead of a safe location. The immigrants work all day and are locked up at night. “They have no idea where they are. They’re cut off from the world. Even if they escaped, they would have nowhere to go.”
Not all trafficking victims are kidnapped, Nancy notes. Many are lured by the promise of a good job and a better life.
There are lots of ways to to lure people into slavery. It’s a lot easier to lure somebody than it is to just grab them.”
She gives examples of debt slavery in India, the fishing industry in Southeast Asia, and the slave labor used to construct the World Cup 2022 facilities in Qatar.
To learn more, sign up for the free 5-day crash course in human trafficking that Nancy offers on her website.
If you’re feeling moved by this interview and would like to help, look up organizations in your area.
“Every community has organizations that try to combat this crime and also help the people who have been victimized by it…. They’re always looking for financial support. They’re always looking for volunteers.”
Jump to Topics of Interest
3:33 How Nancy got interested in the topic of human trafficking.
4:41 Where human trafficking rings are located
5:39 Why the police can’t stamp it out
6:22 Who are human trafficking victims?
6:36 How predators can lure children who’ve been taught not to talk to strangers
7:35 How predators target teens
10:21 What happens to victims of human trafficking once they’ve been kidnapped
11:47 The chances of being rescued
13:11 Why human trafficking victims are afraid of the police
14:39 How to teach your children about dangers of human trafficking
15:45 Organizations you can support
16:41 Nancy’s 5-day crash course in human trafficking
About Nancy Hartwell
Nancy has a B.A. in international relations from The American University. She has been to 45 countries over the course of her career, and she’s written 3 books on human trafficking. The first, Harem Slave, is an Amazon bestseller that’s been translated into French, Spanish, and German. She’s done nearly 700 interviews on this topic. Find out more about Nancy and her work.