ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), 10,583 human trafficking cases were reported in 2020. Of those cases, 7,648 were specific to sex trafficking.
In Arkansas, reports of trafficking have steadily increased over the last few years. In 2016, 48 cases were investigated in the state and that number rose to 99 in 2020.
In 2021, Western Arkansas Child Exploitation Task Force conducted 67 child exploitation investigations across Western Arkansas and served more than 70 search warrants for crimes against children.
Special Agent Brenan Despain said educating people on what trafficking looks like, is crucial in ending it. “By teaching the community, parents, teachers, those who work with kids, what are trafficking in Northwest Arkansas looks like? We’ve had a much better, I think we’ve been much more effective at getting the message out and getting that information back to us.”
Recognizing Sex Trafficking per NHTH:
Someone may be experiencing sex trafficking if they:
- Want to stop participating in commercial sex but feel scared or unable to leave the situation
- Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex but that someone pressured them into it
- Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace
- Are children who live with or are dependent on a family member with a substance use problem or who is abusive
- Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry
- Work in an industry where it may be common to be pressured into performing sex acts for money, such as a strip club, illicit cantina, go-go bar, or illicit massage business
- Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications
Message from a Sex Trafficking survivor
Jessica said she was sex trafficked by three different men from age 16 to about two months before her 18th birthday.
Warning signs per Arkansas Crisis Center:
- Appearing malnourished
- Showing signs of physical injuries and abuse
- Avoiding eye contact, social interaction and authority figures/law enforcement
- Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction
- Lacking official identification documents
- Appearing destitute/lacking personal possessions
- Working excessively long hours
- Living at place of employment
- Checking into hotels/motels with older males and referring to those males as boyfriends or “daddy”
- Poor physical or dental health
- Tattoos/branding on the neck and/or lower back
- Untreated sexually transmitted diseases
- Small children serving in family restaurant
- Security measures seem to keep people inside the establishment- barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows
- Not allowing people to go into public alone or speak for themselves
“All you need is eyes, a phone and courage to say something, if you do see something because if you say something, you could be saving somebody’s life. And over time, we can eradicate this effort on our communities,” said Dean Martinez, a board member with Hub of HOPE.
Hope of HOPE is a Northwest Arkansas-based non-profit that provides healing and opportunities for victims of human trafficking and help with prevention efforts and Education for communities.
The group has worked with 150 people, ranging in age 18 to 64, affected by human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
Another local not-for-profit, Into the Light, aims to end child sex trafficking and bring hope to survivors. Since 2015 it has helped 280 people, some as young as 11-years-old.