CUSD Cares

Redlight Rebellion

February 04, 2020 Brenda Vargas/Breanna and Brandon Varellas Season 1 Episode 18
CUSD Cares
Redlight Rebellion
Show Notes Transcript

Brenda Vargas speaks with Breanna and Brandon Varellas sharing their knowledge of sex trafficking but their primary goal is to educate community members about prevention programs to fight sex trafficking.  . 

Speaker 1:

Hello parents! Welcome to another episode of CUSD Cares. This is Brenda Vargas, Director of Counseling and Social Services. I am so incredibly elated today to have a wonderful organization with us: Red Light Rebellion. I have the directors/creators and they wear many hats, Breanna Varellas and Brandon Varellas joining us today. Thanks guys for being here. I'm so happy that you are joining us today.

Breanna:

Thank you so much. We're really excited.

Brenda:

Parents, we appreciate you tuning in to listen. Today's topic is going to be on sex trafficking. I know that Red Light Rebellion has been around for quite a bit and been growing. We're just so excited they're here in the East Valley, sharing their knowledge with us, but their primary goal is really to educate community members about prevention programs to fight sex trafficking. And I'm going to have them to share with you a little bit about Red Light Rebellion, how it came to be just so that our community members, we have some amazing people in our community that always want to support a good cause. And I do believe you guys are an amazing cause.

Breanna:

Oh , thank you. Yeah. So we're actually celebrating our 10 year anniversary of our first program this year.

Brenda:

That's exciting. Congratulations.

Breanna:

Thank you. Yeah, so it also actually started when I was in high school. I was actually at a church camp and they showed a documentary of a girl t rafficked in Cambodia. And at the time I wasn't really emotionally connected with it, but during worship that evening, I just felt a calling to lead a movement against sex trafficking, which I did not want to go overseas. So I was like, well, maybe I'll forget about this experience. But six months later, my church announced that they're going to help start an aftercare program locally for girls trafficked in the United States. And that's when I was like, Oh, it doesn't just happen overseas; sex trafficking happens here in our own backyard. And so I started getting really involved and eventually saw the hol e in the awareness with youth. I was a teenager myself and finding out that the average age of entry is like 13 years old for child sex trafficking, I was like, wow, that's me. That's my friends, my little brother, his friends we are like the target demographic for this and only a couple of my friends at the time and me even knew what it was and how it worked. And so no one at the time was g oin g into the school so my friends and I said we can. And so we actually created Red Light Rebellion's first prog ram my senior year, and started ditching school to go to other schools, to prese nt abou t it. Thankfully my mom was okay with that. So that is how it started. And then our programs have evolved over the years and now we really have honed in and specialize on classroom presentations to students seventh through 12th grade, doing trainings for parents and then other professionals that work with kids as well.

Brenda:

I want to talk a little bit about the myth, the myth that something like sex trafficking does not happen in our backyard, in our community, in our city, to our students, to people we know -this doesn't happen to us. This is something we read about through social media posts and/or something we read about in a magazine or online from a news article, but not to someone I know, not to my family or my friends. Does it happen? What does that look like?

Brandon:

Totally. Totally. Yeah. And it's interesting. One of the vice detectives that we've worked with in the Phoenix area said that after 13 years of working prostitution cases, that there hasn't been one victim that she met of prostitution, that wasn't also a victim of sex trafficking. And so I think we're starting to see prostitution start to get relabeled as sex trafficking. It absolutely is happening in every state and every country, including where we live here.

Breanna:

And I think oftentimes we think that it doesn't happen or that we don't see it, but sometimes we're mislabeling. It kind of like Brandon said, we're labeling a child prostitute, well, children can't be prostitutes because they can't consent to sex or getting paid for sex. So reframing some of that, but then when you get kids that maybe are struggling with running away or are acting out in different ways being hy per-sexualized o r even going to parties. And we've heard of situations where kids will set up a room upstairs at a p arty, and there's almost like an entry fee for guys to go upstairs and engage in sexual encounters with whoever is up there. And so that legally is considered sex trafficking because it's any time a m inor is engaging in commercial sex. So anything being traded of value that can be money or drugs or food, if they're doing that for that purpose en gaged i n commercial sex for that purpose, then that's considered sex trafficking. So I think that there's a lot of different ways that sex trafficking can look. We primarily educate on the pimp control trafficking. But once we understand that maybe the child's running away, they're running away either from something or to something. And as soon as th e k id's on the street, we know that within, I think it's 48 hours, one in three will be recruited into sex trafficking, prostitution.

Brenda:

Within 48 hours. One in three will be sex trafficking.

Breanna:

Yeah. And so we look at that and sometimes it's just labeled that the kid keeps running away. And so we're just labeling them as high risk or flight kid. and not asking her questions and digging deeper. And so I think once we start to do that and kind of reframe some things, we start to recognize sex trafficking happening all over the place.

Brenda:

And I'm glad you mentioned that reoccurring idea of running away. As we need to be asking deeper questions because they are either running from something or to something, as you mentioned. A great way for us to kind of just put on the brakes and ask ourselves what's really going on here, what is what's happening? Who's their target. I know you mentioned it very briefly the age, but can we put that under a magnifying glass a bit and take a look at what that looks like? Because I think for some parents and community members, it looks a certain way. There's a stereotype behind that and I want to make sure that we bust that myth.

Brandon:

Yes. The average age of entry is 13 into child sex trafficking in the United States. I think maybe years ago i t might've been different, but now there's not really one specific type of person that can be targeted for sex trafficking. It's every type of young person. We use the Maslow's hierarchy of needs as kind of a demonstration in classrooms to kind of show how pimps will recruit based on a basic needs level of like, Hey, you need a p lace to crash, You need food? I can provide that and they'll start building relationship that way. Or it can be something higher level where a student is m aybe trying to figure out what college they want to go to, and a trafficker can say, hey, I' ve g ot a way you can go to college debt free. So whether it's a really high achieving independent young person or what I think people may be usually think of, a s someone that might be susceptible to sex trafficking of like having more basic needs in a high risk profile, i t's really any type of young person at this point can be a target for sex trafficking.

Breanna:

There's a demand for the minors in sex trafficking. Typically buyers think that they are cleaner in the sense that they haven't been too exposed to as much so less risk for STDs. And then there can also be just the pure wanting a minor sexually, which is kind of more like deviant in a buyer situation. But there's a demand that the traffickers are trying to fill. And then there's also the ability to manipulate minors easier than adults. And we know that in brain development, kids, teenagers don't have a prefrontal cortex, so they don't have the ability to kind of see everything from all different angles and weigh out those pros and cons in the same way that us as adults do. So sometimes we look at teenagers and how they act or what they say and we're like, Oh my gosh, why can't you just get it? Why can't you see it this way?

Brenda:

Why didn't she see this train coming?

Breanna:

Exactly. But biologically there's only so much that they can see. And so for a trafficker, it's actually easier to manipulate the minors because they don't have the ability to think through all their actions. And so if there is a basic need that the pimps are able to capitalize on that minor, it's easier for them to manipulate that situation than an adult that understands th e r esources an d u nderstands the law better and all that kind of stuff. So mi nors j ust in general are an easier target. And because traffickers primarily are recruiting through social media, it's not just one demographic or one geographical location that the traffickers are targeting, they're just like chilling in bed and just DM'ing a whole bunch of kids. They literally don't have to go anywhere now to accomplish their goal.

Brenda:

And we're going to open up that can of worms with social media and go down there because most youth have access to a mobile device. We know that they are immediately now more susceptible. I mean, we can tell them as parents and community members and educators, right. Don't accept friend requests from people you don't know or don't follow somebody that you really don't know in real life and/or know what they're about. Obviously we get the argument from our youth that, but this person's famous or this person has1.3 million followers. But when we think about what sex trafficking might look like, I think people immediately go to something that we've seen on TV, Hollywood type movie. I immediately went to that movie Taken. But unless you know of a situation you are probably are going straight to one of those myths that it doesn't really happen here and it doesn't happen to people I know. Let's make it real for parents and community members and share with them how students are being targeted or not ju st s tudents, any youth, h ow they're being recruited. And what does that look like?

Breanna:

So we like to tell students that pimps are posers. So they're pretending to be someone that they're not, just to gain their trust, loyalty or affection in one way or another. So they're coming off as very friendly, very much like they care about that person, but it's all just an act and a cover. So we found the pimps are usually posing as one of three profiles, whether a boyfriend or girlfriend; being romantically interested in that potential victim , some sort of friend that's helping them out with a situation or some sort of business professional, whether that's like a modeling agent or a club promoter or rapper. They're trying to say, Hey, like I've got success, I've got connections. And I want to share that with you. I feel you could benefit from this. You're definitely the kind of person that we're looking for. So in that sense, i n the posing as a boyfriend or girlfriend, traffickers a re manipulating a young person's desire for love and affection, which who doesn't have that desire? That's normal and natural. But as a teenager, they're naturally wanting to gain their own independence. And the love that they get at home f rom mom and dad is no longer enough. They're wanting attention and affection from the people that they're attracted to and the people that they think are cool. And so when a trafficker comes in, it's really easy to pretend to be this boyfriend or girlfriend, especially if it's like online as well, because it's easier for that student to hide that from their parents and then you get this dynamic where the student actually falls in love with this person a nd they feel this person t hat gets them better than anyone else. They're able to tell them about all the arguments with their parents and that person always has their back. They can tell them about the drama a t school. And that person says, Hey, like I understand you better than anyone else. Like they don't get you, but I get you like I've got your back, no matter what.

Brenda:

So this pimp or poser, I love that you are using that term because I think it really resonates with youth, really allows them to feel a connection. Which is what they desperately so want to have probably with someone, if they don't have a caring, consistent adult, which is an important protective factor for youth to have today.

Breanna:

Definitely. So we're finding that by getting that connection, then that trafficker is able to isolate them from any other healthy connection that that youth has. And so then it's that youth and that person against the whole world. And so it's easy then for the trafficker to make that child do whatever they want to do,

Brenda:

They relinquish all of their trust into this one person. Right?

Breanna:

Yes. And if the child doesn't have healthy attachment at home, it's easier for that trafficker to take advantage of that situation. And even with healthy attachment, we see kids that come from great homes that love their families, but because of where they're at i n their developmental stage and adolescence, it's so easy for a trafficker to get in there and take advantage of that. And then we also see that traffickers are using their current victims to recruit other victims. So if a trafficker has a 15, 17 year old that they're trafficking, it's easier for another 15 or 16 year old, or 17 year old to trust that other minor in order to then be manipulated and trafficked. And so what we find is that situations that typically look like kidnapping, once you start digging down deeper, a re going to have some sort of connection prior to that, whether that's the boyfriend, the friend, or the business professional, some sort of trust or connection has been established prior to that trafficker taking that child and then outright sex trafficking them, and we've heard of minors actually living at home and being trafficked at the same time.

Brenda:

So it's not the idea that the youth actually leaves home. They might still be carrying on a normal day to day life going to school, participating in possibly some of their activities. And then on the side or at night is that what we're is that what we're seeing?

Breanna:

It can happen that way. It all depends on the trafficker. I was a peer mentor for some survivors at an aftercare program locally, and one of the girls that was her situation where he would just, she would sneak out at night every single night and he would pick her up and he would traffic her and then drop her off before her parents knew anything in the morning. And then she went off to school during the day. Other kids we've heard of will get on the bus, go to school, instead of walking through the gates on school, they just walked down the street and the pimp just picks them up from there and they work all day. The pimp drops them back off before school ends so then it looks like nothing's going on.

Brenda:

With the appearance that everything is just fine and there's no red flags or cause for concern that the parent would know about. What red flags do we need t o share with parents that are important fo r t hem to know? Sometimes it's not in regards to our own youth, sometimes it's what we're hearing about their friends or people that they hang out with or associate themselves with or hear a story and just something doesn't add up.

Brandon:

Yes. So some of the bigger red flags are definitely a sudden change in behavior. If they were typically an engaged young person , you might see them more k ind o f zoning out or just disengaged with their things that they used to enjoy. Or having an older boyfriend. Some of these schools that we've been in where eighth graders are dating guys that are out of high school. And when we start talking about this, you can tell when all the girls look at this one girl and there's this nonverbal eye contact thing going down. Definitely also a separation from friends and family too . A gain, that isolation.

Breanna:

They can also have a second cell phone as well. So if you notice that there's another device or you kind of suspect that they're having communication, that you aren't able to filter, then that's a huge warning sign. Traffickers will give their victims a second device so they can communicate with them without anyone knowing. The student ID constantly going missing could be another one. Traffickers don't want their victims to have any ID on them. And so if parents keep having to pay for another student ID, every month that might be a thing. A lot of calls from the school regarding lots of absences, d eclining grades. Sometimes victims can keep up the facade t hat they had going before that contact. But eventually it's g oing t o start crumbling.

Brenda:

I want to talk about that second cell phone because I think it's important to note because I could see youth giving the excuse that it's my friend's phone. Well they forgot it. They left it here. But I think parents need to ask a little bit more deeper and what youth would leave their phone with their friends when it is their lifeline to the entire world. That is your currency. What makes them breathe. That wouldn't happen. It would not happen. So, you know, parents, I would definitely question that unless within a very short amount of time you hear a knock at your door in which they're coming to get the phone, we know that may not be the case. As we wrap up, I don't know if there's any piece Breanna or Brandon, that we forgot that you wanted to make sure that you mention to parents about the recruitment piece of it.

Brandon:

I think just that it's any type of young person, there's no way that your young person is incapable of being a target for sex trafficking, just with where technology is at with where social media is. There's no way to not interact with someone that might be some sort of predator. And so we more so try and focus on what are the tools and skills to navigate through that. But I think having the awareness that no one is invincible is really important.

Brenda:

That you're immune or because you have everything that you need your immune sometimes it's just time. Right? Our youth desperately want time, attention, love to be seen and heard. And so it's not that you're not doing a good job. It's simply the fact that everyone likes to feel extra special.

Breanna:

Totally. Yeah. And I would say too along with that there is a study that happened through Thorn, Ashton Kutcher's nonprofit that he had started. And they did a study with some survivors and in 2015, 55% of them first met their trafficker through texts, website or some sort of social media app. So I think that mindset of- it can't happen to my kid- makes our kids actually more vulnerable because we're not putting the preventative measures in place and having the right conversations to equip our kids with the tools they need to be able to recognize predators and know that they can come to you no matter what, if something does happen, Taking the shame out of this conversation is really important because we'll get messages from kids like -here's a screenshot of this conversation I had on Snapchat. Do you think this is a predator? Yeah. Most evidently I may not be a sex trafficker, but they don't want anything good for you.You should talk to your parents about that. Oh, I'm scared. I'm nervous. I think they'll think it's my fault or I got in trouble. Those are often their responses. I don't want to be in trouble. And so that gets kids in a bind because they're scared of getting in trouble for something that wasn't their fault. And let's say they did do something that they weren't supposed to that allowed that interaction or promoted that interaction. Maybe their parents said you need a private account and they just kept their account public. Their parent finding out about that is so much more worse th an a nything bad that could happen to them. And so I think understanding that it could be our kid, that it can happen to any of our kids creates urgency in us to have the conversations, to give our kids the tools and then take shame out of the conversation. So if something does happen, even if the child did make a mistake, they know that I am loved no matter what, and I'm going to get the help that I need no matter what. And I think that's really powerful.

Brenda:

I think it's a great comparison to ask our youth and even younger than that, since a lot of children have cell phones these days and say have you ever noticed when I get these telemarketing calls? These calls out of nowhere where someone's trying to sell me something, right? You ask yourself how in the world did they get my number, right? It's no different with people reaching out through social media, right? Expect someone that you don't know to reach out. And how do you handle that? And I think that's probably more of an important conversation to assume that that's going to happen and assume that this individual who you don't know and doesn't know you has not the best intentions for you. And then how do you deal with that? How do you make that stop? How do you ask for help? Where do you go? Do you engage? Do you not engage, what does that sound like? So let's get them prepared and role play for how to deal with that situation and understand that when you bring it to me, just like when I get a telemarketing call, that's not my fault. Right? I know parents, right? We get these calls all the time and what you want to do is h ang u p or go how'd you get my number? So we have to put ourselves in those shoes, as our youth are receiving these messages or communication that it happened the exact same way. And sometimes there's not enough precautions to take in order for this not to happen because whether it's an actual perpetrator, a p oser or pimp reaching out, it could be through a friend or someone they know. I appreciate you guys being here. I know this is one of many series parents. I hope this was good information for all of you to have. And I hope if you have questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out. And we will have a few more of these series on sex trafficking for you to learn a little bit more about Red Light Rebellion, what they do, and their prevention work and outreach so that we can just spread the good news and good knowledge about what it is that we can do to keep our youth safe. Thanks parents. See you n ext t ime.