When people think of human trafficking victims, they often think of girls and women. However, male minors are often sexually exploited. In this episode, AMU professor Dr. Jarrod Sadulski talks to John Long of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking about its work to provide safe homes, services, and resources for boys and men who have been trafficked. Learn about the importance of educating law enforcement officers, medical professionals, teachers, and the public about the signs of trafficking of both males and females.
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Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Well, good morning, everybody. My name’s Dr. Jarrod Sadulski. Today, we’re going to be speaking with Mr. John Long from the United States Institute Against Human Trafficking. How are you today, sir?
John Long: I’m doing well. How are you doing?
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent. Excellent. Thank you very much for spending some time with us today and talking about such an important cause of what your organization is doing, and discussing what the steps are to move forward to address this major problem of human trafficking.
Start a Criminal Justice degree at American Military University.
To give our audience a little bit of background about John, he’s the Program Director of the US Institute of Human Trafficking’s Boys Safe Home. And John, he runs its day-to-day operations and maintains a safe, positive environment where the homed young men can begin the journey toward recovery. The Safe Home is the first dedicated to care for male victims of sex trafficking under the age of 18 in the United States, which is very, very important work.
In addition to working directly with the residents of the safe house, John hires, trains and schedules all of its staff. He works to build relationships between the surrounding community, the safe house, and its various partners and providers. So thank you very much for what you do, John. That’s very important work.
John Long: Well, thank you for having me.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Absolutely. Can you provide us so with a brief overview of the problem of human trafficking from what you’ve seen?
John Long: So we know that human trafficking has been something we’ve talked about for a long time now, but typically, when we talk about human trafficking, we talk about international trafficking, we talk about things that have been glorified in the Hollywood movies, but we don’t typically talk about domestic trafficking.
And so, the US Institute Against Human Trafficking started to do some studies and did some research to figure out kind of the services that were available domestically for victims. And through their studies, they found that, internationally, there was a lot more resources available, however, right here in our own nation, there was large gaps of care for not only adults, but for minors, and specifically, minor male victims.
We estimate somewhere in the millions of people nationally or worldwide that are victims of trafficking. In the United States, it’s been reported somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 kids are trafficked domestically every year.
And so from that data, our founder and co-founder created this safe house for boys. Because as they began their search, they found that that population was underserved. And in fact, at the time when they created this safe house, there were no dedicated homes just to minor male victims.
There were different homes throughout the nation for female victims, for adult victims, however that minor male victim was falling through the cracks and was hard to identify. And even if they were identified, there wasn’t any services that were available to these kids.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Wow. That’s incredible work. It’s very important that that’s been identified and this resource is being provided. And as we go through the podcast today, I’m definitely excited to learn more about how the safe house operates, how you identify victims that are in need, and the support services that you provide.
You brought up a great point that, when we think of human trafficking, we think of it being a large problem perhaps in a different country coming to the United States, but the fact is we’ve got a huge problem right here in the United States and it exists throughout our nation.
And it really unfortunately is a problem in terms of human trafficking that a lot of people don’t understand. When they think of human trafficking, they may think of labor exploitation, and that’s part of it. They also may think of the sex trafficking and that’s certainly part of it, as well as domestic servitude. But we really, when we think about what’s going on within our communities, I think it often occurs to where we just overlook it because we don’t recognize the signs of it.
So since a lot of people don’t fully understand the needs of human trafficking victims, what can you share with us regarding the challenges to escape human trafficking here domestically, and the support the victims need to separate themselves from this horrific crime?
John Long: Well, you’re correct that human trafficking domestically has kind of exploded. It’s always been an issue. It’s been around for years, but it seems recently that it’s something that we are more willing to have the conversation about. And once we start having these conversations, we start identifying more victims.
And so, as we speak with survivors who are either in the life or who they’ve come out of the life, both adult and minors, the number one thing that they need are services. They need housing and they need jobs.
As we talk to survivors, they typically will say, “I would love to be out of this life, however, I can’t get out because I don’t have a place to live. I’m being forced to do this. I can’t get a job. Nobody will hire me.” And so they’re kind of stuck in this lifestyle.
And domestically, that’s a huge issue for these victims because we want to give them an out. And we want to give them a way to get out of the life and also to not have to return to the life.
Sometimes we do a good job of rescuing them out of the situation temporarily, we put them into a home, we protect them temporarily, but we don’t give them the life skills that they need such as job training or housing, independent living skills, life skills, and then introduce them back into the community to live a social life, to be productive individuals within their community.
But we know that the selling of humans is only second now to the selling of drugs. We know that eventually, it’s going to overtake the criminal life of selling drugs because, when you sell a human, you can sell that human 10 to 15 times in a day.
When they’re in the drug trade, they sell a kilo of something, they’ve got to go find another kilo to sell. But when they are dealing with humans, again, it’s something they can just use over and over again. And as we’ve interacted with victims, both minor and adult victims, they have stories of being sold up to 15 to 20 times in one day.
And so we know that the gang life and the criminal life is really moving towards more of a human trafficking kind of business. Because again, as they drive down the street, they get pulled over by the police. They’ve got a car of four women. Sometimes the officer or law enforcement doesn’t know what to ask or what to look for, and so then they can just travel down the street. If they’re driving down the street with drugs in the back seat, the officer obviously knows what that is and then there’s criminal charges.
And so we work as the Institute not only to provide a refuge for survivors, but also to ensure that we can educate law enforcement in the community on what to look for and the red flags that are present.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent. Okay. Yeah, I’m definitely wanting to hear more about that and to learn about that. But you had mentioned what draws them into the life, in terms what ultimately draws them into human trafficking and ultimately, the exploitation that they experience.
So I wanted to ask what were the common vulnerabilities of the human trafficking victims that your organization has encountered, supported and interacted with?
John Long: Typically, what we see, specifically with minors, is they come from a broken, unsupportive home. And that doesn’t necessarily mean an absent parent. It doesn’t mean a single mother. It just means a home that didn’t provide any kind of support, any kind of love, any kind of purpose within that home. And so the majority of our kids that we come in contact with have that in common.
And it’s that vulnerability of not being loved, not being supported and not feeling valued, that sometimes these kids will find that in a different way. And as minors, they’ll find it in what we look at as a negative way, but to them, it comes across as a positive experience because they’re feeling loved, they’re feeling valued, and they’re feeling wanted.
And as corrupt as that sounds and as hard for us to understand, when they come out of a broken situation, it is almost better than what they came from. And so they get drawn in, they get groomed.
The women typically have that Romeo and Juliet experience where a pimp or somebody who is trafficking them, and sometimes that’s a female who is doing the recruiting, they bring them in and they make them feel loved. They make them feel wanted. They provide the basic needs for these individuals.
And at some point during the grooming process, there’s a change in ownership and that pimp becomes the owner. And it becomes a, “I have provided you with your needs, I have been there for you, and now you need to do this for me.”
And they’ve gotten an art to it, so they know when they can turn that on and when they can turn that off. And typically the survivor or the victim is so far into the life or so far dependent on the pimp that they can’t turn back. And we see that both with juveniles and with adults that are survivors or currently victims.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: That’s horrifying, but it’s important that the public becomes aware. I think that there really, there’s such a need for community awareness and recognizing that a neighbor that has especially what appears to be underage girls frequently coming in and out of the home at different hours of the day or night with adults that are not members of their own family; situations where police officers pull over a vehicle that has under-aged children that may appear under the influence, maybe in the presence of an adult that’s not a parent.
I think that it is just so important that that information and knowledge gets out there and is shared. And I really commend what you and your organization are doing. So you had mentioned gangs, and that was interesting to me.
So I wasn’t fully aware that gangs have actively got involved in human trafficking. So that’s definitely something that there’s an opportunity for further research.
And I wanted to ask, when we’re talking about vulnerabilities, the vulnerabilities for runaways, I would think that that would be perhaps a group that may be especially exploited for the sex trade. Would that be correct?
John Long: Absolutely. And specifically again, with the minors, there’s some research that shows within 48 hours of a kid living on the street, they’re going to be approached and asked to conduct some kind of sexual act for the exchange of money or some kind of good.
So some would say within 24 hours, but some stats say within 48 hours. So we know that within two days of a youth, either being a runaway, homeless, living on the street, couch surfing, they’re going to be approached for producing some kind of or conducting some kind of sexual act to meet either their basic need or financially receive some kind of money.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Wow. That’s horrifying and so interesting. Okay. So what can you share with us about the US Institute Against Human Trafficking and its role in combating what we’re discussing today?
John Long: So we know that we can build 100 safe houses throughout the nation and that’s still isn’t going to cut the demand for people buying sex. There’s one study that says 20% of men will buy sex at some point in their life. So that’s 20% of men domestically who are going to buy sex at some point in their life, which is a large percentage of men.
And in fact, that study kind of breaks that down into the last 12 months, and they say somewhere between 6.2% of men had paid for sex in the last 12 months. And those are funded by some of what they call high-frequency buyers, those individuals who are paying for sex six to 12 times in a year.
So we know that what we need to do is we need to increase education, increase awareness so that these buyers feel like the world is kind of coming in on them, so they can feel like, “My neighbor now knows what sex trafficking is. They may recognize the red flags that I have.”
Or at work, we know that typically when people are setting up dates, they typically happen between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday. And so we know typically this is happening at work.
And so what we have done is we have created education for many different professionals, such as law enforcement, medical professionals, teachers, parents, and just community members so everyone can know what to look for.
We know that typically, a survivor, at some point while being trafficked, will come in contact with a medical professional. And so our goal is if we can educate medical professionals on what to look for and how to ask the right questions and how to separate a survivor from the pimp and be able to ask those questions. So just identifying the red flags, having people not only know what to ask, but then if you get an answer that’s a red flag, what do we do with that knowledge?
And also, what we need to do is we need to educate the supply. We need to educate the kid. So we run a safe home for biologically born males who have been victims of trafficking. And if you came to my house today and interviewed our kids, the majority of them would tell you that they’re not victims of trafficking.
And the reason for that is because they don’t even know what trafficking is. And when they were in the middle of the life, when they were being trafficked, they didn’t know what they were doing was trafficking.
And so we know the federal definition also states that at any minor that’s under the age of 18 can not consent to a sexual act for any kind of exchange. If it’s money, if it’s goods, or if it’s even the promise of goods, that’s considered trafficking.
And so our goal at the US Institute Against Human Trafficking is to provide training. That comes through our website. We have videos. We also have educational information that we share with professionals. We also conduct statewide training to help individuals be able to identify victims. And then again, once you’ve identified, what do you do?
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So the institute has offices in Los Angeles, Tampa, Austin, Vegas, and D.C. Is that correct?
John Long: Yes. Our main office is in the Tampa Bay area, but we have satellite offices in some of the hotspots.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: And do you have safe homes in each of those?
John Long: We don’t. So the only safe home we operate is currently in Florida in an undisclosed location. We are looking to expand, but the issue that we run into is not that there’s not victims out there, it’s just we don’t do a great job of identifying boy victims.
In the state of Florida, there’s seven or eight safe homes for girls, but one safe home for boys. And according to the Department of Children and Families, their own research and the data that they’ve released, they’ve identified at least 100 boys just in the state of Florida in 2019 that were victims of trafficking.
We know that the victim is out there. We know that they are across our nation and that we need to do a better job of identifying and providing these resources.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So in terms of the Boys Safe Home, in addition to what we’ve discussed, is there anything else that you can provide in terms of an overview of the program, perhaps how other organizations can help you identify victims and bring them to your organization?
I think that what we have to do again is a better job of identifying boys and a better job of allowing the boy to be a victim. I often go back to kind of the education setting. And if a male teacher has sex with a female student, there’s often an uproar and we can’t believe that this male teacher would take advantage of a female student.
But then when it’s turned around and it’s a female teacher having sex with a minor male, oftentimes we congratulate that boy. We say, “Boys will be boys. He should be happy he’s having sex. Why would he ruin it for everybody else?” And so I think what we have to do is we have to change that conversation and allow boys to be victims and to be able to identify some of the red flags.
Oftentimes if a female is a runaway, she lives on the street for a couple of weeks and she comes home and, and she may have new shoes or new hair or new nails. Typically, we’ll ask those questions. “How did you get those resources? What did you have to do to have that?”
When boys run away and they return, and if they don’t look like they’ve been living on the street, we typically don’t ask those same questions.
John Long: And so I think we have to, again, change that conversation to allow the boy to be the victim, allow the boy to share his story, create an environment where a boy is safe to talk. And again, we need the additional resources, because once we identify these boys, we have to have something somewhere for these boys to go and to be able to start their rehabilitation, to start kind of recovery, to change their mindset and to physically and emotionally keep them safe.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: We’re discussing the major issues going on around us throughout the United States in human trafficking. And it definitely has been a very enlightening discussion. This is tough material. This is tough stuff, but the word has got to get out there. Everyone from the schools, from the medical profession to neighbors, need to become aware that this is a prolific problem and that everyone has role in keeping an eye out for it.
And one of the questions that I wanted to ask you, John, is I noticed that the institute is a faith-based organization, which I identify as something very important. And I’ve had churches approach me and ask what can we do in terms of, one, informing our members about human trafficking, and two, as a larger, more collective interest, what can we do to support organizations such as yourself and also to support victims of human trafficking within our community?
John Long: Sure. So we do not hide that we’re a faith-based organization, but we love these kids right where they’re at. So we deal with a large population that identifies as LBGTQ all across the spectrum. And our goal is just to love these kids, to keep them safe. The majority of these kids have never been loved in their life. They’ve only been wanted and they’ve only been used.
And so our ultimate goal is to create an environment, not only where the kid is safe, but where the kid feels safe. And so there’s a big importance there. We can keep them safe, but until they feel safe, there’s no healing that can happen. And so that’s our ultimate goal, just to love them as Christ has called us to love them.
I would say to the church that we have what we call an abolitionists program. It’s on our website. And that is just for a community member who wants to be more educated, and not just educated, but get enraged and then get engaged.
So there’s tasks that are involved with being an abolitionist, and we walk individuals through the process of accomplishing these tasks. And sometimes it is meeting with a pastor, meeting with a men’s group, meeting with local law enforcement or councilmen.
There’s a plethora of different tasks that can be accomplished. And we don’t just provide that and wish you the best, but we also walk alongside individuals who want to sign up for that and provide resources such as some of this data we’ve talked about and some brochures and PowerPoint presentations.
And also what we strive to do is what we call trafficking-free zones. And also located on our website, there’s what that trafficking-free zone really looks like. We’re calling cities throughout our nation to claim and to be trafficking-free zones.
And so we’re calling on mayors and governors and councilmen and women to sign these proclamations saying that we declare this place a trafficking-free zone. And that comes through educating transportation individuals, educating law enforcement, and just making sure that your community is as educated and as aware that they could be to help identify and to save these individuals that are being trafficked.
So there’s ways to engage through our website. And again, it’s a way that we want to take this beyond just our neighborhood, and nationally, we know that this story, this message has to be shared. We can’t do it alone, and so we asked the people get engaged with us.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: If a victim today of human trafficking is listening, what would you tell them?
John Long: There’s help out there. There’s help. There’s people that are willing to listen. The National Human Trafficking Hotline can be contacted anywhere in the nation and they’ve got resources that they can connect you with wherever you are.
Our ultimate goal is to make sure people are safe. And so the first task that has to be done is getting the person out of the life. There are ways that you can text the number. There are ways that you can call the number and you can be anonymous.
There’s ways that they can help you get away from the situation that you’re in. And you don’t have to be in that lifestyle. We know that the majority of people that are in the life right now don’t want to be in the life. And so we provide resources and networking to make sure we can assist on getting people out.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent. Excellent information. And so that everyone’s aware, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, their phone number is 1-888-373-7888. And someone that’s a victim can call, somebody that is perhaps a neighbor or a concerned citizen that has information that they wish to share can call. The hotline operates in over 200 languages, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the victim can also text the word help to the phone number 233-733.
And I also wanted to make sure that we share the institute’s website, which is usiaht.org. And I definitely encourage everyone to reach out to the organization, to the institute, see what you can do to help. Everybody has an important role to take in this fight against human trafficking.
You had briefly touched on it earlier and I wanted to circle back to what law enforcement and government officials can do in terms of about the problem in human trafficking. And it’s especially relevant considering our audience.
What can you share in regard to ways that law enforcement and government officials can recognize suspected human trafficking and what are the steps that they can take to combat it?
John Long: Sure. Like we spoke of prior, that oftentimes, a victim will come in contact with law enforcement while they’re in the life. And it’s either a medical professional or law enforcement that typically comes in contact.
And we know that that survivor or that victim doesn’t have that trust with law enforcement. They don’t have a positive outlook. Sometimes they’ve asked for help, but we’re told they’re not a victim. We see that a lot with our minors where they’ve reached out for help and they were told, “Well, you’re just a prostitute.”
But we also understand that in most states through our nation, anyone who’s under the age of 18, there’s no such thing as juvenile prostitution. A kid cannot consent to, again, conducting any kind of sexual act for the exchange of money or goods.
And so, I would say that using our portal, training portal within our website on what to look for, building that trust with somebody that may be pulled over, being able to see the red signs.
Oftentimes the victim doesn’t really know where they’re at. They may have been moved around a lot. So if somebody gets pulled over or there’s somebody that’s out on the street, they don’t know exactly where they are. They don’t know where they’re going. They may not be dressed for the appropriate weather because they don’t have any kind of supplies of their own.
Typically, we used to see tattoos and markings, but traffickers are getting away from that because it just makes it too easy to identify.
So looking for those specific red flags, when you ask somebody a question and they’re not allowed to answer, but somebody answers for them. “Are you allowed to have control over your own money? Are you staying in a hotel on your own will? Are you being forced to stay there?”
And so just having these conversations. And we know that having a conversation in front of a trafficker is not the appropriate setting for having a conversation. The victim is typically trained to answer these questions.
And so creating separation, creating a safe environment where the victim isn’t being judged. We also know that victims will say that they wanted to share, but they thought they’d be judged. And so creating an environment where people are allowed to speak, where people are allowed to share and that they don’t feel that judgment.
But again, to go in more depth into the training, we again, we provide that free of cost on our website for multiple different professionals.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: So the US Institute Against Human Trafficking, which is, we discussed, a nonprofit organization that was developed to combat human trafficking and certainly on the front lines. We discussed what our audience can do if they wish to partner with the organization to provide support. And again, that website is www.usiaht.org.
And I’ve had people that have approached me before a podcast that have indicated they’re interested in being a volunteer. And they’re in social work and they’re wondering what kind of opportunities there may be for them. Is that something that you are seeking in terms of people that can volunteer their time to work with victims?
John Long: Absolutely. We are, as you stated, a non-profit organization. And so we look for support not only financially from the community, but through volunteers. And there’s a plethora of different things that we could connect people with.
We don’t specifically allow volunteers to go to our safe home just because it’s an undisclosed location and we want to keep these kids safe. However, we have different areas to plug into and different activities that happen on a yearly basis that volunteers are encouraged to participate in.
And if you go to our website again, there’s actually a section on volunteering. And if you fill out the questionnaire or the comment section and email that out, we will get in contact with you and see how we can plug you in to help us fight this battle of human trafficking.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Excellent. John, thank you very much for the important work that you and your organization are doing. Are there any remaining thoughts you wish to share with us?
John Long: Just quickly I would like to share. One of the things that we’ve mentioned and that we hear mentioned a lot is people just have to be aware. Just a quick story of a victim that came out of the life.
He was trafficked through online gaming, he was a minor, was groomed through online gaming and kind of forced into the life. And for a year, this individual was forced to live in an environment away from his home where he was sold for sex over and over again.
And during this process of a 12-month torture and nightmare that this kid lived through, the neighbors had no idea what was going on. So there were people that were coming and going all through the day, all through the night, and at no point did anybody question what’s going on.
So we’re not asking people to become police officers or investigators, but if there are red flags that just don’t make sense, you can reach out again to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which again is 888-373-7888.
And just share what you see and allow the professionals to figure out if it’s something that should be investigated. We need to increase awareness, increase engagement, increase education, and stomp out human trafficking.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: Absolutely. Well, thank you very much for joining us on our podcast today.
John Long: Thank you. Thank you for the time.
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski: We’ve been speaking with Mr. John Long from the US Institute Against Human Trafficking. And again, their website is usiaht.org. Thank you.