On April 10, the UA Little Rock Department of Criminal Justice hosted their annual “Take Back the Night” event on campus to highlight issues of sexual violence in Central Arkansas. Organizations and other groups handed out pamphlets and additional educational information about sexual violence in Little Rock and resources for students to use. Speakers shared personal stories of survival, facts on the wider issues of sexual violence, and gave calls for action.
Sexual violence is an issue few people like to discuss. The very thought is discomforting. Many choose to act as if it’s a problem that doesn’t exist, as if refusing to recognize the problem will make it disappear. But sexual violence isn’t disappearing. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds and, one out of every four women experience sexual violence at some point in their life.
Luckily, organizations are stepping up to tackle issues of sexual violence and force people to recognize one of the most significant challenges of our time. One of these organizations has its roots in Central Arkansas.
The word “human trafficking” conjures up images of far-away under-developed countries in which legal systems can’t to control the criminal enterprise. However, human trafficking is a significant issue in the United States, especially in Central Arkansas.
Due to the fact Interstates 40 and 30 run through Arkansas and previous nonexistent state trafficking laws, human trafficking, and more specifically, sex trafficking, is a significant issue in Central Arkansas. To raise awareness of the plight of human trafficking survivors and provide them support, trafficking survivor Louise Allison founded Partners Against Trafficking Humans (PATH) in 2011. In the past eight years, PATH has grown to offer services to survivors across and outside the state, including a 24-hour HELP line, therapeutic programs, and education programs.
Sex trafficking, according to PATH spokeswoman Casonia Vinson, happens in three ways.
“Sex trafficking is the purchase of another human being to make a profit,” Vinson said. “Someone is sold into the commercial sex industry through force, fraud, or coercion.”
The sex industry, contrary to popular belief, isn’t always a choice.
“When people think about the commercial sex industry, they think about prostitution,” Vinson said. “But a lot of prostitutes have been trafficked.”
A 2011 prostitution sting operation carried out in Little Rock backed up what Vinson said. Fifty percent of those arrested had been trafficked, either at the time of arrest or in their past.
“No little girl grew up saying, ‘I can’t wait to grow up and sell myself and sleep with a lot of men for money,’” Vinson said. “And no little boy grew up saying, ‘I can’t wait to be abusive and sell women.’”
Another common misconception about the sex industry? The makeup of its survivors. Some 98 percent of trafficking survivors are women, while the average age of survivors ranges from 12 to 14.
Warning Signs and Tips
What are some common warning signs someone is being trafficked? According to Vinson, trafficking survivors might withdraw from friends and family, have excessive bruising, random significant monetary increases, or a lack of money despite working long hours.
For college students, there are some general tips they can follow to evade human trafficking. Traffickers, according to Vinson, are using “peer recruitment” on college campuses. “Trafficking is a grooming process,” Vinson said. “[Traffickers] start with dates and building a relationship.” Vinson said students should be mindful of others at parties they attend and know where their drink is at all times. Further, students should travel in groups and tell others they trust their plans. Finally, students should report suspicious persons to campus security and ask for an escort if they feel uncomfortable walking alone at night.
Since 2011, PATH has provided a variety of services to survivors, including partnerships with sister programs to offer residence to survivors and a day center to provide them resources, including educational and therapeutic opportunities.
PATH also provides services to survivors of sex crimes, including rape, sexual assault, and sex and pornography addictions.
In recent years, PATH has started attempting to build a presence on college campuses around the state. Currently, PATH partners with Harding University’s HUmanity, a student organization focused on advocating for social change and bringing awareness to marginalized issues in society. PATH would like to replicate their partnership with HUmanity at other colleges due in large part to the long-term success of the venture.
“With HUmanity, it continues on year after year,” Vinson said. “They’re getting freshmen involved, and they’re consistently replacing the ones who graduate, creating a continuation of leadership.”
The Campus PATH
Currently, PATH is working on a comprehensive plan to partner with more colleges and universities around the state, appropriately titled the “Campus PATH.” “We would like to have an organization at all of the college campuses,” Vinson said. “We can come in and do education and awareness [training] and [students] will know where to refer someone who needs the help PATH provides.”
Becoming an Ally
How can college students be an ally of PATH and sex trafficking survivors? According to Vinson, it’s about getting involved and raising awareness. Students should reach out to PATH to start a campus organization and attend PATH’s victim services and awareness training, offered four times a year.
“I took the training before I started working here,” Vinson said. “My awareness level skyrocketed [after the training] from considering the things I overlooked, and I reflected on my time in college and high school and some of the people I hung out with and the things I saw. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, that [trafficking] may have been what that was [that I witnessed].’”