I’m just a teen…What can I do to stop human trafficking?

Trafficked book coverIt seems no matter where people are trafficked, they have one thing in common: the traffickers are feeding on their vulnerabilities. Worldwide, estimates are that 12 to 27 million people are trafficked. Half of these are kids and teens, most are female. Each year, 14, 500 to 17, 500 people are trafficked into America.

However, not just foreigners are trafficked. A lot of people are surprised when I do talks about the number of American kids who are trafficked inside America, not while on a trip abroad – this is very rare, despite what Hollywood wants to tell you. The real story is more shocking. 100 000 American kids and teens are trafficked within America every year. If an average high school has around 1000 kids, that’s 100 high schools. Trafficking doesn’t mean they are being smuggled or transported – it means they’re being exploited, threatened and used for their labor and their bodies, usually in the sex industry.

Most people agree that human trafficking is a terrible problem and an issue we need to solve in our society today. But how? As with many of these big issues, it’s normal to wonder what kind of an impact one person can have, especially if you’re a young person with fewer resources.

Here are some small things any person can do to make a difference. Choose one and do it today and then tweet, Facebook or email me to let me know how it went. Then I’ll share your story as an inspiration to others.

1. Volunteer

Almost all big cities have anti-trafficking organizations, so you can look online to see who is in your city. Some of the ones I recommend who helped me with the research for Trafficked or who’ve helped with the promotion of Trafficked as a tool of awareness are … Love 146, Gems, Restore NYC, Cast LA, La Strada International, Safe Horizon, The Salvation Army.

2. Write your senator or representative in Congress.

Tell him or her that you want strict laws to punish traffickers and funds to support victims of trafficking. Go here.

3. Spread the word.

Kids, teens and college students can make a bigger impact today than they ever could in the past through social media and blogging. Nobody knows how old you are, just that you have something interesting to say. All young people should have blogs and twitter accounts to share the things they are passionate about. As a side benefit, this can lead to a career. Maybe you don’t want to start a Twitter account or blog dedicated to the subject of human trafficking, but at least you can let your friends know about the issue through Facebook or Twitter.

4. Avoid buying slave labor goods.

This includes everything from electronics to clothing to coffee to chocolate. How can you avoid these goods? Shop for fair trade items. Also, shop for things made in the US, or another developed country for a higher chance that it is not made with slave labor. It might cost a bit more, but the quality is usually better too. Better to buy fewer things than to know you might be wearing something made by slave labor. One of my favorite fair trade stores is Ten Thousand Villages and, as a plus, they have unique, good quality gifts.

Here’s an article containing a list of slave labor goods.

5. Donate or start a fund-raiser at your school.

Even if you donate five dollars, it can help. I visited a school in Washington, DC, where students are doing regular bake sales. I did a Skype visit with another school in Utah, where students printed up anti-slavery t-shirts and sold those. Every little bit helps. This is why I’m donating 20 percent of everything I make from Trafficked to anti-trafficking organizations. It’s not much, but it’s something.

There are so many innovative things you can do to help end human trafficking. If you decide to turn your compassion into action, let me know what you end up doing. I love hearing these stories. And it doesn’t have to be big…Even a five-minute tweet can change the world if it’s retweeted enough times. We can work together and end slavery in this generation.


Warning Signs for Teens: Before You Are Trafficked

1. The person wants to move too fast. This could mean sex if they are posing as a boyfriend. But it also could mean they want you to make decisions faster than you’re ready to make them. For example, traffickers will tell girls from other countries that they need to agree to the “job” immediately or they’ll give it to someone else. Or they tell the girl she needs to be ready to travel in a week.

2. They want to move you from your home, which is your comfort zone and the place where people know you. Girls within America are often moved to a different state where they’re harder to track down. Girls from other countries might meet a “boyfriend” online who says very quickly that he will pay for her to come to America. It’s better to ask the guy to come to visit you. It’s safer and you can get help.

3. The other person is older and richer than you are. They buy you an excessive amount of gifts and you feel that you owe them something. They might even imply that you owe them something.

4. You start feeling like you need the person, can’t live without them.

5. You have to hide things about the person from people you know, your friends and your family. They might even make you choose, them or your family.

6. They ask you to do things that you think are morally wrong. They say, “If you love me, you’ll . . . ” You don’t feel comfortable, but you do what they ask you to do. Then they get you to do something else and soon you feel trapped.

7. Remember that the person could be a female. Traffickers use females to lure in young girls and gain their trust. You should also be suspicious of a female who’s making you feel pressured in any way or does any of the above behaviors.

If you find yourself in a relationship as described above, get out before it’s too late. Turn to a trusted adult in your life, such as a family member, friend, teacher or counselor, for help.

I recently wrote a guest blog about a girl I met who’d been sex trafficked at fifteen. For her story and the advice she had for young people like her, go to Denise Jaden’s YA Contemps blog.

Guest Post – Being a Canadian in LA and How It Helped Me Write Trafficked

I wrote this piece for the blog Burning Impossibly Bright because the person who usually writes this blog, Ambur Hostyn, is Canadian and I thought her Canadian audience might relate. Also, anyone who’s ever lived in LA and not fallen in love with it will know what I’m talking about.

Having said that, there were many good things about LA and I definitely learned to appreciate it in the ten years I lived there. In fact, in just a few weeks, on June 20th, I’ll be heading there for ALA annual conference and I’ll be doing a reading at the main branch of the LA library for LA Teen Reads Night on June 28th. I can’t wait to see all my friends and visit my old haunts and hang out in the place which inspired TRAFFICKED.

Guest Post: No English, A Different Kind of Prison

In this guest post for a Book and a Latte Blog, I talk about how many modern day slaves don’t speak English and how this can be its own prison. Not speaking the language can be terrifying, especially if you’re in a country illegally, and it leaves you especially vulnerable to exploitation. Thanks to Jen at a Book and a Latte for hosting me on her blog.

Can You Keep a Secret? If You Can, It’ll Help Your Writing.

Last year, a friend was getting a divorce and I knew about it for quite a while before it became public. It was a hard secret to keep because our other friends wondered why her behavior was changing and why she wasn’t showing up for things. I watched how she was changing and I watched her children, who were oblivious to what was happening, but clearly acting out due to the stress that surrounded them. It was awful and fascinating, and I really wanted to tell people, and yet, I kept the secret.

In one of his books on writing, I can’t remember which, John Gardner wrote that all writers are gossips and I’ve thought of that often because since I’ve become a fiction writer, I’m usually a great secret keeper despite that urge. Why? It’s not that I don’t feel the burn. I still feel that eager desire to share a real, juicy story because I know it will create some kind of extraordinary reaction. At my core, I’m a storyteller. You get an adrenalin rush when you share something awful. I have to admit that I do feel that burn, still, after so much time of secret keeping. But I’ve come to realize that this burn is part of the creative process; in fact, it’s essential to the creative process.

When I get a new idea for a book or a character, I feel that same burn. I want to tell someone right away. Oh glorious day, I have an idea! It’s a beautiful, perfect idea. However, I hold it inside because it is exactly this burn that makes me want to write and gives me that passion and makes my fingers fly across the keyboard.

Other people’s secrets may show up in my fiction, but they are heavily disguised, and really, what shows up is the knowledge I’ve gained about the human experience by keeping that secret inside. Once you’re privy to a secret, you have a new insight into people around you and you can watch the human interactions with a whole new level of knowledge. Also, once you become known as a secret keeper, more people share their secrets with you and this both unburdens them and also makes you a more trustworthy and graceful person.

Go ahead. Try it. Hold secrets inside and use that energy in your fiction or non-fiction. You’ll be shocked how well it works. Your writing will resonate more with others and you’ll write faster than you’ve ever written before.