(Nita Belles, Free River Publishing, $14.99)
Young people are increasingly being forced or coerced into involuntary servitude, bondage, and sexual exploitation. Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Nita Belles, an Oregon crusader for human rights, has just released In Our Backyard, a new book that offers a detailed look at human trafficking in America and how Christians can combat it.
“People think human trafficking is carried out primarily in foreign countries, but it’s right here on U.S. soil,” Ms. Belles says. “Thousands of children and adults in every state of the union are illegally trapped in prostitution, pornography, farm labor, domestic labor, manufacturing, hotel services, restaurants, and other activities.”
According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, more than 100,000 children are trafficked yearly in America and one out of three runaway teens will be lured towards sex trafficking within 48 hours of running away.
Ms. Belles’ well-researched book describes real life stories of human trafficking victims, survivors, perpetrators and the people who are fighting this enormous problem.
Girls, boys, women, and men relate their traumatic experiences after being conned or charmed with promises of security and high income, or lured to the U.S. by phony employment agencies. Among them:
• A 16 year old Christian girl met a new friend at school who introduced her to an exciting 20-something man. They “fell in love” and within three months she went missing and he forced her into prostitution.
• An attractive master chef in Manila answered an ad for a restaurant position in America. She was chosen, but upon arrival in the U.S., she had to sign a binding multi-year contract. She was forced to work 12 to 15 hours a day for an abusive boss, unable to find a way out right here in the United States.
• A girl who could not afford college was offered a modeling career earning thousands of dollars a month. She was flown to Los Angeles and housed in a mansion. Her caretaker surprised her with a bill for travel, housing, and photo shoots. She could help pay the huge debts by posing nude, and later in films that turned out to be hardcore pornography.
“Escape is difficult,” says Ms. Belles, “since victims are closely watched and are often traumatically bonded to their captors. We can all assist in rescuing victims by learning how to recognize human trafficking in our midst and knowing what to do when we see it.
Belles identifies several red flags in her book and on her website, www.nitabelles.com, that alert citizens can watch for. Among them are individuals who:
• are not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
• are under 18 and are providing commercial sex acts
• work long hours with no breaks or unusual restrictions
• avoid eye contact
• show signs of physical abuse or restraint, confinement or torture
• are unable to clearly explain where they live
• are fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, or paranoid
Belles advises anyone who suspects human trafficking to call local authorities or the toll-free 24-hour hotline for the National Human Trafficking Resource Center: 888-3737-888. Its website is www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking/.
Nita Belles, is the Central Oregon Regional Coordinator for Oregonians Against Trafficking Humans (OATH), an extension of the Oregon Human Trafficking Task Force. A former Associate Pastor, she holds a Master’s Degree in Theology with a concentration in Women’s Concerns.
Belles has worked in the business arena as well as with victims/survivors of domestic violence, specializing in working with churches on related faith issues. She and her family live in Central Oregon. For more information visit www.nitabelles.com.