Stuyvesant Against Sex Trafficking Club Hosts Guest Speaker

The Stuyvesant Against Sex Trafficking Club hosted a lecture that discussed the nature of child trafficking, as well as preventative measures people can take to reduce future exploitations.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Stuyvesant Against Sex Trafficking Club hosted a lecture by guest speaker Kyra Woodsen, a representative from End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, on December 11. The lecture served as an opportunity for students and faculty to learn more about child trafficking and its prevention.

The lecture opened with an interactive activity that mimicked the game “Simon Says,” where Woodsen introduced common situations that victims of child prostitution and sex trafficking experience. Though the game began normally, Woodsen quickly turned the activity into something much more sinister, slowly asserting her dominance and control over the listeners’ lives. “Simon says, look to the right” gradually became “Simon says, all the money you make goes to me” and “Simon says, you do exactly as I tell you to do.”

“Simon Says is a game we all remember dearly from our childhood, but the way our presenter discussed the topic turned it into a method of harm and exploitation...that was really scary and disturbing,” sophomore Claire Shin said.

Woodsen then presented statistics emphasizing the different types of trafficking, as well as the magnitude of the trafficking business. “Two thousand to 4,000 teens are exploited every year in New York City, in which the LGBTQ youth and youth in foster care are the most vulnerable populations,” she said.

Woodsen also explained that assimilation into sex trafficking is generally a gradual process. Typical cases of trafficking involve young women and men being lured into relationships with older adults. However, as time passes, the relationships become progressively more abusive, and these adolescents are eventually coerced into sexual activity, which includes prostitution, erotic dancing, and sexual abuse imagery.

Afterward, Woodsen projected a clip of the documentary “What I’ve Been Through is Not Who I Am,” where Katrina Owens, a victim of sex trafficking, shared her story and provided insight on trafficking. Owens’s narrative revealed that most victims are children from broken homes because they are more vulnerable to emotional manipulation. For example, if a young girl was raised without a father, a trafficker could try to appeal to her as a father figure and coax her into a superficial sense of security.

Senior and Stuyvesant Feminist Society President Allie Lennard discussed how the documentary provided valuable insight into trafficking from a victim’s point of view. “[Owens] talked about how her trafficker took advantage of her situation by offering things that she did not have access to. With these continuous acts, the trafficker got her to a place [where] she was reliant and trusted him. I believe that this process isn’t really talked about and people don’t really understand how it happens, but the [documentary] was a good description of the process,” Lennard said.

Unfortunately, many victims of sex trafficking do not realize that they are being manipulated. “Victims are so isolated from normal life that trafficking subconsciously becomes normalized into their life,” Woodsen said during her presentation.

It is sometimes difficult to recognize trafficking—even victims themselves are not always aware of it. Woodsen explained that victims are often scared to leave the trafficking ring as a result of trauma bonds, reintegration challenges, feelings of hopelessness, and fear of the power their traffickers wield over them. Social isolation, having few personal possessions, and abnormal fear of law enforcement are all warning signs that may indicate someone is a victim of trafficking.

Trafficking prevention stems from awareness. Adjusting one’s language is one of the most significant ways to spread awareness, as poor word choice can be misleading. For instance, sexual abuse imagery was previously known as child pornography. However, since “pornography” suggests consent, it was modified to “sexual abuse imagery” in order to more accurately reflect the misuses of nude photography. Instead of labeling someone a “child prostitute,” which implies choice and consent, describe him or her as a “victim.”

Ria Gaur, senior and President of the Stuyvesant Against Sex Trafficking Club, elaborated on this concept. “I think that it is important to [change] the words we use on a daily basis and the slang that we use because behind [their meanings they are] affiliated with crime and these really terrible acts of violence,” Gaur said.

Woodsen emphasized that kindness is an important trait to adopt in the movement to become more sensitive to trafficking. “Most young people who are trafficked, who have toxic relationships, [and those] who get into abusive relationships are people [with] low self-esteem. A lot of that comes from your peers, family, friends, [and] how they make you feel,” Woodsen said. “Just in how we interact with one another, we should be a lot nicer to people who are different from us, especially to the LGBTQ youth. Out of all the homeless youth, LGBTQ youth are the most likely to get trafficked, and it’s because of all this social stigma that surrounds them.”

Lennard agreed. “Just having a voice and speaking up for those who have been victims is one of the most powerful things one can do. Having a community in which we can hear different perspectives and share our ideas about issues of our society is very inspiring and empowering,” she said. “This is why it’s so important for Stuyvesant to continue spreading awareness and hosting lectures about certain issues of our society and continue building this community.”

Gaur encourages others to get involved with the cause. Her club is centered around bringing attention to sex trafficking and its victims, combating the issue, and fighting the stigma associated with the subject. “Students have a voice too. Youth activism is really important. It's really effective, and I think a lot of people don't think that. [They think] that we don't have the power to do anything and that nothing will ever get done unless you're the top government official, but that's not true,” Gaur said. “In the end, every little step matters, and I really do hope that everyone does something to get involved.”