The Horror of Human Trafficking: An Interview with anti-human trafficking activist and educator, Jahyda Cortes

Devon Douglas-Bowers


What is human trafficking?


Human trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person who are the exploited for commercial sex or labor purposes. In other words, it’s modern day slavery, but rather than physical chains that keep the victims to their perpetrator they have emotional and mental chains. Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to get what they want from these victims. Nevertheless, those methods are not required if the victim who is being used for sexual purposes is under the age of 18. The term for one who falls under that category is CSEC, or the Commercial Exploitation of a Child.


What group(s) are more at risk for being victims of trafficking?


Anyone who has vulnerabilities can be a victim of human trafficking. Some examples of vulnerabilities would be:

  • Someone addicted to drugs
  • Someone in need of a job
  • Someone who not a US Citizen
  • Someone who is a US citizen


Basically anyone and everyone. Men. Women. Boys. Girls. Straight. LGBTQI. Educated. Uneducated.

The list goes on and on. Nevertheless, those who, in my opinion, are more at risk are runaways because within 48 hours they are likely to meet a pimp. The average entry-age for prostitution is 13 years old. They may have ran away because of a hard home life. There has been a rise in those who identify as LGBTQI as well, because they may have come out to their parents and got kicked out or are bullied. Someone comes along and offers these victims acceptance and love through the form of father, friend, or boyfriend.


While we may hear of human trafficking in the news every now and then, it seems to be an on/off subject. Why do you think that is?


In my opinion, the issue of human trafficking may not ‘stick’ because its bad news. No one wants to see an image of a 13 year old being addicted to drugs out on their streets trying to sell themselves. No one wants to think that while they’re looking up porn many of those involved in that industry are under aged forced to look like they enjoy what they’re doing. No one wants to see an image of someone their grandparents’ aged being forced to clean a house and being forced or threatened if they don’t comply. I think when people hear about this, they are either moved to passion or denial.


What drew you to want to be involved in anti-human trafficking work?


God. I was dissatisfied with what I was studying in college, prayed to the Creator and asked what He created me for, and was led to a book called ‘Half the Sky’ by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. As I read the book, my inner being was slowly becoming engulfed by this fire I couldn’t contain….a fire that fueled my passion and obsession with educating myself. I read books, watched documentaries, went to various coalition meetings, and researched various anti-trafficking organizations. What kept me going was not only each victim’s story and the pain that was on their face as they shared; but also the smile on those who went from victim to survivor. That they found healing and joy again in spite of! Four years later I found myself praying for a position after I graduated college and out of nowhere (or Heaven!) there was one near my home…a new program called Rescue and Restore hear in NJ.


Who are the beneficiaries of human trafficking? In other words, who/what groups economically benefit from human trafficking?


The traffickers are the beneficiaries. Those involved in the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person gets a portion. The victims see very little or no money. After drug trafficking, human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms trade as the SECOND largest criminal industry in the world. Some drug traffickers are even converting to becoming human traffickers. Once a bag of drugs is used it’s gone; however, you can misuse and abuse an individual an unlimited amount of times. One woman for example can ‘satisfy’ 40 men a day…you can’t use one bag of drugs to satisfy 40 men.


In what ways can people aid in the fight against human trafficking?


Educate yourself. No matter your profession you can fight against human trafficking: tattoo artists can offer free cover-ups for tattoos on victims used as marking of territory; hairstylists can offer free haircuts to those victims in shelters so that they can feel a little bit better about themselves; hotels can establish a protocol and educate staff on what to do if the hotel rooms are being used for escort services; writers [like you] can publish articles to bring awareness; the list goes on and on. Donations in the form of gift cards, requested items, clothing, etc. will assist the victims of human trafficking. Volunteer. Get involved with a coalition or organization to be in the loop of human trafficking happening in your community. And stop watching porn. Trafficking exists because the demand for sex still exists.


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