First published by Houston Chronicle, January 3, 2018
Last month, the #MeToo movement was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and rightfully so. One in 6 men and 1 in 4 women has been sexually assaulted in his or her lifetime. That being said, many #MeToo stories remain untold. In the midst of the movement, victims of child sex trafficking hid in the shadows.
One of these victims is Summer Licon, who is now 19 years old.
When I first met Summer, she wore black Converse and a grey t-shirt with “Harvard” written across the chest. Every few minutes, she pulled up the skinny jeans too big for her thin body, as she struggled to find the words she so rarely repeated.
“I was raped,” she said, hiding her pain behind her smile. But this wasn’t the first time. Since she was fourteen years old, Summer had been raped by hundreds of men.
A few years ago, I imagined Taken’s Liam Neeson riddling dozens of men with gunshots whenever I heard the term “sex trafficking.” Then, I met Summer and realized that I had it all wrong.
Like most victims, Summer doesn’t have a parent like Neeson to fight the men who raped her. In fact, she is one of the 86 percent of victims who had been abused as a child. Her mother beat and starved her until she left her on the streets. Her father was MIA.
Summer also wasn’t abducted like Neeson’s daughter. She was a fourteen-year-old girl looking for food and shelter after she became homeless. Men recognized this vulnerability and provided her basic needs in exchange for sex.
And, most importantly, Summer wasn’t trapped in the international sex trade. Born and raised in Round Rock, Texas, she was an American girl sexually exploited by American men – married, wealthy, prominent police officers, politicians, and businessmen.
In fact, Summer is one of 79,000 victims of child sex trafficking in Texas alone, but she, like many others, has fallen through the cracks. When movies dictate our perceptions of reality, we miss the victims that walk amongst us.
Tally Jorn, the Program Coordinator at Allies Against Slavery, agrees. “Only 306 of the 79,000 victims were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline this year,” she said. “The only way to combat this statistic is by raising awareness.”
While awareness of child sex trafficking has improved with the recent hire of the director of human trafficking prevention in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Kim Grabert, we must do more.
We need to follow organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Shared Hope International and Polaris Project to learn more about child sex trafficking. We need to listen to survivors when they share their stories.
Fortunately, the majority of Americans cannot claim #MeToo to the brutal realities of child sex trafficking. But more Summer Licons surround us than we imagine. As we enter the New Year – and the 8th annual Human Trafficking Awareness Month – we ought to start standing up for #ThemToo.