I went to a conference. Came home with that poster.
John Hopkins, indicted last week on 62 counts, allegedly tied a woman to a radiator, raped her for days, made her his sexual slave. She says he bought her a one-way ticket to New York, picked her up at the airport, took her home to torture her. This almost sounds like human trafficking. He bought the ticket, deceived her. But he didn't sell her. If the story is even true.
He has a plausible rebuttal. He says that theirs was a consensual dom/subdom relationship. She wanted this, to be tied up, handcuffed.
And the Craig's List ad wasn't his, Mr. Hopkins tells us, it was hers. She was looking for this type of sexual relationship.
Jurisprudence will decide if anyone is guilty, but there is a world of difference between sexual slavery and a consensual dominant/subdominant relationship.
As the poster implies, modern-day human trafficking used to be about kidnapping women and children from other countries for the purposes of prostitution here. I got the sense, at the conference, that it is also about moving people from place to place for the purposes of other types of exploitation. They passed out the poster in the last five minutes, didn't define it very well.
But we know that children and adults are persuaded every day to follow other people to places they would never go otherwise, to do things they don't want to do. They are typically beaten, raped, blackmailed, drugged, and photographed, and the timing isn't necessarily immediate. Victims are sometimes groomed for abuse, slowly convinced that the job, whatever it is, is in their best interests. Financially and emotionally dependent, unable to leave, they are vulnerable to whatever the "job description."
Some predators target immigrants looking for work, offer salary and opportunity they couldn't find anywhere else.Once a person is dependent upon someone else for a job, it is hard to leave.
Some victims, not necessarily immigrants, but children, or lonely people looking for relationships, are found in the safety of their own homes, online either in chat rooms or social networking sites. They might be photographed from webcams, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not. The predator's objective may or may not be to lure the victim somewhere else.
They look for the vulnerable, the gullible-- unhappy people, especially kids-- who can be persuaded, coerced into relationships. It's all exploitative, sometimes for porn, sometimes voyeurism, sometimes rape or prostitution.
Dangle the prospect of easy money, the hopes of a modeling or acting career, and if you're young and pretty you might believe it, believe in yourself and your prospects. It all sounds very exciting, certainly to people who don't know the ways of this country, don't necessarily understand English. Sometimes the offer is a safe place to hang out and party. Kids can't buy alcohol and drugs without help. Make them a home away from home.
A predator or a trafficker will try to be a friend or a mentor, will slowly build the relationship, get closer and closer, more and more intimate to gain trust. Stalking with digital technology, the computer, the phone, an empathetic predator listens to problems, consoles, grooms the relationship. Sexting may become a part of it eventually. It starts with a little shoulder. You look great in that shirt. Unbutton the top button. Every kid has a webcam these days. Sometimes a predator will wait a year before suggesting a meeting.
Victims have often been abused before, may even have sex addictions. Sex is life, why not be paid, voluntary participants. They become runaways, but they are running to.
Or they are kids who post on Facebook or blog about being depressed, misunderstood. Ironically, kids who are lured to meet a predator often think they are going to a party. Alcohol and drugs in exchange for your attendance.
Room and board in exchange for housekeeping, cooking.
The story about Mr. Hopkins, whether any of it is true or not, brings the whole concept of sexual slavery and predation, too, to public consciousness. As an interstate or international crime, these are concerns of the FBI and state's attorneys offices. The poster above, for mental health professionals, makes us aware of the problem. We're supposed to tell you: Watch out-- people are not always what they seem.
People who answer ads looking for consensual dom/subdom, or dominant-subdominant relationships are usually old enough to know what they like. They trust that they will not really be hurt. Theirs is an intimate, misunderstood population. They are looking for love.
"Why did she do this to me?" Mr. Hopkins is said to have asked when the police apprehended him, took him to jail. We would have to do a complete psycho-social medical evaluation to provide the answer.
But we can tell him, and anyone else who will listen, that finding love on Craig's List might not be the safest way to go about finding a long-lasting, fulfilling relationship, or even a short-term, happy relationship, although maybe it's possible.
Just get to know the person first, before getting too close, before having a sleep over, even. Take a few weeks, maybe months.
To really know someone, it can take years.
Linda Freedman, PhD, LCSW, LMFT