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Youth Collaboratory

Sex trafficking is happening in the U.S. — and young people need to know about it.

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MANY

Have you witnessed sex trafficking? Your first response is probably "no." But many of us have seen it — we just didn't realize it at the time.

Maybe you remember a friend that suddenly started coming to school with much nicer clothes and a new cellphone, which she said were "gifts" from someone older. Or you may recall that guy who seemed a little bit too old to be dating a classmate, even if she was "technically 18." Maybe you encountered someone's sketchy "older friend" at a party who had the hookup for drugs or alcohol, or a classmate who wanted to “introduce you" to an unfamiliar crowd.

It might have been the woman who hung around the bus stop for no clear reason, the man who was chatting up teens at rest stops, or a friend's "modeling manager" making promises that just seemed too good to be true.


The reality is that sex trafficking doesn't just happen in faraway places. In fact, young people are sexually exploited — forced to perform sexual acts for money or other resources like food, shelter, or support —in every state in the U.S.This even includes sex trafficking of youth under the age of 18.

The reality is, though, that we aren't always quick to recognize it.

[rebelmouse-image 19397870 dam="1" original_size="5184x3456" caption="Photo by Victor Van Welden/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Victor Van Welden/Unsplash.

Learning what sex trafficking looks like is the first step to ensuring it doesn't happen to us or someone we care about. These 15 facts about youth sex trafficking and exploitation in the U.S. are a great place to start.

1. Yes, sexual exploitation could happen to anyone — including you.

While some youth, like those who are homeless or transgender, are especially vulnerable, the reality is that victims do exist across every demographic. They could be the class valedictorian, the boy who lives across the street from you, or the captain of the cheer squad.

“The victims that I come in contact with come from all different walks of life," says Mirielle Milne, Youth Catalyst for MANY and Advocate for The Jonah Project. “But I do think people get it in their mind that it is a certain type of person."

Traffickers don't discriminate and they're experienced in manipulation. They're looking for a person's vulnerabilities, and if they're able to find them, virtually anyone can be a target.

2. Traffickers may take on a generous and caring persona as part of a tactic called "grooming."

“Grooming" follows a few predictable steps. First a victim is targeted, usually because they appear to be struggling emotionally, have lower self-esteem, or need resources like a job, money, or a place to live.

The trafficker then establishes trust by befriending the victim all while learning more about them, like where they live, who their family and friends are, and what their insecurities might be.

3. And at first, the behavior of a sexual trafficker might not seem threatening at all.

Traffickers know that before they can exploit someone, they first have to earn their trust.

For example, a victim might be led to believe that a person they've connected with online just wants to be a friend. They might even help them through a difficult time. According to Milne, this kind of behavior is designed to make victims feel cared for, special, and even protected.

But this “friend" will gradually become a little more than friendly, perhaps even making grand, romantic gestures and promises.

4. Trafficking can even begin with something that seems harmless, like a job opportunity, gift, or innocent “favor."

For example, a trafficker posing as a modeling manager might set up a careful ruse by taking a victim to photoshoots and gigs that seem perfectly legitimate. Other times, traffickers might offer to help a struggling teen by buying them clothes or lending them money. Sometimes, it's even a family member that will lure youth in with a “job," insisting they need help to make ends meet.

This is all in an effort to make the victim feel as if they “owe" something to the trafficker, which they'll use later on to pressure and control their victim.

Arash Ghafoori, Executive Director at the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth (NPHY), says it's that “need" that becomes the entry point into exploitation. “[Traffickers] lure youth into victimization — whether it be through love, or through drugs, or through support," he explains. “[Whatever youth] are desperately seeking."

Youth Survivor, Kristi House Project GOLD.

5. But sexual exploitation doesn't always happen overnight.

Part of why exploitation is so sinister is that it can happen gradually, making it more difficult to see at first. According to Lenore Jean-Baptiste, Project Coordinator at NPHY, some traffickers take a year or more to lure their victims and earn their trust before ever trying to sexually exploit them. Other times, an exploitative family member or peer might take advantage of the trust they've already earned to manipulate victims.

6. The trust they earn allows them to slowly escalate their abuse.

As a trafficker becomes a more central part of their victim's life, they begin to isolate them from family and friends. This can involve pitting them against their loved ones, or even controlling their phone and internet usage.

When the victim becomes completely dependent, the trafficker then demands sexual acts as repayment for the “debt" owed.

As Ghafoori explains, “As that dependency — whether it be from a relationship or a resource point of view — is developed, it turns into the sexual exploitation … these are used as tools for trade."

7. And traffickers are getting smarter about how they find and learn about their victims, too.

Social media is a tool often used by traffickers. Not only is it easy to find and contact victims through social media, it's easy to gather information about them, and keep track of their whereabouts and their support system.

“Youth are not [always] going through the person's page to see who they are," explains Jean-Baptiste.

“They introduce themselves via social media, and a lot of times, [they're] promising careers," she continues. At a time in which self-made stars are born online, the prospect of a modeling gig coming from Instagram doesn't seem so far-fetched.

8. And once they have information on their victims, traffickers can blackmail them.

Many traffickers use threats to keep victims under their control. They might threaten to harm a victim's family members or friends, or claim that they'll publish photos or videos of the abuse to shame and expose their victim.

Some traffickers coerce victims into having children as well, and will blackmail victims using their children as leverage, either by threatening to take them away or harm them.

9. Fear of law enforcement can make it difficult for victims to reach out for help, too.

Traffickers can also take advantage of an existing fear of law enforcement, making claims that victims won't be believed, or that they will be arrested for prostitution or drug use if they come forward.

People of color who might have an existing fear of police brutality struggle even more with this. “Now we're talking about historical trauma between communities [of color] and police officers," Jean-Baptiste says. “A lot of times traffickers can use those kinds of stories and experiences to make individuals feel fearful."

10. Self-blame can also make it difficult to leave even though it's never the victim's fault.

Many victims feel responsible for the abuse and exploitation they've endured, which can, in turn, make them believe they're not victims at all. Self-blame is often a big part of the trauma they experience. They feel that, by accepting money, gifts, or friendship, the abuse was their own fault.

But even if they feel that way, victims are never to blame. “It doesn't matter if you got money, it doesn't matter if you got to keep all the money," Jean-Baptiste says. “If you felt you had to engage in that activity for any survival or need … then it's exploitation."

Advocates like Milne agree, affirming that when we're talking about youth, sexual exploitation is never a job or a choice — and certainly never a victim's fault.

Traffickers use powerful abuse tactics to ensure that victims will give into their demands, and that manipulation is designed to be difficult to identify and resist. The only person responsible for abuse is the perpetrator of that abuse — no matter what a victim does or doesn't do.

11. Trauma can even be powerful enough to drive victims back to their traffickers after they've escaped their control.

If you've ever seen a victim of abuse and wondered why they didn't just leave or why they went back, it's a phenomenon known as “trauma-coerced bonding."

This is an emotional attachment that victims form with their abusers, and it's unfortunately very common. Traffickers' initial acts of kindness and generosity make a strong impression on their victims. As the exploitation worsens, the trafficker can keep up that image by switching back and forth between positive attention and abusive behavior to keep victims hooked.

[rebelmouse-image 19397872 dam="1" original_size="4650x3100" caption="Photo by Carlos Arthur/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Carlos Arthur/Unsplash.

“We're trying to tell [these youth] that this person is a trafficker… how do you say that to somebody about the person they've been having dinner with every single night for the last year?" says Jean-Baptiste. “It's hard because they've now had a relationship… [sometimes with] years involved."

12. But there is hope and support waiting for victims.

Despite these obstacles, help for victims does exist. “There is help and there are people that are looking for [you] and do care," Jean-Baptiste says.

If you believe that you or someone you know might be at risk or is being victimized, the National Human Trafficking Hotline can help. You can text 233733, use the chat feature on their website, or call them at 888-373-7888. They can connect you with local organizations and support to figure out your next steps.

If there's any possibility that an abusive person has access to your phone or internet history, clear your internet history, and consider using a payphone or borrowing someone else's phone instead.

[rebelmouse-image 19397873 dam="1" original_size="5184x3456" caption="Photo by Jenna Jacobs/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Jenna Jacobs/Unsplash.

13. Recognizing the red flags can make a big difference, too.

Knowing what to look for, and being aware of what healthy relationships do and don't look like, can be lifesaving for young people.

For example, Jean-Baptiste advises caution when someone offers you a gift. Before accepting anything, always ask if there's an expectation to pay that person back or reciprocate.

And if anyone tells you to do something with your body or pressures you, it's time to reach out for support. “You should have the full right to consent to what you do with your body," she says.

14. Don't allow a trafficker to be the first person to validate someone who's struggling.

If you're not a victim yourself, it's important to check in with your peers who may be having a tough time. If a trafficker is the first person to reach out to someone who's struggling, those individuals are much more likely to be exploited.

“We need to be more involved in our community," Milne says, noting that young people who feel supported by those around them are less likely to look to an abusive person for validation.

Jean-Baptiste says this is why young people whose families or communities have all but abandoned them, like homeless and LGBTQ+ youth, are frequent targets. “[Traffickers are] willing to have [a] conversation… that we're not having in our community."

If communities can fill the needs that traffickers try to exploit, those young people would be much safer.

15. And remember, your body is yours. Period.

Too often, it's suggested to young people — especially teens — that they should defer to the adults in their lives when making decisions. However, when it comes to our bodies, the only person in charge is you.

[rebelmouse-image 19397874 dam="1" original_size="2992x2000" caption="Photo by Oscar Obians/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Oscar Obians/Unsplash.

“No one should tell you that you have to do anything with your body… [they have] no right, no access, no privilege," Jean-Baptiste says. “You belong to you."

When we're educated and vigilant, we can make a difference in our communities! Learn more about how to get involved, and help us work towards a future where youth are no longer victimized.

A young mom with her kids in the ER.

Sage Pasch’s unique family situation has attracted a lot of attention recently. The 20-something mother of 2 shared a 6-second TikTok video on September 29 that has been viewed over 33 million times because it shows how hard it can be for young moms to be taken seriously.

In the video, the young-looking Pasch took her son Nick to the ER after he injured his leg at school. But when the family got to the hospital, the doctor couldn’t believe Pasch was his mother. “POV, we’re at the ER, and the doctor didn’t believe I was the parent,” she captioned the post.


Pasch and her fiancé , Luke Faircloth, adopted the teen in 2022 after his parents tragically died two years apart. “Nick was already spending so much time with us, so it made sense that we would continue raising him,” Pasch told Today.com.

The couple also has a 17-month-old daughter named Lilith.

@coffee4lifesage

He really thought i was lying😭

Pasch says that people are often taken aback by her family when they are out in public. "Everybody gets a little confused because my fiancé and I are definitely younger to have a teenager," she said. "It can be very frustrating."

It may be hard for the young parents to be taken seriously, but their story has made a lot of people in a similar situation feel seen. "Omg, I feel this. I took my son to the ER, and they asked for the guardian. Yes, hi, that's me," Brittany wrote in the comments. "Meee with my teenager at a parent-teacher conference. They think I’m her older sister and say we need to talk with your parents," KatMonroy added.


This article originally appeared on 10.24.23

Photo by Tod Perry

A recreation of the note left on Brooke Lacey's car.

If you are having thoughts about taking your own life, or know of anyone who is in need of help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255) or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line: 741741.


There’s an old Hebrew saying that if you “save one life, you save the world entire.” Who knows if Brooke Lacey, 22, had that lofty goal when she began a campaign in 2020 to help uplift people’s spirits during the first COVID-19 wave.

But her kind efforts may have done just that.

Lacey has struggled with mental health issues throughout her life and she knew that people like her were going to have a really hard time during COVID-19 lockdowns. A study from May 2021 found that the New Zealand population had “higher depression and anxiety compared with population norms.” The study also found that “younger people” and “those most at risk of COVID-19 reported poorer mental health.”



To help those who may be struggling, Lacey printed 600 stickers with an uplifting message and posted them around places where people may take their lives, including trains, bridges and large bodies of water in Wellington, New Zealand. She also made a bumper sticker with the same message for her car.

The stickers spoke directly to those who may be contemplating taking their own life. “Please don’t take your life today,” the stickers read. “The world is so much better with you in it. More than you realize, stay.”

Earlier this month, Lacey parked her car in her university’s lot and when she returned to her vehicle to leave, she noticed a note was affixed to the windshield. Thinking it was someone complaining about how she parked or a ticket, she prepared for the worst but wound up being blindsided by the positive message.

“I left my house with a plan and asked for a sign, any sign, I was doing the right thing when I saw your car in the parking lot. Thank you,” the note read. At first, Lacey wasn’t sure what the person was referring to, then she remembered her homemade bumper sticker.

“I had these made so long ago, put one on my car and forgot about them, until now,” she tweeted on her since deactivated account. “I am so glad whoever you are chose to stay today. You never know who needs this reminder.”

Now, it’s unclear exactly what the person’s “plan” was, but there's no doubt that Lacey’s bumper sticker inspired them to choose life. Let’s hope that the sticker also inspired them to seek professional help for whatever difficulties they are going through.

Whether it was intentional or not, Lacey’s sticker was effective because it followed one of the most important strategies that people use at suicide hotlines. According to Science.org, it’s of utmost importance that people contemplating suicide are handled with “respect and empathy.”

Lacey's story is a beautiful reminder of the power that one simple, thoughtful gesture can have on another person’s life. Every day, there are people all around us who are looking for a sign to give them a reason keep going. Whether it’s a hug, a smile or the right message in the right place at the right time, we should all be like Lacey and make sure everyone knows that the world is better with them in it. In fact, much more than they ever realize.


This article originally appeared on 02.24.22

Joy

Gen X has hit 'that stage' of life and is not handling it very well

We are NOT prepared for Salt-n-Pepa to replace Michael McDonald in the waiting room at the doctor's office, thankyouverymuch.

Gen X is eating dinner earlier and earlier. It's happening.

The thing about Gen X being in our 40s and 50s now is that we were never supposed to get "old." Like, we're the cool, aloof grunge generation of young tech geniuses. Most of the giants that everyone uses every day—Google, Amazon, YouTube—came from Gen X. Our generation is both "Friends" and "The Office." We are, like, relevant, dammit.

And also, our backs hurt, we need reading glasses, our kids are in college and how in the name of Jennifer Aniston's skincare regimen did we get here?

It's weird to reach the stage when there's no doubt that you aren't young anymore. Not that Gen X is old—50 is the new 30, you know—but we're definitely not young. And it seems like every day there's something new that comes along to shove that fact right in our faces. When did hair start growing out of that spot? Why do I suddenly hate driving at night? Why is this restaurant so loud? Does that skin on my arm look…crepey?


As they so often do, Penn and Kim Holderness from The Holderness Family have captured the Gen X existential crisis in a video that has us both nodding a long and laughing out loud. Salt-n-Pepa in the waiting room at the doctor's office? Uh, no. That's a line we are not ready to cross yet. Nirvana being played on the Classic Rock station? Nope, not prepared for that, either.

Watch:

Hoo boy, the denial is real, isn't it? We grew up on "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, for goodness sake, and it's starting to feel like we made a wrong choice a chapter or two back and suddenly landed our entire generation in a time warp. This isn't real, is it? Thirty years ago was the 1970s. That's just a Gen X fact. So what if we've lived long enough for our high school fashions to go out of style and then back into style and then back out of style again?

Seriously, though, we can either lament our age and stage in life or we can laugh about it, and people are grateful to the Holdernesses for assisting with the latter. Gen X fans are also thrilled to see their own experiences being validated, because at this point, we've all had that moment in the grocery store or the waiting room when one of our jams came on and we immediately went into a panic.

"They were playing The Cure in the grocery store and I almost started crying," wrote one commenter. "I mean, how 'alternative' can you be if you're being played in Krogers? You guys are great! Thanks for making us laugh."

"I couldn’t believe it when I heard Bohemian Rhapsody being played in Walmart," shared another. "That was edgy in my day."

"I know!!! Bon Jovi at the grocery store!!! That was my clue in!!" added another.

"Long live Gen Xers! We have to be strong!! We can get through this together!! #NKOTBmeetsAARP" wrote on commenter.You can find more from the Holderness Family on their Facebook page, their podcast and their website, theholdernessfamily.com.


This article originally appeared on 1.28.24

Pop Culture

Why Gotye gave up $10 million in ad revenue from his 'Somebody That I Used to Know' video

The humble singer-songwriter's story is a cautionary tale of viral fame.

Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" video has 2.2 billion views on YouTube.

For most musicians, creating a hit song and making it big on the international stage would be living the dream. For Gotye, it turned out to be a bit of a nightmare.

Gotye is the stage name of Wouter "Wally" De Backer, the singer-songwriter behind the 2011 smash hit song, "Somebody That I Used to Know." The music video for the song becoming one of YouTube's most-liked videos, and with 2.2 billion views, the video could have earned over $10 million in ad revenue.

But De Backer has refused to place ads on it, saying, "I'm not interested in selling my music. That's the reason I don't put ads on my YouTube channel, which seems strange to people in today's climate, but that is a decision you can make. I'm like that with all my music."

It was the fame that came with the virality of the song that was the bigger issue for the artist, however. It's a simple enough thing to turn down money, but there's not much you can do to stop a viral wave.


The song took six months to write and produce, and when the video leaked a week before its official release, it quickly caught fire. At first, De Backer was just excited that his song was being played on the radio. Then the virality online took hold and that was also exciting for a while.

From the start, De Backer was grateful for the song's success, but he also managed to stayed simple and humble. He didn't buy anything large or luxurious with the money he made from song sales, being content to drive his old van. And when he was asked what was the best thing that happened in the previous year, he responded, "It probably wouldn't be anything to do with a marker of success of my song or my album. More something like a really great swim I took at Summer's Beach near where I live."

Soon the covers and parodies of the "Somebody That I Used to Know" grew more widespread and the quality of them began to wane, De Backer began to feel "burnt out" on it all. He had no control over people connecting name with whatever they were hearing done to his song, which was frustrating. He started to feel the pressures that come with fame, to have a certain personality or to follow up his huge hit with another huge hit. And he missed feeling like he had a personal connection with his audience, which becomes difficult at a certain scale.

He even began to feel self-conscious about the popularity of the song due to its theme—two people who had broken up and couldn't work out their differences. The fact that so many people were celebrating it so fiercely was uncomfortable for him; he didn't want to be responsible for spreading more angst or bitterness in the world. And then came the "overplayed" and "annoying" era of oversaturation. He even apologized to people for having to hear the song so often because radios wouldn't stop playing it.

Ultimately, he ceased putting out music as a solo artist and focused on making music with his long-time band, The Basics. There is a possibility for another solo Gotye project sometime in the next decade, but he's probably hoping he doesn't end up with a big hit next time around.

Watch SunnyV2 tell the story of Gotye's "one hit wonder" experience and how it impacted his musical career:

It's a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks they want to be famous or wishes they'd have a song go viral. Parts of that experience can be great, but fame isn't always everything it's cracked up to be.

via Pexels

A woman sitting cross-legged on a yoga mat

Everyone wants to know how long they will live and there are many indicators that can show whether someone is thriving or on the decline. But people have yet to develop a magic formula to determine exactly how long someone should expect to live.

However, a doctor recently featured on the "Today" show says a straightforward test can reveal the likelihood that someone aged 51 to 80 will die in the near future.

NBC News medical contributor Dr. Natalie Azar was on the "Today" show on March 8 and demonstrated how to perform the simple “sit to stand test” (aka sit-rising test or SRT) that can help determine the longevity of someone between 51 to 80.


The test is pretty simple. Go from standing to sitting cross-legged, and then go back to standing without using any parts of your body besides your legs and core to help you get up and down. The test measures multiple longevity factors, including heart health, balance, agility, core and leg strength and flexibility.

You begin the test with a score of 10 and subtract points on your way up and down for doing the following:

Hand used for support: -1 point

Knee used for support: -1 point

Forearm used for support: -1 point

One hand on knee or thigh: -1 point

Side of leg used for support: -1 point

A 2012 study published by the European Society of Cardiology found a correlation between the SRT score and how long people live. The study was conducted on 2002 people, 68% of whom were men, who performed the SRT test and were followed by researchers in the coming years. The study found that “Musculoskeletal fitness, as assessed by SRT, was a significant predictor of mortality in 51–80-year-old subjects.”

Those who scored in the lowest range, 0 to 3, had up to a 6 times greater chance of dying than those in the highest scores (8 to 10). About 40% of those in the 0 to 3 range died within 11 years of the study.

Azar distilled the study on "Today," saying: "The study found that the lower the score, you were seven times more likely to die in the next six years.”

"Eight points or higher is what you want," Azar said. "As we get older, we spend time talking cardiovascular health and aerobic fitness, but balance, flexibility and agility are also really important," she stressed.

One should note that the people who scored lowest on the test were the oldest, giving them an elevated risk of death.

Dr. Greg Hartley, Board Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist and associate professor at the University of Miami, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that we should take the study with a grain of salt. “Frailty, strength, muscle mass, physical performance—those things are all correlated to mortality, but I would caution everybody that correlation doesn’t mean causation,” he said.

And of course, the test doesn't take into account injuries or disabilities that may make doing the test impossible. But one of the study's authors says that the study is a call to take our mobility seriously.

“The more active we are the better we can accommodate stressors, the more likely we are to handle something bad that happens down the road,” Dr. Claudio Gil Araujo, told USA Today.


This article originally appeared on 3.10.23