Though I’m 19 years old and living away from home, my mom still gives me the “stay safe” speech every time I go out.
“Text me every 2 minutes, don’t get in a car with someone you don’t know, don’t meet up with anyone who invites you to a club or party.”
Growing up in Miami, all of my friends’ mothers told us the same things: “Stay in a group, don’t take drugs from strangers, please don’t go downtown tonight.” And they were right. Everyone has a close call. Mine happened when I was 15. It was the weekend of my Quinceañera, and I was spending a weekend in South Beach with some close friends. While sitting on the terrace of our small hotel, my friends and I were approached by a tall, extremely handsome man on a bike. He pulled up to where we were sitting.
“Do you beautiful ladies like to party? I just moved here from California and me and my friends are throwing a party. Would you like to come?” He said.
His accent was definitely not Californian, unless California had suddenly become part of Eastern Europe. Ani, my more outspoken friend immediately spoke up.
“Come on, how old are you guys? Are you twenty-one? You look twenty-one.”
We most certainly did not. “We’re fifteen. Sorry.”
“Hm,” he paused. “Well, do you like my bike?”
“No. You can go now.”
He rode away, and we all laughed, but it confirmed to me the reality of what our parents had warned us about.
Due to its huge tourism industry, Miami is a hub for human trafficking, both for importing and exporting victims. Thankfully, I grew up with a mom who warned me and constantly reminded me about the very real danger of becoming a victim. I grew up exposed to books, magazines, and articles that gave out out lists of signs to look out for.
— LiveYourDream.org (@LYDorg) January 19, 2017
Not everybody did though. I have friends who I know would have 100% attended that “party,” thinking they were just signing up for a good time. And it’s not just absent-minded friends who can fall victim - a huge target for traffickers are undocumented immigrants. A lack of papers coupled with not knowing the language, and a fear of going to the police if a relative or themselves are approached by human traffickers makes for a very vulnerable population.
Ending human trafficking begins with a conversation. Educating those who just don’t know. It can be telling a friend what to look for when out by themselves, or sharing articles and resources with people who may not have access to them. Forwarding a quick safety presentation or awareness article to an underserved school district might change a curriculum (and a life) forever.
Valerie Toledo is from Miami, Florida. She’s a Communication major at the University of Pennsylvania, and enjoys singing, reading, and writing in her free time. The secret to her friendship is quoting classic vines to her face.