FAILING TO UNDERSTAND

[NOTE: This post references an article I posted on our FaceBook page. For those of you not following us on FB, I’m providing a link to NCO Justice Coalition so you have the opportunity to read it for yourself.]

Ohio teen charged with raping 4 children

Dominique Seem

As we speak to the girls and boys detained in the detention wing of the Erie County Justice Center, we illustrate how the economic model of supply and demand is at work within the crime of human sex trafficking. This may be a rather grotesque application of the model, but a valid one nonetheless: producer, consumer, and product/service: the pimp who forcibly enslaves and then sells the victim to a predator who is in the market to rape her/him: producer-pimp, consumer-predator, and service-victim.

With the girls our goal is to equip them to be proactive; for them to have the necessary knowledge to NOT become a victim. [NOTE: Oftentimes the girls we’re working with add to OUR information base! Being THE demographic traffickers are looking to ‘groom’ (female, early teens, vulnerable (broken) in some way), they experience this active recruitment around them in their everyday lives ALL of the time. There have been sessions when we’ve walked away wondering who taught who more… them or us! But this simply serves to underscore that this phenomenon is very real and happening in ALL of our communities.]

With the boys our emphasis tends in a different direction. While we certainly hope the arc of their lives doesn’t take them on a path to becoming a pimp, our more immediate focus attempts to shine light on cultural factors that, if not recognized and examined, could possibly lead them to becoming buyers of sex. And I wish to emphasize the ‘possibly’ part of that last sentence. While sexual objectification, harassment, dating violence, acquaintance rape, and pornography increasingly proliferate our culture (indeed, many global cultures), statistics that I have seen suggest that it is only a small percentage of males who actually cross the line into the domain of human trafficking; repeatedly gratify their sexual urges by seeking out and then purchasing a minor victim to rape for half an hour to an hour. And yet, even if only a small percentage… that is nevertheless, WAY too much.

But then along comes a story such as the one unfolding in Warren, Ohio and I find myself at a complete loss to even begin to fathom how an 18-year-old boy could EVER be motivated to (allegedly) rape four children ages 2 – 9. This is a level of brokenness that screams at me for understanding. How does one so young develop a mindset leading to such egregious acts? What have been the mitigating factors in his upbringing that have helped foster his psychological state?

And just so you’re aware, while I may be limiting the stories I post to our FaceBook NCO Justice Coalition site to those pertaining to Ohio, these types of incidents do pop up from time to time in my Google Alerts from around the country: perpetrators far too young, abusing even younger children. They’re not widespread, mind you, but they do occur with a regularity that I find both unsettling and alarming.

In our neat, almost textbook presentations to teen boys, there is a noticeable gap between the cultural factors we present and how that could possibly connect to a life like Dominique Seem. And realistically, even not knowing any of the background factors in this young man’s life, there likely ISN’T a neat, connect the dots like trajectory. His are some incredibly deep psychological woes.

But rather than becoming dejected by this story, it serves to bolster my motivation to do what I know how to do best… teach. While I may not always appreciate the value our presentations may (or may not) be having on the recipients, it is SO important to me to keep up the effort. We certainly don’t have all the answers and likely aren’t even asking all of the pertinent questions… but I remain confident that we ARE presenting at least a glimmer of the culture in which these young men are growing up in. And that culture IS grooming them to believe that somehow, just because they’re males, they have a certain entitlement when it comes to sex and relationships… an entitlement that doesn’t include young ladies as part of an interdependent equation… an entitlement, thereby, which isn’t entirely healthy. And THIS is a message worthy of spreading.

How Our Message Has Evolved

In the late spring of 2013 when we began this Justice Coalition journey, the people who were drawn to gather at The Chapel (Sandusky campus) had hearts on fire to do whatever was possible to eradicate human trafficking. Our formative discussions focused on just what exactly we COULD contribute to the fight against the scourge of modern day slavery.

As we moved into that summer, a continuing conversation prompted by our study of “The Just Church” by Jim Martin, helped clarify that ours could become a meaningful voice by educating the community about the reality of sex trafficking… not just overseas… not just in Cleveland or Toledo… but right HERE in our midst. That emphasis has not changed. We now have a bevy of presentations designed for various target audiences: public, parents, teens, church groups.

Then in the winter of 2015 we began a relationship with the Erie County Justice Center that continues to this day, regularly speaking to the teens in the detention wing. What is different about these presentations is that they aren’t given to a mixed group, but separately to the girls and then the boys. Making that adjustment was when our message began to evolve.

We sat in that room at the detention center listening to the girls share the vulnerabilities and threats they encounter on an almost daily basis and listened as the boys touted a perspective akin to entitlement. And it began to dawn that for these kids, the potential for human trafficking was very real… a highly possible endgame (victims for the girls; buyers for the boys). It seemed that to really have any sort of meaningful impact, we had to start digging into the cultural factors with which these kids are being bombarded… talking about human trafficking wasn’t enough… somehow we needed to be equipping them with knowledge about the world around them that they could use to be proactive in their own lives (if they so chose).

Sometimes we walk away from those sessions wondering if any of it got through. But then from to time we receive an encouragement such as the two that follow… encouragements that let us know that we’re on the right track… that these kids want and benefit from learning more about topics such as internet predators, sexual harassment, acquaintance rape, dating violence, and pornography. Difficult subjects for sure. But we now have developed further resources (PowerPoint presentations) to address these in ways suitable for middle thru high school groups, mixed or separate, and also for parents and caregivers.

Sooo… for those who are also following us on our FaceBook site, expect to see postings on those subjects as news organizations in Ohio report on them. And in subsequent blogs know that I will be exploring these cultural topics in much more depth, so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!

Until next week…