Daniel Lemke biked 12,608 miles in 15 months to raise awareness about human trafficking. I interviewed him in Colorado in September of 2016, just a couple months after he completed his tour around the perimeter of the United States.
As January 11th is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and Daniel recently published a book about his experience, called Kissing Lions, I wanted to share this interview with you. I’ll be sharing additional resources this month as well. Human trafficking is modern day slavery, and is happening right under our noses.
Me: What are some things you have learned about sex trafficking over the past 15 months?
Daniel: Most victims are runaways or from the foster care system. In fact, 1 out of 3 runaways will be trafficked. [According to heatwatch.org, two in every three kids will be approached by an exploiter within 48 hours of running away from home.]
This is some of the slang and vocabulary associated with sex trafficking I learned:
Survivors of sex trafficking are called “sparrow.”
Victims are a “commodity,” “item,” “product,” or “the bottom bitch.” From the outside we see them as a prostitute, stripper, and/or pornstar.
A pimp (male) or madam (female) are the “care providers,” “boyfriend,” “captor,” or “sugar daddy.”
The second in command, who will recruit and basically do anything for the pimp, is called “the Bottom Bitch.”
A gentlemen or “good guy pimp” is called a “Romeo Pimp.”
An aggressive or abusive pimp (like in the movie Taken) is called a “Gorilla pimp.”
A John is the client.
Me: What are some red flags to look for?
Daniel: I’ll give you an example. I had an experience during an open mic night at a café in western Colorado. The barrista knew nothing about the menu and the woman in charge, the “boss lady,” was constantly looking over her shoulder and had shifty eyes when a man would come in.
At one point, a man in a suit entered, acting like he owned the place. Pulling the boss lady aside, he kissed her and held her arm. I overheard him call the women “baby girl,” and his demeanor shifted as he chatted with the men around the room. The waitresses were flirty with the male customers, and were very good at flirting.
So all these signs made me suspicious: not knowing the menu, the manager being pulled aside, the charming gentleman addressing all the men, and the flirty women.
Nail salons and massage parlors are also often covers for sex trafficking. Usually if it has the word “lily,” it can be a code word.
Me: How does the customer find the place?
Daniel: Numbers on bathroom stalls and ads in newspapers can all be codes. Craigslist or backpages.com have entire sections dedicated to adult services.
Me: What are some signs that a child is being trafficked?
Daniel: Pay attention to who they are with and where they are they looking. Are they cowering? You should look for markings, bruising, tattoos behind the ear, on the chest, on other places you can’t see, or on the lip. They often won’t have any form of ID and will often be absent from school.
In my travels, I often used Couch Surfing to find places to stay. I once stayed with a pimp. I was able to ask him lots of questions. He told me the youngest kid he found was 16. He often found his victims by going to a mall or fair. He would walk up to a girl and compliment her and if she was confident, he didn’t even bother.
But if she was self-deprecating or seemed insecure, he would play into her emotions. He knew how to manipulate her so she would think he loved her. In fact, most victims usually refer to the pimp as their “boyfriend.”
Me: How did you know he was a pimp?
Daniel: As I entered his house, God immediately prompted me to get to the heart of things and be different. I’ve learned that if you don’t get to the heart of things within the first 30 minutes of meeting someone, you won’t.
“What is it that you do?” I asked him.
“I am an urge provider,” he said, kind of joking. “ I work in the exotic film business.”
I knew I couldn’t change his opinion, but needed to love him and show him Christ. He was extremely charming and even bought me an expensive steak dinner, and took me around town.
I learned a pimp makes an average of 200,000-400,000 dollars a year.
This guy would charge between $50 and $100 a girl per time for three to eight times a day. Most pimps will have multiple girls, or boys. That income is all untaxed.
It’s really hard to convict a pimp. The police needs hard evidence and the pimp knows how to avoid getting caught.
Me: What’s the role of pornography in sex trafficking?
Daniel: Pornography increases the demand for sex trafficking. Pimps sometimes have women do that first, then hold it over their heads.
I actually want to reach pimps. I want to convert pimps to legitimate business men and change their mentality. I want to get men on board in reaching them. I want to demolish the demand because pornography can lead to sex trafficking.
Me: How is this problem being addressed in the church and other communities?
Daniel: Not enough. I had a hard time getting churches to host me in my travels. Men’s groups need to talk more about pornography because there’s not much accountability. The pastors need to talk about what healthy love and sex is because otherwise our kids are getting it from the media. Also, many pastors don’t even address the men directly. Men like to fix things, so when they don’t see a way to fix it, they don’t even try. Of the organizations fighting sex trafficking I met with, probably 75% were headed up by women.
Me: What is the best way to see sex trafficking decrease in the U.S.?
Daniel: I fully believe that the only way to end sex trafficking is to have a firm and strong family dynamic. I think it needs to start with the man. Daughters need a strong father or she’ll go seek one out. Boys need to understand how to be a gentleman and a protector rather than a predator.
Me: How can the average person help?
Daniel: First is prayer. Second, people can help through finances and raising awareness. Restore One in North Carolina is one of the few organizations helping male victims of sex trafficking.
You need to talk and do. You could set up an awareness night at church and show a movie. One good one is a documentary called Nefarious: Merchant of Souls. There’s also a very accurate movie based on a true story called Eden. Hot Girls Wanted is a rough documentary that’s pretty poor quality about the porn industry, but it gets the idea across.
You can talk to legislators. Senators and house reps are actually really easy to get ahold of and then they’ll set you up with others. They need to figure out what laws are working and which ones aren’t. It’s different in every state.
You can go into your local police force and ask what you can help them with or partner with a local organization that is fighting sex trafficking.
Victims and pimps need counseling, a safe environment and reintegration into society.
William Wilberforce, an abolitionist, once said, “You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”
Resources Daniel Mentioned:
Check back for more posts about sex trafficking awareness and raising strong girls during the month of January.
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(This post was edited at 1:14 pm on 1/10/18)