A human trafficking survivor on what the BIPOC community needs to know
Learn the apps making your children a target
Human trafficking—also known as modern-day slavery—is affecting the BIPOC community with Black girls at the forefront, at extremely alarming rates. So much so, that Shonda Rhimes even included it as a key theme in the latest heart-gripping plot on Grey’s Anatomy.
While Rhimes is shedding light on the topic on-screen, Toni D. Rivera, a former sex traffic survivor, is using her life story to save others in real life. Through her non-profit, the R.O.S.E. Organization (Restore Overcome Sexual Exploitation), Rivera has helped more than 2,000 families and survivors within the last three years.
Her story of captivity and then survival has resonated with listeners of The Breakfast Club, on-screen in TV One’s For My Man and soon in a nonfiction series, co-executive produced by Tisha Campbell alongside Good Caper Content President Kathryn Vaughan and Andrew Jameson. Rivera was coerced into sex trafficking at age 16 and after six years was finally able to flee. As a mom of five, she’s now making it her mission to educate others on the topic. She shares everything from the apps that are making you a target to common misconceptions about the trafficking industry with theGrio.
African American girls and women are by far the most trafficked group. Why?
“Because we’re not going to get looked for as much as the Caucasian community—we’re just not,” Rivera says.
She realizes this isn’t new news, but she wants to beat it into everybody’s head because whether new or not, it’s still happening. Rivera tells theGrio, “I found a lady who had been missing for 12 years out on Skid Row. She was biracial—her mother was Puerto Rican and her father was African American—from Newark, New Jersey. When I got her home the family was just like, ‘Wow.’ They had given up all hope because people stopped looking.”
The LGBTQ+ community is another marginalized group that doesn’t always get highlighted in human and sexual trafficking conversations. “So many kids are coming out to their parents and many are just putting them out. When you put them out, they have nowhere to go, and they wind up in the wrong hands,” Rivera explains.
Rivera wants folks to know that being “taken” doesn’t always happen like a Liam Neeson movie. You don’t need to travel to a foreign country or be drugged into a deep slumber to become a victim of human or sex trafficking. Rivera recalls her experience back in 1994 at Atlanta’s infamous Freaknik Fest, where she made eye contact with a handsome stranger who she thought she fell in love with.
“Anybody can present their representative to you. That representative is always going to be the ‘good’ person. Later down the road, you find out it’s not what you think. I’m thinking I’m his girlfriend and somebody that he cares about. We would meet up every now and then. He would come to my hometown or we would go to other places like Black Biker Week, but I wasn’t the girlfriend,” she says before adding, “He was actually preparing me for a lifestyle that was a nightmare.” Shockingly, in Atlanta alone, nearly 400 girls are trafficked every month.
Another common misconception is that victims are always youths and teens. While a study in 2018 shows over half (51.6%) of the criminal human trafficking cases active in the US were sex trafficking cases involving only children, there’s still another 48.4% to account for. A bulk of Rivera’s work at R.O.S.E. involved rescue missions where she would investigate using her contacts on the street, physically searching for and find missing persons that had been trafficked. The oldest survivor she found was in 2013—a 72-year-old woman in Baltimore, Maryland.
How to Protect Your Children
Rivera is transitioning out of doing rescue missions because of the emotional and physical toll it takes, instead choosing to focus on educating others to keep themselves and their children safe. R.O.S.E. puts an emphasis on tools to help parents keep their children safe.
“A lot of people I’ve rescued, [winded up being trafficked] by meeting someone online,” Rivera shares. While meeting shady characters on the internet isn’t new phenomenon, it’s the updated technology, specifically apps, that have made kids particularly susceptible to traffickers.
“There’s apps out there disguised as calculator apps that my kids told me about. The kids are downloading them to talk to someone who they know they’re not supposed to be and to give out pictures. All you have to do is set up an account and it hides the messages on your phone,” Rivera says.
The advocate shared the list of apps below that traffickers use to track, connect, and groom. They should be carefully monitored or deleted from your loved ones’ phones, Rivera urges. On children’s phones, parents should look for any apps that aren’t familiar.
- Anonymous Chat Room
- Lobby- Crewmates Voice
- Tiya Voice Chat & Match
- Videoshop- Video Editor
- Splice- Video Maker
- VHS Cam- Retro 80s cam
Rivera also encourages parents to turn off the location for apps on your children’s phone where it’s not necessary. Traffickers can easily track your child’s location by way of these apps.
She has a whole bag of simple tricks that parents can use to protect their children. One involves the diligence of educators to keep tabs on who is picking up your child from school.
“When you enroll your kids in school that little blue contact form you get when they ask for a nickname, fill it out. Fill out everything on that page. The reason is that if someone comes and tries to get your child, and doesn’t give that nickname you have there—that only you, the school, and my child knows, call the police,” Rivera instructs.
How to Help
The pandemic has made trafficking easier, according to experts. More people are meeting over the internet and once they meet, usually at someone’s home, the victim will get gripped up. “It’s called a TNT for touch and tape. And you will not go back home,” Rivera explains. Also, masks make it harder to identify abductors and those in need of money are being promised financial gain only to find themselves exploited through trafficking.
Rivera emphasizes she doesn’t want this information to scare folks, but to bring awareness. Her entire purpose through the R.O.S.E. organization is to empower. Rivera’s first-hand knowledge of the human and sex trafficking industry is how she’s been able to reunite families and make R.O.S.E. a necessity, especially for the Black and Brown community.
For more information on all of R.O.S.E’s efforts and to offer support in the form of resources and donations please follow Toni Rivera on Instagram.
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