Season 2, Episode 10: Ending the Silence - Survivor Speaks Out


You’re listening to Episode 20 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. For our season finale, we’ll hear a survivor of sex trafficking talk about his anti-trafficking and anti-child abuse advocacy.

In season 1, episode 8 -- titled “The Forgotten 45% - Discussing Male Victims of Trafficking” -- I talked about how the anti-trafficking movement often overlooks male victims and survivors of human trafficking. That episode focused on male victims of labor trafficking, because I cited a statistic from the International Labor Organization (ILO) that states that women and girls make up the overwhelming majority of sex trafficking victims, about 98%. But getting a totally accurate understanding of the gender composition is difficult since we don’t have all of the information we need. After all, most cases of sex trafficking go unreported. It’s possible that men and boys make up 2% of sex trafficking victims like the ILO predicts, but it’s definitely possible that there are many more than we realize. But regardless of percentages, the point is, male victims of sex trafficking do exist and require attention and support just like any other trafficked person.

Jerome Elam, our interviewee for this season finale, is a survivor of sex trafficking himself. From just five to about 12 years old, Jerome endured a nightmarish upbringing that involved pedophilic sex rings, something that no child should ever endure. He permanently escaped the ring at 17, when he joined the United States Marine Corps. If you’re interested in learning more about his story, we’ll include links in the shownotes to an article that he’s written and to a five-part series that our partners, Youth Underground, published on their social media accounts.

But for now, let’s turn to Jerome himself to learn more about his current advocacy work. So Jerome, it’s been several years since you escaped your trafficking situation, and you’ve gone on to study and work in the field of molecular biology and gene therapy for a few years. But when did you make this transition from working in life sciences to your current anti-trafficking and anti-child abuse work?

Jerome: 2011 and Jerry Sandusky, because, you know, when Jerry Sandusky went on trial, it was kind of a wake up call I think for all survivors, in that you know we really felt like Sandusky was the Pearl Harbor in the world against child abuse. Because we knew that if Sandusky walked away free, it was going to be a major blow to child abuse advocacy and prevention. So, something inside of me said, "You've gotta do something." You know I had never really spoken about it publicly, and this is the thing...I've always been a writer since I was very young. But it's been one of those things I kind of kept to myself. But then I said, "I've got to do something." So I wrote an article, it's called "An End to Silence" and I sent it out to all the media outlets, and it got picked up by The Washington Times. And they said, "Well, we'll publish it on a one-time basis." And I said, "Great!" They said, "We can't pay you." And I said, "Not a problem." So, they published it and it did so well they offered me a column in their community section. And so I did that for a couple of years. And my editors decided that we weren't getting a fair deal in our contract so they actually went and founded their own news organization and we're doing better than we did with The Washington Times, and it's called Community Digital News. And I have a column with them as well. And so, through that first article, I was really just so humbled because, you know I began getting responses from South Africa, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan. I began getting people all over the world saying, "Thank you for speaking out. being a voice for us." Because people had never really spoken out about what happened to them. So my editors have always been phenomenal. They let me do child advocacy. So I just began writing about children in the world who just didn't have a voice and needed someone to know what they were going through. So I began just connecting with all of these people, then I was asked to speak. So I started speaking and it just kind of took off from there. And there last year, I started my nonprofit, which is Trafficking in America Task Force, which has been awesome. But I've been really fortunate in that I've finished working on my third congressional bill, I've been working with the director of "I Am Jane Doe", Mary Mazzio, since before the film released. We've been just so elated that we got the legislation through to Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act and shut down websites like Backpage, who locally traffick children. And then you know, I've worked on legislature here in Florida to declare pornography a public health crisis. I've helped Homeland Security, it's called their Blue Campaign, develop human trafficking PSA's, and I've directly trained the TSA in Washington DC on how to recognize victims of human trafficking. In 2016 I was in France, I was invited by the European Council to come and speak on the International Day of the Child, so I was there with survivors from ten other countries, and we spoke to the European Council. I was at the UN last year and shared my story. I think Congress...regularly talking with congressmen and congresswomen. And I'm very, very honored to be a voice in this fight to protect our children. So it kind of evolved from that one article that I wrote into me being involved. I've been really, really just amazed at the opportunities that I've had. And I'm going to be hitting the road next month through the end of the year doing speaking and training. So I'm really happy that I can help educate people.

Victoria: Wow, that's incredible that you've had all of those amazing opportunities and I'm really glad that people are willing to fly you all the way out to France even. That's really...

Jerome, Oh yeah...That was, that was really awesome. It's been really amazing, just being able to speak and educate, and everybody's always been thankful for the knowledge I've passed on, because a lot of it they've never seen before. Because, one of the things you may have gleaned from the stuff I've said to you is trafficked boys and LGBTQ individuals are really underrepresented and they're not really paid attention to. I'm really able to enlighten people as to how prevalent it is, what to look for. Because unfortunately, Victoria, what we've seen is that since we've become so attuned to recognizing female victims of human trafficking, the gangs which have just become incredibly horrific in the way they traffick people, are beginning to traffic boys instead of girls because they know law enforcement is not looking for boys to be trafficked. So, it's something that we really have to be aware of. But you know, one thing about my organization is, we help everybody. Because I get contacted by men, women, LGBTQ, and we help anybody and everybody that needs help. But because my background is in being trafficked as a young boy, I have that knowledge and I try to use that to help close those gaps that these traffickers are exploiting in order to get away with selling human beings.

Victoria: Okay yeah, so you mentioned your own personal experience definitely helps inform your approach. And I am aware that the groups of people you mentioned don't have access to the same resources as women and girls, you know, what someone would expect a sex trafficking victim to be. But I'm don't really know the extent of this. So, what kinds of resources do victims who are male and/or in the LGBTQ community currently have, if any?

Jerome: Easy. Minimal to none. For LGBTQ, they're really fortunate because Cindy Lauper, the singer, out of her own pocket, started a foundation. It's called True Colors, and it's based in New York and they have a homeless shelter they built specifically for LGBTQ individuals. And so, they're able to get resources there and they will actually pay for the travel for these individuals to go to New York to the shelter. But for boys and for LGBTQ, there's a handful of shelters across the country that cater to their needs. And one of the biggest barriers for victims to get help is lack of access to services. Because we don't have services that can address the needs of boys and LGBTQ. And there's several studies out there that reflect this. So I'm really hoping that we can get more training. And I'm seeing it start to evolve, slowly. I'm actually going to speaking in October at the International Association of Forensic Nurses in Reno. And I'm going to educate them about what the needs are for LGBTQ and boys so they can begin to develop the resources to address them. Because, in general Victoria, there is a severe lack of what we call after-care, which means where victims go after they're rescued or they find their way out of being trafficked. A severe lack of aftercare nationally, and in the sense that there are not very many long-term programs out there for victims which is critical because you can't just have a ninety-day program for a victim and expect them to fully recover. You've got to have one to three years with job training, counseling, and a safe place. So, that's one of the things we advocate for in our work, is to have that long-term care but also have the funding behind it so these individuals that are coming out of this traumatic experience can have time to recover. Because, the recidivism rate for victims is over 50%. You know, if you build a house and you don't have the resources, it's just going to be a revolving door. They're just gonna walk in and walk out again. So you've got to give them a viable alternative to the streets, because one thing is what we call the trauma bond, which is, it's a bond formed between a trafficker and their victim, where the trafficker and the victim may come from a similar background. And one thing I can tell you as a victim and a survivor myself is that, you know when you grow up in a dysfunctional environment and you've never known what it means to be unconditionally loved...When someone pretends to offer that, you jump at the chance because you're desperate for affection, like a drowning man is desperate for oxygen. So that's how you get lured into this, and you get trapped. For me, it was death threats against my mother and myself. And so then, you're stuck and the shame and the fear of what you're being forced to do also keep you from saying anything. So, we've got to help these individuals begin to heal and you've got to address the core issues that made them vulnerable in the first place, or they're just going to be back on the street again. So, it's very important that we have these guidelines established so we can save victims. Because, you know, we may only have one chance to help a victim, and then they disappear. I've seen it happen too many times.

Victoria: So, once people start paying more attention and do start creating these resources, do you think that their aftercare should be exactly the same as what women and girls get, or just equal in quality but different in approach?

Jerome: Yeah, equal in quality, different in -- the approach has to be different. I can speak for the male perspective. And on the things that saved my life was, I had a female survivor basically take me by the hand and show me that I could be a man and be a victim and be vulnerable, and still be a man, and it didn't detract from being a man. And she taught me, you know, that I could talk about what happened to me without that shame and fear that so many have. And LGBTQ as well, I mean, we've got to be cognizant of the unique needs these individuals have. Because a lot of times you're just throwing them in the homeless shelters and they just end up leaving. So you've got to have something equal in quality, but that's uniquely tailored to their needs. And that's why I'm just so thankful for those in the LGBTQ community who are being proactive in working with me on this. Because you know we've got to have, you know, these specialized services or we're just wasting our time. So it's got to be equal in quality but specifically tailored to the needs of boys and LGBTQ, or it's not worth our time to do it.

Victoria: Okay, thanks so much for clarifying that. So you mentioned earlier that you founded the Trafficking in America Task Force, so I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about this organization. Is it focused more on prevention through education, or intervention and rehabilitation?

Jerome: Right now, it's prevention through education, but we're expanding...Unfortunately, there's a real chasm in the understanding that the general and law enforcement have about what human trafficking domestically, in the United States, looks like. So I'm always shocked because what I talk to people or train...people don't understand what a problem it is domestically, and that, you know, it's happening all around you. We've been doing a lot of preventative education. We're also becoming involved in aftercare, and we're going to be becoming more involved in that. But in terms of our preventative education, we're trying to do a couple of things. This is what we call demand. Which is people selling and buying trafficked individuals. So what we're doing is, we're advocating with our local, state and federal leaders for harsher penalties for those who buy and sell. We're also going, educating our young people about what healthy relationships are and we're fighting against pornography and its effects on our young people. Because young people are learning about relationships from pornography and that's been a driver in sex trafficking because these young people are watching pornography and embracing it that as how a sexual relationship is supposed to be. And then when they can't find that with their partner, they're going out and buying trafficked individuals. So we're trying to educate at that particular level, and also advocate for resources for victims when they're rescued, and learning how to spot these individuals. Because unfortunately, airports are a big hub for trafficking of children, as are theme parks. And so we're educating law enforcement, individuals that work in these areas, about how to recognize children who are being trafficked and then making sure that when they spot someone who's being trafficked, that they approach them in a way that's going to be helpful. Because Victoria, one of the things that you have to realize is that, the majority of victims of human trafficking don't realize they're being trafficked. Because for them, as it was for me, it's a continuum. When you come from a home like I did, where there's so much dysfunction, where there's child abuse, domestic violence, and then you go to being trafficked, it's really just a parallel move because you've already been infected with the sense that you're worthless and that you're a sex object. And so for a lot of people -- and I know this for a fact, I've talked to many, many people -- you don't understand that you're being trafficked. So you can't just go up to someone and say, "Are you being trafficked?" You have to go up to them and say, "Do you need help? Is someone hurting you? How can I help you?" So you've got to be able to approach individuals in a way that allows them to ask for that help, or at least open that door enough so that they know there's a way out. So, we've been very focused on educating to prevention, but we're also involved with save houses and helping educate them in a working -- as a part of their efforts. But we're going to be doing more in terms of creating a facility to help victims recover with the resources they so desperately need.

Victoria: Okay, so that actually leads really well then into something I also saw on the Trafficking in American Task Force website. I came across the "I Promise Pledge", and saw a list of a ton of people's names that had taken the pledge. But I couldn't find out how to formally take that pledge. Could you tell us more about the pledge, what people can do if they're interested in taking it, and also what they should do after they take the pledge?

Jerome: Yeah, absolutely! I mean, taking the "I Promise Pledge" means that you're going to be an active partner with Trafficking in America Task Force in fighting against human trafficking. And so, what that also means is that we're going to provide the resources that you need to help, and we have resources for victim identification, to help recognize and report an incident of human trafficking. And so we really want to involve the public as much as possible because it's so critical that we have the eyes and the ears of everyone involved, because people encounter victims of human trafficking everyday, they just don't understand that they're seeing them. So that's what the "I Promise Pledge" means. And once you take that pledge, then we're here to support you with education and awareness and everybody's always invited to come to our conferences and learn more about how to recognize victims of human trafficking. But then also the reverse of that with the "I Promise Pledge" is that you help us spread awareness among friends, family and those that you encounter about human trafficking, and the facts and how to recognize it. So we're just more or less brining the public into our efforts to raise awareness and to educate people about human trafficking, and to let them know that they can make a difference. Because one thing I speak about quite frequently, Victoria, is that the most prolific child sex trafficking ring in the United States is run out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, by 3 generations of the Evans family. It was in 24 states including Canada and was a multimillion dollar business, as you might imagine. Young girls, 13-14 being trafficked, and the only way the organization was taken down was that a very smart police officer pulled over two young girls in the car and those had fake IDs. So fake IDs are part of the stock and trade of human trafficking, because they don't want these individuals to be tracked back to them, so they have fake IDs. So he noticed the fake IDs and took the girls in and from that point on, the whole organization unraveled. So the "I Promise Pledge" is really a reinforcement that every individual can make a difference and every individual has to have the possibility of saving a victim of human trafficking, maybe one or ten, because when you find a victim of human trafficking and they're being trafficked by a ring or a gang, there could be ten or twenty more of those individuals that need help. So we're really just enlisting the help of the public and we're so honored and blessed to have so many people involved with us in that respect. So it's just letting the public know they can be a part of this effort too.

Victoria: Okay, so if they do want to officially take the pledge, do they contact you, or how would they let your organization know that they wanted to take that step?

Jerome: They can contact me through the website. My contact information is on the website. They can contact me to take the pledge and then we can get them all set up. And then we're in the process of revamping our newsletter, and so we would get them in the loop of getting our newsletter and letting them become aware of everything that we're doing. And then our webmaster's going to be updating the website with events and speaking engagements that we're going to be involved in. People will know about events in their area. They can come attend and we can educate them more and help them get more involved in what we're doing.

Victoria: Okay, great! So I actually have just one more question, and it's something that I ask everyone I interview. What advice do you have for anyone that wants to do something about human trafficking and also, what is something that you wish more people did when they join the fight against human trafficking?

Jerome: You know, the thing I would say is that, I think unfortunately Victoria, what we see quite a bit is that people can be very much overwhelmed by the scope of human trafficking, even domestically. But I want people to know that you can become involved at your own level. I mean, it's as simple as learning the signs of human trafficking, which are on our website, and then memorizing the number for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, and calling when you suspect someone is being trafficked. And you can become more involved in the fight by volunteering with us and by, you know, writing for your local paper, writing for a blog... We always welcome volunteers to come and work with us, and become more engaged in this fight. So what was your second question again? It was...

Victoria: Oh, just what is something you wish more people did when they decide to join the fight against human trafficking?

Jerome: I guess the thing that I wish is that people would understand that, and I think this is something we all unfortunately, Victoria, encounter, is that we're not going to solve this problem overnight. And that we have to take small steps in this process and to really reinforce with people not to get frustrated, not to feel like we're going nowhere. Because it's always a long term battle. We've been working with "I am Jane Doe" for over 2 years now, we just got the amendment passed through Congress. So I just want them to know that regardless of how that may feel, that they are making a difference. And that's what's important, they always have to feel like they're making a difference in their efforts. You just have to dedicate yourself to remaining, you know, constant in your support and spreading awareness about human trafficking, and you will make a difference I guarantee it.

Victoria: Great advice, and thanks for your encouraging words at the end! As I mentioned earlier, that was actually my last question, but if you have anything to add, this is your space to do that!

Jerome: And one thing, Victoria, that I've really learned in France, which has been very, very critical, is that we have to understand each culture has their own modality for dealing with trauma. Because one of the things that, when I was in France, you know, I was speaking and I spent 25 years with a trauma therapist that saved my life. You know, she was trained by Masters and Johnson so she was a sex therapist and she really helped me heal in those 25 years. And then someone said, you know, you have to be careful because talk therapy is a very westernized modality. And so I was able to talk to people from Nigeria, from the Netherlands, and so we're able to understand how we deal with trauma in different cultures. And so I think it's incredibly important on the global scale to be able to spread awareness. The one thing I said in France, which I really reiterate constantly is that, we may be different areas geographically, but our hearts all feel pain in the same way. We're all very similar in that respect. And so I just hope that I can spread hope and help people realize they can heal from this. Because it seems so incredibly difficult, you know when you first come out of being trafficked, I mean it's really, really difficult to get together with someone and help them see the light at the end of the tunnel. You just have to be there and be supportive of them constantly. And so I'm always thankful for any different perspectives that I can get. Because, unfortunately in the US, we're both a destination and a source for human trafficking. So we not only have people being trafficked domestically, we have so many different cultures that are being trafficked into this country. It's important that we understand how to help them deal with this trauma in their own way, and not force any ideals we have upon them. So I'm always open to learning more about trafficking. One of the areas that I didn't mention which is unfortunately horrific in this country is Native American populations who are being trafficked at just unconscionable levels and it's not being tracked, and it's not being addressed. And so I'm also involved in helping the Native American population in this country get the attention and the justice they deserve because they're so many young girls on the reservations being trafficked and being assaulted. And I think within the past two years we just got laws passed that allows individuals coming on the reservation from outside to be prosecuted. So, that's another population that I'm also very passionate about helping. I've talked to several tribal leaders and I'm so privileged to work with them on helping protect their children and get this crime taken care of. There's a really good movie called "Wind River" which is hard to watch, but when you watch it, you can see how desperate the situation is on the reservations across the country. So, I'm trying to do what I can in a twelve-hour day, but you know, for me Victoria, and I know it's for you as well, my heart breaks everytime I read about a child being victimized. So, I just feel like I'm just very tireless in my efforts to protect our children, because they're our greatest gift from God, and we have to make sure they have an opportunity to have the happiness that every child deserves. I always say that I'll never know the joy of being a child laying in the field of grass, picking out shapes in the clouds, but I can fight everyday until every child has that opportunity.

Jerome pointed out a lot of ways that the anti-trafficking movement is overlooking victims and survivors who need support, but he also gave us plenty of ideas on what we can do about it. If you’re interested in learning more about his non-profit, Trafficking in America Task Force, and taking the “I Promise Pledge”, you can find the links in our shownotes.

And with that, we conclude the second season of The Trafficking Dispatch. I’m actually recording this episode from a small room in Beijing, the same city where I got the idea for this podcast almost one year ago. It’s crazy to think that in less than a year, The Trafficking Dispatch has grown to a team of nine that has produced 20 episodes, we’ve partnered with Youth Underground, the largest youth-led anti-trafficking movement in the world, and we’ve reached listeners in over 80 countries. None of this would be possible without listeners like you, so thank you so much for your continued attention and support.

Although our third season will not premiere until late August, we do have two special episodes coming up for you this summer. On June and July 20th, we will be releasing our Survivors’ Summer Season, which will feature interviews with survivors or their family members. We hope you’ll tune in for these special episodes to learn more about human trafficking and what you can do to put an end to it.

This has been Season 2 of The Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel, Emily Wang, and Ariel Niforatos. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our Survivors’ Summer Season which will premiere on June 20 at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.

Jerome's story:…starts-with-us
Youth Underground Version, Part 1:…outh.underground
I Promise Pledge:…pledge

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