Octavis Lampkin will be presenting, “Victim or Offender? Peer Recruitment and Drug Trafficking within the Sex Trafficking Experience” with Sue Aboul-Hosn, BSSW, CPSW, Regional Human Trafficking Coordinator, Florida Department of Children and Families, on Tuesday, October 15 at this year’s JuST (Juvenile Sex Trafficking) Conference in Cincinnati, OH. Visit justconference.org/just2019 to review our workshop agenda and for more information on how to register.
Read Octavis’ blog below:
VICTIMS OR OFFENDERS? Why the Criminal Justice System Needs to Shift Its Perspective
By: Octavis Lampkin, Victims Advocate, Free Myself LLC
When I read about the 14 year old girl who was just convicted of capital murder in Fort Worth, Texas after being used as bait in a crime committed by her trafficker, I recognized the injustice. I myself, at the young age of 14, was also eager to please my pimp. At the time, I believed I was in control but in reality, I was grappling with a complex whirlwind of emotions and my understanding of my circumstances was completely shaped by his manipulation. The injustice in the Fort Worth case shows the gulf of misunderstanding between the reality faced by victims of sex trafficking and how their conduct is perceived by the criminal justice system.
The fact is that sex traffickers don’t just control their victims to coerce them into commercial sex. Traffickers don’t limit their criminal activity to the commonly understood concept of sex trafficking. When they see the opportunity, they manipulate their victims into a host of other crimes, sometimes even serious offenses like robbery, drug smuggling and even recruiting young girls and women to work for the trafficker. A young person in this situation may actually believe it is the right thing to do. A trafficker probably convinced her that as a female she needed someone to look out for her and that other girls actually want to be a part of his trafficking organization. She may also know by recruiting, that she wouldn’t have to sleep with as many strangers nor place herself at risk of being raped anymore. This is the complex reality that a trafficking survivor may face, but fails to be recognized by the criminal justice process.
Part of the problem is that it’s hard to convey the extent of control that a trafficker can exercise over a victim and how dramatically trauma can change the way a survivor may act. Often, children who experience trauma and come from broken homes long for love and affection regardless of who is providing it. When a child is given shelter, food, protection, and clothes, they feel obligated to the person who is meeting those basic needs. Traffickers exploit these vulnerabilities through coercion, mind control, guilt, and most importantly, through mental and physical abuse. Grooming may take place when the victim and pimp engage in intimate relations. This is often done to weaken the barriers of the victim. After the pimp succeeds in mentally controlling the victim, she begins to believe that their bond is genuine. The pimp then demands the victim return her loyalty by delivering whatever the trafficker demands. This could be anything.
When you look closely at the circumstances of a trafficking case, victims are not the masterminds but followers. Any request of the predator is perceived as a privilege to the victim. And as such, the victim follows through with the request to win over their predator’s love and trust. This is similar to when a child seeks trust and privileges from their own parents; but trafficking victims may lack the ability to differentiate between the two. Traffickers are aware of the sensitivity and vulnerability of minors in sex trafficking and have been for a very long time. That is why traffickers keep a very low profile, making it very difficult to identify them as they use victims as their bait. It doesn’t take long for mind control to become effective. Then, the longer time that a victim is under control, the more likely that the victim does not see an alternative to carrying out the demands of the trafficker.
In fact, some of the factors that the prosecutors and the court relied on as evidence that the minor in the Fort Worth case was a willing participant are actually indicators of her victimization. In that sense, this case is not unusual. Sadly, when the judicial system fails to respond to trafficking victims in an appropriate, trauma-informed way due to a lack of understanding of the trauma that the victim has experienced, the child victim seeks other ways to cope with our system’s failure, often by not cooperating or lashing out. Then that child begins to be seen as an offender rather than the victim they truly are. There are many signs in this case that went unnoticed of this little girl’s hopes and dreams going down the drain. First, she was clearly under the control of her trafficker. Most importantly, she had been stripped of her identity, independence, and the ability to think critically or logically. She suffered physical and mental abuse, which creates immense and unexplainable fear, preventing her from doing the right thing even if she feels it’s wrong. The minor in the Fort Worth case was manipulated by a predator, leading her to believe they had an intimate relationship. This would confuse any child victim, especially as that child continues to be taken advantage of by her exploiter.
And so I see here another child who has been failed by the system; just as I was failed by the system and found myself alone on the streets with no one to turn to except a predator who held out his hand with a motive. And I also see the immense injustice of the criminal justice system’s response to this case – that the consequence of the trafficker’s exploitation of this child is that this child must pay for the trafficker’s crime.
Since 2009, Octavis Lampkin has provided awareness for Florida Department of Children and Families, law enforcement, Human Trafficking Task Force and many other organizations. She recounts her own experiences of being involved in Human Trafficking to at risk youths, maturing them on different tactics to prevent them from becoming victimized. In recent years, she has presented at various summits regarding the Life, peer recruitment and drug trafficking, and about being a survivor of DMST and the complex issues associated with their own exploitation. Octavis is a capable, unique individual who has overcome many obstacles and irregular dysfunctional cycles. She is a mother elevating a gifted and talented young teenager, teaching him morals and critical values of life. This courageous mother has completed her Bachelor of Science in Psychology and continues to strive to her maximum potential as a Victim Advocate Consultant.