CABOT Louise Allison was only 14 when she ran away from her Dallas home to get as far as she could from her abusive stepfather.
During a recent meeting of the Cabot Community Coalition, Allison held back tears as she told the story of her teenage years, when she was lured into human trafficking, which included drug running and prostitution. Through the Little Rock-based Partners Against Trafficking Humans, which Allison founded, she has dedicated her life to helping other children and adults who are lured into human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a big industry in Romania, Moldova, Asia, Africa and even within Arkansas — Heber Springs, Little Rock, Paragould and Hot Springs, to be specific.
“Yes, I see human trafficking as a problem here in Arkansas,” said state Rep. David Meeks, R-Conway, who is backing legislation to get the human-trafficking laws tightened in Arkansas. “To give you an example, there recently was a human-trafficking ring that was headquartered in Little Rock that was busted by the feds.”
Allison said that ring also had an operation in Hot Springs.
“The laws in Arkansas are so terrible,” Allison said, adding that the surrounding states have tougher laws, which makes Arkansas a prime location for the human traffickers to set up shop in the state, especially along Interstate 40.
“The outlying areas, such as Cabot — young girls don’t have a clue,” she said. “There are so many ways to trap a girl.”
Allison said many girls are held captive through fearful threats, a displaced sense of loyalty to their trafficker or because they have nowhere else to turn.
“You don’t think about it because you just don’t see it yourself, but it’s here,” said Colleen Caldwell, director of the Cabot Community Coalition.
An estimated 30 million people worldwide are being trafficked, and in the Unites States, there are 300,000 under the age of 18, and many more adults, Allison said.
“The traffickers are not all men and not all street pimps,” she said. “There are a lot of women traffickers. … And boys are being trafficked, too.”
The trafficking laws
Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel joined other attorneys general across the country to demand that Craigslist curtail its adult-services advertisements because the ads featured many of the girls and boys who were victims of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking impacts Arkansas,” McDaniel said. “It impacts our children. It is beneath the dignity of the people of the state of Arkansas to allow it to happen without us drawing attention to it and fighting it with all that we have.”
Allison said it’s a big industry, and a single girl could earn more than $350,000 a year for her trafficker.
Arkansas ranks near the bottom as far as human-trafficking laws, according to an annual report by the Washington, D.C.-based Polaris Project groups. The report said Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming are the “Faltering Four” states, or states that have not enacted a basic legal framework to combat human trafficking. Last year, Arkansas was ranked as one of “Nine Lagging Behind” states.
Polaris Project faulted Arkansas for lacking laws requiring forfeiture of traffickers’ assets; requiring special training for law enforcement; creating a human-trafficking task force; requiring posting of the number for the national human-trafficking hotline; providing protection to minors who testify against traffickers; providing assistance to trafficking victims; making civil remedies available to victims; and vacating the prostitution convictions of women forced into prostitution.
“They are inadequate,” Meeks said about the laws. “Arkansas was recently given the rating of ‘F’ by Shared Hope International and [placed] in the group of the Faltering Four by the Polaris Project because of the inadequacy of our laws in combating human trafficking. … Yes, the one law we have needs to toughened. In addition, there are other laws that protect the victim, and seize assets of traffickers, that we need to look at adding. I am working with other legislators to draft more-comprehensive legislation that we hope to pass next session.”
Many times when trafficked victims are arrested for prostitution, they are told to give a fake name and age. Then, Allison said, one of the other girls in the ring will bail them out, and no one realizes they are victims of trafficking.
Chuck Graham, Lonoke County prosecuting attorney, said Lonoke County hasn’t had any cases of human trafficking, but he added that that doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem.
“Prostitution is a misdemeanor,” Graham said. “If they’ve never been arrested before, they don’t have fingerprints on file.”
Although the arresting officers may not know if the girls are victims, Graham said anytime a young girl is arrested for prostitution, the police departments in his county take that very seriously.
“I-40 is going right through the center of the county,” he said, “and a lot of drugs, including heroine, are a big problem.”
The human side of trafficking
Allison said that when she was first lured in, by a “nice man she met,” she was used as a drug runner while she was being groomed for prostitution.
“It isn’t uncommon for a girl to sleep with 10, 20 or 30 men each night,” she said. “They frequently drugged us, so we’d be complacent, and they’d use the same needle over and over. I’m one of the lucky ones. Some of the others had head injuries, became drug addicts, can’t have children or are dead.”
She said there are girls here in Arkansas who are living that life, and they don’t know how to escape.
“I was arrested the last time when I was 16, and they found my mom,” Allison said. “I went away to boarding school for two years and graduated with honors. I was ready to start my new life, but I was still that 14-year-old little girl inside, and I didn’t know what to do, so I went back out on the streets.”
She later met a man who helped her get away from that lifestyle, and she married and started a family.
“I had not cried in years, no emotion, and I just wanted to die,” she said. “I went through life trying to be a wife and a mom, but I was still that 14-year-old dead girl.”
Fighting her urge to commit suicide, Allison went on to earn a college degree, and she said she became a workaholic.
“I knew how to play the part, but I still wanted to die,” she said. “I spent 30 years of my life just wanting to die, and I don’t want other little girls to do that. I want them to know how to be a wife and a mother.”
She said she found her way to a Christ-centered recovery program, and one woman reached out to her and introduced her to healthy women and men who modeled godly love.
That is where Allison’s passion began to help other victims.
“We are a Christ-centered recovery group,” she said about Partners Against Trafficking Humans, the nonprofit program she founded. “We don’t make our girls go to church, but our goal is to shine so much like Christ that they’re going to want what we’ve got.”
Allison recounted a few cases in small-town Arkansas where young girls were lured into trafficking.
In one case, an older boy showed a young girl in Heber Springs some attention and became her boyfriend.
“He started buying her things, and after the fourth or fifth date, he stopped by his apartment, where 10 men and women took advantage of her sexually,” Allison said. “She stood bleeding in the bathroom wearing a towel and decided to run out. He told her, ‘You don’t have to do this again. I’m sure your 9-year-old sister would do it for you.’”
As a result of her fear of him targeting her younger sister, the girl continued to meet with the “boyfriend” each afternoon after school and was home by her curfew.
Many girls don’t tell anyone this is happening to them, Allison said. In fact, Allison only told her mother two years ago about the tragedies in her life that had occurred many years in the past.
Another case is a girl from northeast Arkansas who was getting ready to board a plane to start her modeling career. She had been handpicked from an online source that was seeking young models.
“Kids believe that if it’s on the Internet, that it’s real,” Allison said. “Many times, they go out in search of making it big, but they are raped, beaten and drugged on a regular basis.”
Allison said she offered to go with the girl to meet the prospective modeling agent, and when the girl told him that Allison would be tagging along, he hung up, and the girl’s plane ticket was canceled.
Allison said that many times, the traffickers meet someone on Facebook and learn a lot about their lives, which is information that can be used to cause fear.
Another story of trafficking Allison shared involved a single mom who met a man on Facebook. When he sent her a friend request, she accepted, thinking she must know him from somewhere because they had 18 mutual friends. After several conversations, she began to feel comfortable, and she told him that she had no money and needed a job. He told her about a work-at-home opportunity, but she would have to come to Little Rock to find out more. He offered to give her gas money when she got there, but instead, he took her cellphone, and she was trapped.
Traffickers often set their sights on kids coming out of foster care, kids during a natural disaster when they are separated from their parents, or kids at school who seem to be looking for someone to care about them, Allison said.
For more information on Partners Against Trafficking Humans, call (501) 301-4357, or visit pathsaves.org.
Staff writer Jeanni Brosius can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or email@example.com.