Child sex trafficking is the modern-day equivalent of slavery, said Lamont Hiebert, a founder of Love146, a New Haven-based agency that tries to combat the practice, mostly in Asia.
Hiebert, who spoke to an audience of about 20 students in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Thursday afternoon, talked about how Love146 prevents child sex trafficking and rescues victims of the practice in Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and India. The organization hopes to expand its efforts to help child sex trafficking victims in the United States and Eastern Europe, he said.
Hiebert started with a video about child sex trafficking, where children are taken off the streets and are forced to work as prostitutes. These girls are bought for around $150, he said, and they are often raped, electrocuted or beaten until they give in to their captors’ demands.
“I would just cry,” said one girl in the video. “You are sold to a man you do not know, he beats you and rapes you and your name is replaced with a number.”
The idea for Love146 came when Hiebert and three friends went to northern Thailand in 2002 undercover with investigators to observe a brothel. At the brothel, Hiebert was particularly struck by a teenage girl in a red dress with the number 146 tacked on. Naming the organization Love146, he said, was a tribute to that girl and her fellow prostitutes.
Since then, Love146 has worked to combat child sex trafficking by creating border patrols to track potential traffickers, Hiebert said. The organization, he added, has also created safe homes to reintegrate rescued child sex slaves back into their communities. While the process is slow, Hiebert said the organization hopes to provide victims with a sense of family and a place to thrive.
Hiebert, said he first learned about child slavery and exploitation in the 1990s. While he had grown up in close contact with exploited women and children — his mother ran a women’s shelter in his hometown in British Columbia — he said he was saddened to find that many child survivors of sex trafficking believe that they are fault for being dragged into prostitution.
“They are victims of corruption and fraud and false romances that end up enslaving them,” Hiebert said.
Hiebert, who is also a member of the rock band Ten Shekel Shirt, said he is working on an album with songs about the children his agency has helped, fragments which he played on guitar. The agency has made a music video about a child survivor of sex trafficking who describes how her life improved when she entered one of Love146’s safe homes.
Two students interviewed said they were impressed by Love146’s efforts to work internationally.
Genna Purcell ’10 said she respected Love146’s efforts to recruit volunteers to join their cause.
“I was impressed by Love146’s efforts in training university students and people in the areas where the sex slaves are rescued,” Purcell said.
According to the U.S. Department of State, about 600,000 to 820,000 people — half of whom are children — are trafficked across international borders each year.