IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Tyler Schwab could hardly believe the words he was hearing as he listened to the tourist in front of him brag about his “favorite weekend” plans: child abuse.
“I remember one guy, I’ll never forget and this struck me so hard because I used to come to the [Dominican Republic] because I just love the people, I love the culture, I love the food, I love everything about it.” Tyler Schwab, founder of Gifts of Grace and Aftercare Assistant for Operation Underground Railroad. “This guy he said, ‘What I love about the [Dominican Republic],’ and he had no idea I was there fighting trafficking, doing research the fight trafficking, he just thought I was an American tourist. He said, ‘Why I love the [Dominican Republic] is I can hop on a plane right after work on Friday at 6 p.m., I can get to the [Dominican Republic] around midnight and I can spend the weekend abusing children and I can be back at work on Monday by 9 a.m.’”
While it may be hard to imagine anyone proud of something so horrific as sexually abusing children, especially as a part of one’s weekend plans, Schwab said this kind of attitude exists right in people’s backyards.
“I believe if they’ll travel overseas to engage in sex with children, they will engage in sex with children and pedophile acts in the United States as well,” Schwab said. “So, taking those lustful desires and they’re exploring them and when they come back home, they will explore them on children in the United States, as well, so it’s going to affect our children. If it’s not already, it will affect our children.”
While Schwab’s work mostly involves dealing with rescue operations in third world countries or foreign locations like the Dominican Republic, he said the Internet is allowing people in other countries to capitalize on and engage in an increasingly lucrative industry from the comfort of their own home.
“This thing [is] called cyber sex trafficking,” Schwab said. “It’s the act…where people will force children in front of a webcam to perform sexual acts and the people on the other side of these webcams send money. They’re essentially enslaving children from another side of the world.”
According to the International Justice Mission, perpetrators can pay anywhere from $50 to $120 for an online “sex show,” and viewers will pay more if the show is more abusive. The direct impact on children cannot be understated. Fifty-four percent of the victims rescued by the International Justice Mission are between ages one and 12.
Schwab said the international problem and the culprits can largely be traced back to the United States and it’s obsession with producing and consuming child pornography.
“Americans are the largest consumer and producer of child pornography in the world,” Schwab said. “So, it’s Americans that are kind of fueling this industry…The United States, we‘re so blessed as a country to have this wealth, have prosperity. But, with that expendable income, people engage in sex tourism, they buy women and children and men for sex and it’s anybody.”
Unlike movies like Taken or other Hollywood depictions of the human sex trafficking industry where victims are snatched from the streets and lost in a sea of suffering, Schwab said perpetrators lie in wait and patiently groom their victims online.
“In most of these cases, it’s force, fraud and coercion,” Schwab said. “One of the things that I think people don’t know is you can be trafficked and still be living at home. Your kids could be being trafficked and you not knowing about it.”
Parents aren’t helpless in guarding their children from traffickers, Schwab said. According to Shared Hope International, signs of child sex trafficking and human sex trafficking in general are abundant. From the victim sporting a new tattoo, a practice often used by traffickers to brand their victims, to running away, Schwab says human sex trafficking can and must be disrupted by simply being aware.
“It’s happening closer than you think and there are signs you can watch out for to make sure that your children don’t end up meeting these traffickers who are looking to sell them for sex ,” Schwab said.
Learn more about human sex trafficking in east Idaho and how you can disrupt it by listening to Tyler’s full podcast below. You can find the other podcast episodes for this season of Disruptors on Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes), Google Play, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. Attend our public event, Emancipation: Disrupting the Modern Slave Trade, on March 14 at 7 PM to get your questions answered by our panel of experts.