SAN ANTONIO – A former victim turned advocate and author, Katherine Svoi Symthe, said Human Trafficking Awareness Month helps to highlight the grim reality she and so many others have experienced.
“All human traffickers are pedophiles, but not all pedophiles are traffickers,” Symthe said.
Symthe’s book, “Unbreakable, The Story of an Unrelenting Spirit,” describes in shocking detail her story from the time she was smuggled into the U.S. as an infant to her rescue at age 17 in California.
She said, for example, she still has an indentation on the top of her head.
“They cracked my skull,” she said, for $500 when she was only 3 years old.
Symthe said many pedophiles also get gratification by torturing their victims.
Michelle Lee, spokeswoman for the FBI based in San Antonio, said decades after the brutality inflicted on Symthe, human trafficking now persists on a national scale.
“The market for children and sexual trafficking of children has increased a great deal,” Lee said.
She said agents often see the suffering and torture children endure for not complying with the demands of their pimps.
Lee said unlike the victims who are smuggled into the country, others are runaways coming from broken families, but many are from middle-class families and active in school.
“In some cases, parents are really busy at work. The child wants love and attention and the pimp provides that. Or maybe it’s money or drugs,” Lee said.
Shocking but true, Lee said some parents even sell their children to pay for their own addictions.
Both Lee and Symthe said the Internet and social media also have fueled the crisis by luring young victims.
They said it also doesn’t help that San Antonio has major highways in all directions, making it easier to transport victims to other parts of the country.
They urge the public to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 1-888-373-7888, or simply text BeFree.
Lee said even suspicions could help save young lives.
Symthe said the community must join forces, “hand in hand to create a barrier between human traffickers and our children.”