Kia Dupclay was 15 years old when she fell victim to “the game,” or as most of society knows it, human trafficking.
She was on her way to a friend’s house to work on a school project.
She waited at the bus stop.
That was until her first trafficker approached her at gunpoint.
“What could my little fist do against a gun?” questioned Dupclay, recalling the experience.
She was taken across city lines, out of the county. No Amber alert was issued.
This was the first time Dupclay became a victim to human trafficking — the first time, because there were more.
Dupclay stood in front of dozens at the Santa Clarita Valley Human Trafficking Prevention Summit on Friday at College of the Canyons, sharing her story in hopes to raise awareness and prevention efforts against human trafficking.
According to Alan Smyth, executive director of Saving Innocence (an organization that works to serve, empower and advocate for child victims of sex trafficking), 300,000 children in the United States are victims of human trafficking. Eighty-two percent of them fall into the category of sex trafficking victims and 18% as labor victims.
“There are weaknesses and vulnerabilities that predators are looking for to exploit, and that’s what human traffickers are, they are predators, they use predatory behavior,” said Smyth.
Smyth and Dupclay touched upon how human trafficking is known to exist by the majority of people. However, they said they felt that many choose to have a blind eye on the matter because they believe it would never happen in their neighborhood.
“This is happening right here, in 50 out of 50 states,” said Smyth. “I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s happening in every ZIP code, but it might be close to every ZIP code. It’s throughout our country.”
Smyth attributes one of the problems of this massive issue to the excess and exposure to sexual content in the United States.
“Our country is the largest producer and consumer of sexual content in the world,” said Smyth, “so it makes perfect sense that there’ll be a lot of predators, looking for vulnerable people.”
He also said bluntly that the majority of those in the workings of human and sex trafficking are men. Smyth is also the coauthor of “Men! Fight for Me: The Role of Authentic Masculinity in Ending Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking.”
“It brings me no joy to say that most of the customers of sex trafficking are men,” said Smyth. “It brings me no joy to say that most of the traffickers are men. Men are the problem, which is actually good news because in life, you can isolate a particular problem and you can define it and you can see it … When you know what the problem is, you now have a chance of fixing it.”
He called out to the audience, particularly the male members, urging them to confront any concerning behavior in its track before it could escalate.
Smyth shared that in the organization’s most recent years, they rescued their new youngest victim from “the game.” She was a 7-year-old girl. She was first trafficked at age 4.
These victims live in a debilitating mindset every day during “the game.” Their mindsets, as detailed by Smyth, are the fear of being beaten and/or tortured, to not wear a seatbelt and have the door unlocked to easily jump out in the case of an emergency and live in survival mode.
One of Smyth’s fellow Saving Innocence members identifies herself as a survivor of sex trafficking. She shared her story to him, detailing that she was raped seven to 15 times a day during her time in “the game.”
During Dupclay’s time to speak, she rolled up the sleeve of her yellow blazer and showed the audience her tattoo. It was a coverup tattoo, covering up her branding from one of her traffickers, the original being his name next to a lion wearing a king‘s crown.
Dupclay said she was young, which made her vulnerable — vulnerable enough to be trafficked in the first place and then make the decision to return.
How Dupclay escaped her first trafficker was because the man who was purchasing her found out her real age – 15. He said no and worked with her to return her to her grandmother’s. He was never identified.
Dupclay was arrested and placed in juvenile hall following.
“I didn’t think that was a proper consequence,” said Dupclay. “I didn’t feel like I deserved any type of consequences, because I didn’t put myself in that situation, but immediately I started to feel like a criminal.”
The system did not allow Dupclay to return home. She was placed in a group home instead.
It was a group home where the two in charge would cook these “amazing smelling” Jamaican recipes. The kids were left with frozen burritos and Top Ramen noodles.
Dupclay changed and felt “done.”
“I played the violin and I loved music,” said Dupclay about her life prior to being a victim of human trafficking. “I was in my leadership groups at school. I was a straight A student. I really loved math and science. Since the eighth grade. I always knew that I wanted to be an engineer.”
Bitter and angered by everything she had been put through and feeling “failed by the system,” she left her group home. She took some other roommates with her and returned to be a pawn in “the game.”
“We ran away to a trafficker as a group home because we just wanted better food and the guy ended up buying us McDonald’s, but that was still better than us eating Top Ramen and frozen burritos,” said Dupclay. “Because we wanted what they had. They were right in front of our faces. They weren’t concealing it even in the office or anything. It was just right there, and that shows you how little things, like missing a need, can be so minute for you if (a person has) been trafficked.”
Money and expensive gifts are some of the attributes that these predators utilize to draw their victims in.
Dozens of eyes were captivated by Dupclay’s honest and heart wrenching story of surviving trafficking, homelessness and the foster care system.
Her push for herself, motivated by her foster care family, led her to graduate from high school on time. She is now fulfilling her eighth-grade dream of obtaining an electrical engineering degree.
Dupclay shared her story on Friday for awareness and to call for people to take action.
Smyth said that there are approximately 900,000 predators online. Dupclay said that they are everywhere though: social media, in the neighborhoods and in online gaming. She added that in recent research ROBLOX has been flagged as a site for predators and went as far to say that she felt it should be taken down entirely.
Dupclay is not the first nor the last to be a victim to human trafficking.
Through the efforts of the SCV Human Trafficking Prevention Summit, all members involved hope that people will not look away but instead action will be accelerated to put an end to “the game” and save more lives.
“Thank you for giving me a second chance at life,” read a letter from a survivor to Saving Innocence.
College of the Canyons is currently offering a Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC) training course. Only five students are enrolled, at the time of this publication, and if five more are not registered, the class will be dropped. For more information on the COC CSEC training program and to enroll, visit tinyurl.com/4efkyxdc.
For more information and to donate to Saving Innocence, visit https://savinginnocence.org.