Five men were indicted in Missouri for sexually torturing a young, mentally-disabled women on live Internet webcast, forcing her to dance at strip clubs, and other heinous abuses. While the details of this case are some of the most gruesome that have ever been revealed, it serves as a textbook example of several of the most common and critical components of sex trafficking cases. And some of the men involved are well-known community leaders. Editor's Note: The details of this case are especially disturbing, even for this blog.
Five years of unspeakable torture ended for one Missouri woman this week, when her abusers were arrested and charged with a nauseating smorgasbord of crimes. The victim, who is referred to as FV only, met Edward Bagley, the alleged primary abuser, when she was just 16. She had lived in foster care her whole life and suffered from mental disabilities, so he easily convinced her that he could help her become a model and a dancer. Instead, he forced her into a life of sexual slavery, rape, torture, humiliation, and abuse. Traffickers prey on the vulnerable, and that includes young people, people with disabilities, and people without strong support systems, like foster children. FV fit the profile too well.
Bagley allegedly made money off FV in a number of ways, many of which were online. He advertised for sexual torture sessions with her online and broadcast them on streaming webcasts. He forced her to dance at strip clubs around Missouri. He traded her to his friends for cigarettes and steaks (yes, steaks). Traffickers increasingly use the Internet to advertise and exploit victims, but some exploitation still takes place the old-fashioned way, in strip clubs and by men exchanging meat for meat.
The men who are indicted for paying for these live or online torture sessions were not random creeps off the street, either. One of them is the Postmaster General of Nevada. Another is a national representative for disabled American veterans. We often think of the people who pay for sex with children or trafficked women as trench coat-wearing, mustache-twirling bush-lurkers. But they're our fathers, husbands, brothers, bosses, and friends. These men were upstanding citizens, at least, when they weren't paying to torture a woman for fun.
Bagley also used many of the techniques pimps and traffickers use to control their victims, only to the extreme. On FV's eighteenth birthday, he forced her to sign a contract declaring her his "sex slave for life", and convinced her it was legally binding. He killed her pets in front of her. He tattooed her to mark her as his property, with the Chinese symbol for slave. So many trafficked girls and women are branded this way by pimps and traffickers, some organizations have a fund for laser tattoo removal set aside.
Finally, FV's horrific abuse was ended because people were paying attention. A law enforcement investigation was started after electrocution during a torture session sent FV into cardiac arrest at the age of 23. The doctors who treated her knew something was seriously wrong. Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals are often the only people outside traffickers and buyers a victim may see, so their role in identifying and removing victims to safety is critical.