She is no one’s daughter or granddaughter. Or sister. Or niece or cousin.

The woman known as Monique Smith-Person identifies herself as a mother of four children, an entrepreneur, author and now, a wife. That is the only identification she has that she can be sure is her own.

The problem is that whether her account is true is something the world will never know for sure.

At the age of 30, Smith-Person had finished a class in entrepreneurship at Women Entrepreneurs of Baltimore, and when she was asked to produce a government-issued identity document in order to receive her certificate of competition for the course. When she tried to get an I.D., she was denied because she had no documentation of her birth, she said.

Smith-Person, who jokes at the irony of her newly hyphenated married last name, said, “When I questioned my family about who I was, my grandmother said ‘Baby she didn’t tell you? Your mother just showed up with you one day.’”

Everything began to make sense to Smith-Person: her mother not letting her go on trips or other extracurricular activities with her school, taunts from cousins that she was not really their kin, the whispers and pointing when she would attend family events.

“I was the black sheep of the family,” said Smith-Person, who came to realize that the family she grew up with was not her biological family. She believes she was abducted, but can’t document it or come up with certifiable birth records.

The {CNN} Freedom Project estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 humans are sold, traded or purchased as chattel annually. The Trafficking in Persons Report released by the Justice Department in 2012 defines human trafficking or modern day slavery as the recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through use of force or coercion. Trafficking can include sex trafficking, child sex trafficking, child labor trafficking, bonded labor or debt bondage, forced child labor and involuntary domestic servitude.

In July 2012, actress Jada Pinkett-Smith stood as an advocate for ending human trafficking. She and husband Will Smith joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at State Department headquarters for the release of the 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report.

“There are very, very high numbers of African-American and Latina women who are trafficked,” said Pinkett-Smith according to {USA Today}. “It’s a very-layered, complex issue that’s going to take some time for us to figure out how to pull apart. Right now, we just have to get aware.”

The Maryland Human Trafficking Task Force was created in 2007 to combat the growing human trafficking issue in Maryland. The task force is comprised of numerous governmental and non-governmental agencies including Office of the Attorney General of Maryland, several Maryland Police Departments, YANA (You Are Never Alone), Inc. and Vineyard Community Church.

Mike Mizer, special agent for Maryland’s FBI Crime Against Children unit, said his department, created in December 2012, works to identify victims of child trafficking in the Maryland and Delaware areas, recover victims and prosecute traffickers.

“In the past Baltimore was more of a city that girls were recruited from,” said Mizer. “Baltimore has become more of a destination area for pimps with the increase in casinos and conferences held downtown and at the Inner Harbor.”

Mizer said that large sporting events such as the Grand Prix of Baltimore that attract a rich, but transient crowd, spark an increase in prostitution and trafficking in Baltimore.

While Baltimore has few known areas of prostitution or trafficking, such as Baltimore Street, or “The Block,” and Charles Village, home to a large transgender prostitution ring, one of the primary focuses of the task force is to monitor Internet ads for prostitution and other forms of human trafficking.

“People are using Facebook and Twitter to recruit,” said Mizer. Most of the girls targeted are between the ages of 13 and 15. He also said the task force tracks the ads in that look for girls.

Melisa Snow is head of the anti-trafficking program at Turn Around Inc., an organization founded in 1978 to provide counseling and support services to victims of rape incest and domestic violence. She said young people are still as vulnerable as they always have been. “Traffickers continue to prey on vulnerable populations and Baltimore, in particular, is struggling with an underserved youth minority population.One of the patterns we are seeing is a high percentage, over half the girls that we service, have experienced childhood sexual violence or drug or substance abuse. Children are removing themselves from their home environment. They are trying to find a safer space on the streets.”

Smith-Person said she was one of those children. She said she ran away to Florida after experiencing mental, physical and sexually abuse at home and at 18, became a prostitute.

“You don’t think about it or plan it, but it was survival,” said Smith-Person. “But I stayed grounded.”

Smith-Person chronicled her story in her book, I Am The Ancestor, Before I Die I Must Share My Story, which she self-published under the name Symbolie Monique Smith in 2011. 


Krishana Davis

AFRO Staff Writers