Human trafficking has always bothered me, but until I started researching it, I had no idea how prevalent it is, even in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), 600,000 to 800,000 individuals are brought across international borders for human trafficking purposes annually. Sewa-aifw.org puts that estimate at 900,000 people, many of them children. That’s almost one million people a year. The regions of the world with the most severe trafficking are Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa.
Countries like the U.S. are often “destination countries”, the places to where the victims are brought. According to Sewa-aifw, up to 20,000 victims are brought to the United States annually, many of them young children. The women are usually forced to work in the sex trade or as unpaid, abused domestics. The men are most often forced into migrant farming or factory work, although they occasionally work in the sex trade. The children are used for any or all of those purposes.
Victims are either taken, sold by their families or lured away with false promises of a good job, a better life, a way to provide for their families back home, or a good marriage.
Once the victims are taken, the traffickers use force, threaten to kill the person or the person’s family if the victim doesn’t comply with their orders, or they falsely tell the victim they only have to pay off a certain amount of debt and then will be free. The victims are watched constantly and often kept under lock and key. Their documents are confiscated and they are kept isolated.
Victims are often brought to countries where they don’t speak the language. This encourages isolation and abuse. If they can’t communicate with those around them, how will they get help? Or better yet, how will they know where to go get help?
Sadly, many victims do not realize that they are victims. They may come from a country with a mistrust of government. Or, since they’re being fed and sheltered, they don’t perceive themselves as victims. They may be afraid of the authorities if the traffickers have convinced them they are in debt or otherwise in trouble.
We have our own problems with trafficking, not just as a destination country. Just a week ago, arrests were made in Florida for sex trafficking. In April, nine people in LA were convicted of sex trafficking, after bringing young women in from Guatamala to work as prostitutes. In February, a man in Alaska was arrested for forcing young women to work as prostitutes.
In fiscal year 2009, the FBI launched 167 human trafficking investigations and made 202 arrests. Human trafficking is second only to drug dealing and arms dealing (which are tied for first) as a criminal activity. And the problem is growing.
“It’s sad but true: here in this country, people are being bought, sold, and smuggled like modern-day slaves.” – FBI website
The sewa-aifw web site has great information on how to identify victims of human trafficking, how to communicate with potential victims, and victims’ needs and rights.
It tells you how to potentially identify a victim of trafficking. Signs include living with employer, signs of abuse, submissiveness, inability to speak alone, fearfulness, being kept under surveillance.
HHS runs The Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking. Their web site has loads of information on the issue and how they are working to combat it. It also tells you how you can become involved where you live.
If you come across someone you believe to be a victim of this, call 911.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-3737-888 Operates 24 hours.
U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force Line 1-888-428-7581 Only operates on weekdays, 9am-5pm EST. Call to report a potential case of human trafficking. This is a direct call to Federal law enforcement.
National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 Operates 24 hours. Can make local referrals.