The United States Department of Justice defines human trafficking as, “… a crime that involves exploiting a person for labor, services or commercial sex.” Some organizations think of it as the business of stealing freedom for profit. Human trafficking is a billion-dollar industry that strips away the freedom of millions of people around the world each year. Here in the United States, a common myth is that human trafficking only takes place in other countries, when in fact, that’s not true.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2018 there were 10,949 cases of human trafficking reported in the United States with an additional 41,088 contacts initiated via text and chat regarding possible circumstances of human trafficking. Although these numbers are shocking, they likely still don’t accurately tell the scope of the problem as most cases of human trafficking go unreported.
Most of us refuse to believe something so horrific could happen in our communities, but human trafficking can happen anywhere. And although human trafficking victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality, there are some people that are more vulnerable. Risk factors include:
• Those who have recently relocated
• Those with a history of substance abuse
• Those with mental health issues
• Youth in the child welfare system
• Runaways or homeless youth
• Those experiencing economic hardship
Traffickers can be as diverse as victims, including business owners, gang members, partners, and sadly even parents or family members. Traffickers use force, deception, and coercion to persuade a victim into enslavement resulting in forced labor, servitude, commercial sex, forced marriage, or forced organ removal. Victims are often terrified to seek help because of language barriers, fear of the trafficker, or fear of law enforcement.
You could save a life by knowing the key indicators of human trafficking to help identify possible victims. While it’s important to note that not all indicators may be present and not all cases of human trafficking are the same, some signs of human trafficking to look for are:
• Does the person seem disconnected from family and community?
• Has the youth stopped going to school?
• Has there been a dramatic change in behavior?
• Are there physical signs of abuse?
• Does the person seem confused or disoriented?
• Is the person suddenly very fearful?
• Does the person seem connected to or controlled by someone?
All of us can play a role in helping fight human trafficking. Recognizing the signs is the first step and taking action is imperative. If you have knowledge of a possible human trafficking situation, do not attempt to confront the trafficker yourself. Instead, contact local law enforcement or report your suspicions to Federal Law enforcement at 1-866-347-2423. If you are a victim of human trafficking, get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP or INFO to BeFree (233733).