To the dismay of many people, human trafficking is a huge problem in America. Most people would like you to believe that things like that don’t happen here, that is something that happens in other countries, poorer countries, not the U.S. of A. It has become such an epidemic here, that it can no longer be ignored. Though it is currently difficult to know the exact number of people that are victim to human trafficking due to it being a hidden crime, the US is currently ranked in the top 10 destinations for human trafficking. (Hepburn, Simon 2010)
I would like to define human trafficking, as it is understood by Homeland Security so when it is mentioned it will be comprehended the same way throughout, “Human trafficking is modern-day slavery and involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” (dhs.gov) Though history would like for you to believe that slavery was abolished in 1838 after the American Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation that was signed by Abraham Lincoln. Unfortunately, none of that is true. There is more human slavery in the world today, than ever before. It is considered a low risk, high reward enterprise since it is hard to prove and convict compared to the amount of money that is made from it. One major difference between then and now would be that back then, human slaves were property and worth a monetary value. Whereas now there is no monetary value to the person, only what they can do to make the trafficker money. Once the slave becomes of no use, whether it is from health issues or an undesirable age, they are no longer making money, so they are easily replaced.
Human trafficking is thought to be the third largest criminal activity following closely behind gun and drug trafficking. (Logan, Walker, Hunt 2009) It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year, (dosomething.org) Though it seems that sex trafficking gets more attention in the media due to it being more overdramatized; labor trafficking is more common and harder to prove in a court of law. One huge misconception about human trafficking is that a person has to be transported from one country to another to be considered trafficking, however, it can take place all in one country. There is an estimated 100,000-150,000 people that the US government believes to be kept in slavery here in America. (arkofhopeforchildren.org)
Common factors that lead people to become victims is often extreme poverty, they may be born in to, they may be runaways living on the streets making them easy targets for kidnapping, or they may be tricked. When someone has grown up in poverty and they are offered an opportunity to either make a better life for themselves or their children, it makes them susceptible to any promises made of a better life. Often parents in poverty are persuaded with hope. Hope of a better life, better education, or even a better life here in America, they will send their child away with these strangers or companies, thinking they are doing their best for their children. Not fully understanding that once that child has been separated from his or her family, communication ties will be severed, and the child will be stuck with their captors. It has been documented that families have sold their younger children because they could not afford to raise them and they would use the money made to finish raising the older child, or children, that were of working age.
Some victims have fallen prey to the darkness that is in the internet, people answering personal ads, and claiming to fall in love with that person over time. Once that person has the victim believing that love is the driving force, the victim will do anything to keep that love, even if it means sleeping with Johns for money. Runaways are easy prey for human traffickers due to their vulnerability. The traffickers watch, evaluate patterns of runaways living on the streets, then the trafficker will have a better idea of what could be the selling point to get that victim to go with them, it could be food, shelter, or promises of an endless supply of drugs. It is currently estimated that over 2,000 children a day go missing in America, that is approximately 750,000 per year. Of those numbers, only 24 percent are taken by strangers, otherwise known as stranger kidnapping, which gives you approximately 175,000 that go missing or possibly taken for human trafficking per year. (arkofhopeforchildren.org). That is just children, that doesn’t include women and men that are also taken for slavery.
Many of the victims believe that they are taking legitimate jobs like childcare, construction, or landscaping just to name a few. They may even come to America on work Visas, but once they get here, their Visas, passports, or identifying documentation gets confiscated. They are then lead to believe that if they work hard, make enough money for their captors, they can get their documents back. Some human trafficking may appear as a legitimate business of helping people find employment or relocation for employment. Contracts are made up by the company and signed by the victim, not fully aware of what they may have just got themselves into, but since a contract was signed, they fear it cannot be undone.
Once victims have themselves in a human trafficking situation they may be afraid to leave. Captors often use threats of harming family members, deportation if they are in America illegally, being put in jail. Some victims may have the lack of knowledge about alternatives, they may be kept in isolation, they suffer physical abuse, or psychological confinement. Unfortunately, in some countries it is believed that some governments or law enforcement agencies are involved or have knowledge of ongoing human trafficking events and are paid nicely to look the other way. So, if someone is here illegally, they may have several fears that prevent them from seeking help from the law enforcement. They could be afraid of deportation, fear of not being believed, or fear that if they ask law enforcement for help, they will be turned back over to their captors and punished severely.
Also, if they are involved in illegally activities here in America, they may fear being punished for collateral misconduct. Other victims may not leave the situation that they are in because they have no money, no family, nowhere else to go, which may seem worse than the situation that they are in currently. Traffickers often use shame to control their victims. So even if the victim were to get free, they have so much self-shame, they believe their families will disown them or potentially not love them anymore because of what they have done, even though the things they have done were against their will. Sometimes victims may not even realize they are victims of human trafficking and continue living the life they have grown accustom to.
It’s hard to believe that this crime goes unnoticed more than any other crime, since no many people are involved. What makes this crime different though is that it is hard to identify. Especially if law enforcement isn’t trained on what to look for, because they themselves don’t believe it could be happening in their community. People that may be here illegally may fear there will be a prejudice held against them because they aren’t American. They may believe they do not have rights here because they are not American. “Victims that are found during law enforcement raids are often deported or arrested without a thorough evaluation about whether or no they are trafficking victims. Not only does this fail to protect and assist potential victims of trafficking but also the deportation of critical witnesses (i.e., trafficking victims) significantly weakens the case against their traffickers.” (Hepburn & Simon, 2010)
Without educating our communities, our children, local law enforcement, along with the legality system this crime will not go away. It will not go away even if we turn a blind eye, or pretend it doesn’t happen in our country. We must start educating people and talking about the dangers that lurk in the world. If something seems too good to be true, it most likely is too good. Children need to be taught to trust their instincts, maybe even learn to fear strangers, like it was taught to me, stranger danger. No one is truly safe from becoming a victim of human trafficking.
Especially if they threaten the lives or wellbeing of families, most people will do anything to protect their families. Society has to stop being afraid of law enforcement. They were always known as the “good guys” and now somehow all of that has changed over time. The government needs to set a standard so that law enforcement agencies don’t have a lack of knowledge about identifying crime of human trafficking, most agencies don’t have specific policies, procedures, and training addressing human trafficking. (Wilson, Walsh, Kleuber, 2006) Those agencies that do have it don’t have a standardization, which could also complicate taking these cases to trail. If there was more of a black and white standard, then maybe there could be a higher conviction rating.