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    Tackling Human Trafficking in Washington DC

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    Washington DC is the Capital of the United States. Often referred as ‘The District’, the city has a total population of 658,893 residents according to the 2013 the U.S. Census Bureau data. During the workweek, the number of commuters from the suburbs into the city swells the District’s population by an estimated 71.8%, to a daytime population of over one million people.

    There are 268,670 households within the District in 2011. Approximately 45% of those are householders living alone. There were also 114,045 family households; 17% of homes have children under the age of 18. Of those families with children, 51% were those headed by a female householder only. The average household size was 2.2 and the average family size was 3.2. In 2010 the population distribution was 50.7% black, 38.5% white, 9.1% Hispanic (of any race), 4.4% other (including Native Americans, Alaskans, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders), 3.5% Asian, and 1.6% mixed.

    In Washington DC there are big disparities between the city’s rich and poor. This gap is reflected through education and income. A Robert Emery 2007 report found that about one-third of Washington residents are functionally illiterate, compared to a national rate of about one in five but nearly 46% of D.C. residents 25 and older have at least a four-year college degree, and 25% have a graduate or professional degree. The District has a median family income of approximately $66,583 but a per capita income in $45,307. 18.6%. of the urban areas lives below the poverty level.

    The industry of human trafficking is often neglected and largely forgotten by the public and law enforcement. The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Human Trafficking as

    “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”

    Due to the lack of awareness and profitability, human trafficking remains a proliferating issue. Furthermore, the media’s usage of sex as a marketing tool increases the influence of sex in our society. Today, sexual exploitation is the most common form of human trafficking. Often described as a ‘hidden crime’ affecting millions of cities; the overall lack of attention and news coverage gives sex trafficking the ability to thrive in communities nationwide, especially with children. According to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry. In the United States, victims of human trafficking are divided into populations; the most prevalent of which is children under age 18 induced into commercial sex. With over a 100,000 children being trafficked in Washington D.C alone; experts suggest that human trafficking disproportionately affects children of color.


    Erin Williamson says human trafficking, modern-day slavery, is a crime against the world’s most vulnerable individuals. Traffickers may abduct, deceive, use, and sell men, women, and children for profit or personal gain. Human trafficking is one of the top fast-growing crimes in the nation. Not only are women abducted, deceived, or used they are sometimes victims of debt bondage. According to Francis Miko and Grace park, the overwhelming majority of those trafficked are women and children. An estimated 700,000 to 2 million people are trafficked each year worldwide; between 45,000 and 50,000 to the United States. Trafficking is now considered the third largest source of profits for organized crime, behind only drugs and weapons, generating billions of dollars annually.

    According to the CDC, perpetrators of human trafficking often target people who are poor, vulnerable, living in an unsafe situation, or searching for a better life. Victims can come from all backgrounds and become trapped in different locations and situations. There is no race that perpetrators will not get but the easy targets are minorities. These women and children are not just exploited by forced sex but forced by labor trafficking, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, and peonage. Now sex trafficking is so broad it can be anything from prostitution to pornography. Many times, people abduct women and children primarily for the use of slave trading and or slavery. They would either sell them to the higher bidder or have people pay to have any sexual favors they want.

    In many instances of human trafficking, traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims. After luring them, many traffickers force victims into commercial sexual exploitation or labor slavery. Many times, victims are vulnerable to human trafficking due to economic hardships and unstable backgrounds. Traffickers use violence or threats to a person or to the victim’s family members to gain control. Additionally, they use false promises of love, companionship, economic stability, and depriving people of basic necessities to lure victims. By gaining full control of their victims, traffickers force the victims to enter a life of prostitution and sexual slavery.

    Young African-American girls and boys are the main targeted populations for human trafficking. Children are susceptible to the manipulation and false promises that traffickers use to secure their trust and dependency. While anyone can be a victim of sex trafficking, it most commonly affects groups such as immigrants, runaway teenagers, homeless youth, and victims of domestic violence and social discrimination. Nationally, 67% of victims of human trafficking are in the care of social service, foster care, or welfare involvement. In their vulnerable states, young children are manipulated and targeted by experienced human traffickers. With many of the victims being sold an average of three to five times a night, the majority of the children are never reunited with their families and do not get the opportunity to continue their education. Victims often become powerless because traffickers confiscate their identification and money; leaving with little to no access to escape. Researchers argue that the reason the issue has continued to be a problem and maintained relatively little press coverage is a combination of some powerful people involved in trafficking, and the enormous profit that is generated from harboring humans for commercial sex.

    In the District of Columbia, trafficking can be very unique due to the power structures in this city. Washington, DC is considered one of the most powerful cities in the world but it is one of the premier destinations for trafficked victims. Due to the harsh economic disparities in the city, many victims are lured into trafficking situations to provide basic necessities for their family. Many children are vulnerable because families live in poverty and sexual slavery is a lucrative business. In some cases, family members force children in the family into sexual slavery to provide a source of income. Another unique aspect of D.C is the aspect of strategic geography. D.C is in close proximity to other major trafficking cities such as Baltimore and New York. With close proximity to these cities, victims can often go undetected and it is hard to bring many victims out of the shadows. D.C is also very important because it is the location for every foreign embassy in the US. This makes the city particularly popular among tourists. In some cases foreign nationals can bring victims of human trafficking disguised as tourists, into this country to be used as sex slaves. This scenario is very intricate; often difficult to detect and can cause many victims to never be found because they are so carefully hidden. It is important that all parts of human trafficking are assessed in order to create a sustainable approach to eradicate this problem.


    Throughout our research, there were many apparent trends that cause this issue to remain a problem. A main deterrent in eradicating the problem is the lack of awareness in the issue. Our proposed solutions call for the District of Columbia to gain awareness, advocate and to take action against youth human trafficking. We believe that the slogan, “See it, say it, save them” is an effective framework for building a conscious community. Education not only begins with parents and family members, but also with first responders to victims, hospitality services, teachers, flight attendants and law enforcement. It’s imperative that all these groups of people partner with human trafficking experts working to combat the problem to be assertively trained to respond. Failure to educate these groups on how to identify signs of trafficking means youth are left vulnerable to becoming victims.

    An active bystander is defined as a person who observes questionable behavior that could be potentially damaging to another person’s health or wellbeing. The active bystander takes the necessary steps to make a difference. This includes active participation in knowing the indicators of human trafficking, consistently being alert, and equipping staff and the work environment with the proper literature for available local services. Literature is also an important component to education. By providing literature and trainings to detect the signs of trafficking, first responders and even ordinary citizens can make a difference in assisting us in decreasing the numbers of multiple-victimizations minors endure. Having the national crisis hotline number posted throughout the city’s streets or in corner markets can provide a small light of hope for victims kept in the grips of darkness who would like to escape. Increasing the number of individuals in the community who are aware of human trafficking decreases the demand because when there is awareness, prevention is possible.

    In order to properly engage the community, it is critical to understand the supply and demand of the industry of sex trafficking. If we can raise awareness and enforce punishments on the offenders rather than the victims, consumers will be less likely to demand minors for purpose of sexual exploitation. Referral to local restorative care homes or local non-profits such as Courtney’s House and Covenant House needs to also be increased. It is our hope that efforts such as these would encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s lives, but most importantly their whereabouts. Referring protocols to school systems so that they also can identify potential victims who may be too scared to seek help is also a solution. Schools can have talks with parents to know the signs and also can provide social networking skills through workshops to help children to avoid sex traffickers online.


    Empowerment can only be effective if participation and effort is present in the community. The information relayed at awareness symposiums not only educates those that attend, but also provides literature to be passed along, and a spotlight on the situation. Spotlighting issues is a part of an effective community approach. This gives citizens the courage to stand up and speak out, thereby empowering them to be catalyst to for change. It is critical to evaluate the impact of current public policies, and initiate new polices to address this major threat to the wellbeing of our communities. With this framework the community can take the initiative to create an environment with active bystanders who are alert, and do their best to vigorously report unusual behavior that may indicate a victim of trafficking.

    The most instrumental part of any action to curtail human trafficking is the power of Congress in passing legislation to stop modern day slavery. In the District of Columbia specifically, the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety published a report with specific steps the city must take to address this problem. In Bill 20-714, the “Sex Trafficking of Children Prevention Amendment Act of 2014”, the city attempts to change the government thinks about, talks about and treats youth engaged in commercial sex work. The bill is a four-part effort for the District of Columbia to improve their response to sex trafficking of children and is a collaboration of law enforcement and many local organizations committed to the cause. The bill’s four parts are (1) screening; (2) reporting; (3) training; and (4) immunity.

    The screening component requires that agencies such as the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) and Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS) to create a screening process in the time of intake to identify youth in their custody who are at risk for becoming a victim of human trafficking or are prior victims. This will assist the agencies to have a faster response system to children identified as high risk for human trafficking. This bill will also create a system for CFSA to immediately submit a missing report as soon as a child fails to return on time to his or her placement home after their time in DYRS. The Reporting state requires for Human Trafficking counselors to identify when a child with prior involvement in sex trafficking is missing and likely to be in a dangerous situation. Another important step in the reporting stage is the mandate that requires the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) to report missing children to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. This is important because it maximizes the early search response, which makes it easier to track down youth involved in a trafficking situation.

    In the training section of the bill, MPD, case managers of DYRS, and social workers at CFSA are required to partake in human trafficking training sessions. The goal is to include teaching these employees how to identify a child who may be a victim of sex trafficking, what resources are available for child victims, and how to access those services. The final part of the bill provides immunity from protection for persons under 18 years of age who engage in or offer to engage in sexual contact in exchange for receiving anything of value. This is a very important component in the issue because it addresses and reflects that children are being sold or selling themselves for sex. Through this initiative, it recognizes that victims of sexual abuse should not be arrested, prosecuted or convicted and that the real problem lies in the demand of these children. By creating this initiative, the strained relationship between victims and law enforcement will be addressed and it will help create a smoother process to eradicate this problem.

    Through this localized approach, our communities can become safer and we can eradicate this problem in the District of Columbia. On the Federal level, legislation such as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 brought nationwide attention to this problem. In this law, anyone under the age of 18 years of age and who was recruited, harbored, transported or otherwise obtained for the purpose of a commercial sex act was considered a victim of human trafficking. By creating language to identify the most vulnerable populations, the federal government continued to show its commitment to eradicating this important issue. Through a victim-centered approach, we can create more effective legislation to ensure that all parts of the community are active in solving this problem. By bringing the awareness in our communities, children can be safer in their communities without risk of becoming a statistic. Human Trafficking is a problem that affects all parts of a community. With the District of Columbia regarded as one of the most powerful cities in the world, it is imperative that we are active in a process to end modern day slavery.


    As concerned citizens we are aware that action is an integral part of mitigating circumstances. Action in this scenario requires not only the participation of minority populations, but also the engagement of elected officials and persons working in the field. I have composed a four minute public service announcement that provides historical content and enriching material, in regards to awareness, pertaining to the dangers encompassing the issue at hand.

    Holding members of Congress accountable for creating and implementing legislation that prosecutes “johns”, pimps, and others who use children as modern cash crops is one of the most effective ways of achieving tangible results. In addition, legislation should also account for ways to rehabilitate victims who have been trafficked and provide federal support for organizations who are helping to mitigate the problem.

    By utilizing the mantra of “It takes a village”, we believe that the community needs to take part in wrapping its’ arms around the situation through initiating awareness, pushing for advocacy, and implementing action plans to protect children. Action steps to combat human trafficking must be holistic, multidimensional and cohesive.


    1. Sex Trafficking|Sexual Violence|Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. (2020, January 30). Retrieved from
    2. Miko, F. T., Park, G., & Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division. (2003, March). Trafficking in women and children: The US and international response. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.
    3. https://polarisproject.org×1024.png
    5. Anapaula.canestrelli. “United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.” Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling,

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