It might not receive the attention it deserves, but human trafficking continues to be the largest and most profitable criminal industries in existence – not only in developing nations but also in the developed countries like United States, where such cases still go largely undetected and unreported.
In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated there were 20.9 million victims of human trafficking around the world. The report said 68 percent of the victims worked as forced labor, 26 percent were children and 55 percent were women and girls.
However, these were just estimates, not facts.
Unfortunately, no one really knows the exact number of victims trapped in the illegal underground business. However, experts believe it reaches into the hundreds of thousands in the United States alone.
Child trafficking and slavery are complex issues that keep getting worse mostly because people fail to understand that enslavement is not a thing of the past – it is an ever-growing epidemic and children are its biggest victims.
Speaking exclusively to Carbonated.TV, Emily Freeborn from non-profit Children At Risk explained the definition of trafficking.
“Trafficking is basically the provision of labor or services through force fraud or coercion,” said Freeborn, the staff attorney at non-partisan organization dedicated to improve the quality of life for children through strategic research, public policy analysis, education, collaboration and advocacy. “Unfortunately, children are trafficked for the same reasons adults are trafficked. There is a wide variety of types of trafficking, whether that is domestic servitude, whether it is for agriculture or construction. You have labor and sex trafficking and there’s different types of both.”
One common myth about trafficking is that it only occurs when victims are moved from one place to another. The truth is human trafficking can occur when a victim is recruited or harbored.
“Not all victims are trafficked into the U.S. We do have a good number of victims that are trafficked from other nations for the purposes of employment in illicit massage parlors or in the health and beauty sector, like nail salons,” Freeborn continued. “But there is also a very large number of domestic victims that are trafficked. Actually, domestic minor sex trafficking victims are one of the most vulnerable groups here in the U.S.”
When it comes to domestic minors, the homeless and runaway youth, children with low self esteem, those battling mental health issues and the ones from abusive households are at most risk.
“Some of the biggest red flags are when someone is trying to make a child do something that is uncomfortable,” she added, also explaining how traffickers are skilled at targeting vulnerabilities and might approach children online, coercing them to leave their homes. Once these children are out on the streets, the traffickers usually gain their trust by offering them a safe place to stay or a job opportunity.
Immigrant children, especially those who don’t have documented status, are also more likely to be exploited for labor because they can’t trust law-enforcement and rarely have any security net built around them.
Also, contrary to the popular belief, victims are not always kept under lock and key.
Sometimes, the victims are promised a “better future” if they do certain things or carry out certain jobs, which might range from prostitution to working in the agriculture sector and manufacturing. Other times, they are blackmailed or threatened to do as told.
If children find themselves in such a situation, they must immediately reach out to a trusted adult.
“You can reach out to a teacher, you can reach out to a healthcare professional, you can reach out to law enforcement professional, a crosswalk guard… any adult in your life you can trust, or even friends,” advised Freeborn. “The quicker that they reach out and are able to get services, the less likely it is that they’ll be stuck in the situation for a long period of time. It is important that they speak as quickly as possible and seek help.”
Sadly, in some U.S. states, minor victims of sex trafficking can still be charged for prostitution.
“Those 14 to 17 can still be prosecuted for prostitution. It’s a delinquency charge based on the criminal charge of prostitution,” she continued. “Although we are charging these victims with prostitution, it is also one of the only ways that they can get services. So, although it’s really unfortunate that they have to be charged with the crime of prostitution, or delinquency charge based on prostitution, it is often one of the main ways that they can be extricated from that trafficking situation and get long term services that are going to help them exit that situation permanently and live a positive life.”
One of the most effective ways to combat this problem is to reduce the number of buyers and going after the demand.
“Law enforcement often arrests the victims that are involved in prostitution while the buyers most often get away. It’s really reducing the number of buyers out there and the demand for this sex trafficking that can have the biggest impact on ending sex trafficking,” Freeborn concluded. “You can save as many victims as you like but if the demand is still out there, then those victims will be replaced by new victims.”
To get help for victims and survivors of human trafficking, one can contact National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE).
Children At Risk is a Texas based organization that began in the fall of 1989 and has now evolved into a body that “drives macro-level change to better the future of our city and state through community education, collaborative action, evidence-based public policy, and advocacy for our youth at the local and state level,” according to its website.
Thumbnail Credits: Reuters