If you believe human and sex trafficking is a third world country issue then it’s time to think again.
In what was perhaps one of the most important – yet underrated – conferences held in New York this week, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Cindy McCain, co-chair of Arizona’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, discussed how this trade is increasingly becoming a pervasive problem in the United States.
At the annual Concordia Summit in New York City, CNN presenter Erin Burnett moderated a panel that included Klobuchar; McCain; Letty Ashworth, Delta Air Lines' director of global diversity; Cyrus Vance, district attorney, County of New York; and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
During the “Combating Human Trafficking With Cross-Sector Solutions” session, the five speakers shared some of the most horrific and shocking details on how trafficking victims are trapped, tortured, manipulated and traded in different cities in America.
Following is a list of the most important points stated by the panelists on the issue which will help you understand how severe the situation has become in the U.S.
Victims are treated like “property with barcodes”
Vance described how human trafficking victims, young girls and women especially, are “treated like property” and how they are often manipulated by their abusers, confusing mistreatment and abuse with love and attachment.
“We’ve had women testify on behalf of their abuser, that they loved them and were not there against their will,” TIME quoted Vance. He added he had seen at least one woman tattooed with a barcode by her trafficker, as a mark of ownership.
The Manhattan D.A. also explained how sometimes, out of desperation and fear, victims risk their lives to escape.
Vance told the audience about a girl who jumped out the sixth floor of a court room because she did not want to testify against her captor.
A majority of victims in the U.S. are not foreigners
“I don’t think you’d ever think that there were sex trafficking rings in North Dakota, but there are serious cases taken on by the U.S. attorney there,” Klobuchar said.
After briefly addressing the online world as one of the major catalysts in the human trafficking industry, the Minnesota Democrat revealed the average age of victims in her state.
“In our state, the average age of a victim, mostly young girls, is 13. Not even old enough to go prom first, not even to drive a car.”
Later, she revealed what turned out to be a shocking, myth-busting fact about the citizenship of most of the victims.
“Eighty-three percent of the victims in the U.S. are actually from the U.S,” she said.
This means people who think trafficking only happens to and by foreigners are deeply wrong.
Victims in America’s own backyard
Ashworth said it’s time U.S. authorities and the public realize how pervasive the issue is in the country.
She said Delta Air Lines is the first and the only American airline to sign the ECPAT code for ending child prostitution and adopt a training program to help raise awareness and combat human trafficking.
Ashworth’s findings were more or less equivalent to those of a 2012 report by the U.S. State Department that lists California, New York and Texas as the states with the most human trafficking activity.
According to the same document, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego are among the top 10 areas in the U.S. for the activity.
Underage victims are openly sold online
McCain talked about the absurdity child sex trafficking websites, such as Backpage.com, thriving in this day and age, despite high-tech surveillance from authorities.
“Make no mistake: This is organized crime at its best. This is also child abuse at its best,” cautioned McCain, before saying “real men do not buy little girls.”
Victims have “no way out”
Shedding light on the fact why this problem never goes away, Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) said many of the victims, especially children, end up believing that there is no other way they can make a better life for themselves.
She said the root of the problem needs to be addressed -- providing the victims a way out.
You can watch the complete panel discussion here.