For many, the term “human trafficking” conjures images of ‘someone else’s’ neighborhood, where extreme poverty and violence are rampant and human rights are devalued, or ignored outright. But, as the FBI notes, the third-largest criminal activity in the world knows no boundaries and no demographic restrictions.
“Human trafficking is referred to as a crime that’s hidden in plain sight,” said Jamie Walton, president of the Wayne Foundation, an advocacy and crisis help organization for female victims of human trafficking that operates a nonprofit drop-in shelter in Florida. “It’s not just one type of human trafficking, and it’s not just happening in big cities. It’s happening everywhere.”
Especially in the digital age. The Internet has become a pipeline for predators to coerce, fraud and/or force young people into sex trades and labor arrangements that are tantamount to slavery. In America, it often starts when a vulnerable teen meets a ‘friend’ in a chat room. This ‘friend’ may come off charming and dangle something that’s financially out of reach – access to a nice house, fancy cars, drugs. Other times, they promise to fill a void in the youth’s life through something as simple as companionship. These online ‘relationships’ too often lead to the young person become victimized in real life.
Human Trafficking May Be Pervasive, But Public Awareness and Action Are Making A Difference
Federal data collected through a national reporting hotline offers valuable insight into the scope of the problem in the U.S. This data reveals:
- The crisis is growing. In 2017, there were 8,524 reports of human trafficking. This number has increased each year since 2012, when there were 3,272 reports.
- Victims are predominantly female (7,067) but include significant numbers of males (1,124) and gender minorities (80). Roughly 30 percent (2,495) were minors.
- Sex trafficking was by far the most common type reported (6,081), followed by labor (1,249) and various other forms (1,194). The top venues for sex trafficking were illicit massage/spa businesses (714), hotel/motel-based (613) and online ads (519).
In fact, Walton says the majority of children are being trafficked while parents are away on vacation, away on business trips — even between getting out of school and parents getting home from an ordinary work day.
“Kidnapping is a real threat, but it’s not always this worst case scenario we need to pay attention to,” said Walton. “Too often, these children are being trafficked right in their own neighborhoods and they’re too scared and ashamed to ask for help. Local law enforcement is better trained and better equipped than ever to handle these cases, but they can be even more effective if we, ordinary citizens, are working with them to help identify threats and if we report them.”
Citizen Action Matters: Teaming Up With Law Enforcement to Stop Human Trafficking in Your Town
If you believe someone you know or have encountered could be a victim of human trafficking, it is critical that you alert the authorities right away.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides support for US citizens who are witnesses to — or victims of — human trafficking. The agency funds the National Human Trafficking Hotline, where people can reach out for help or report their suspicions about human trafficking activity 356 days a year, 24 hours a day.
Additionally, anonymous reporting options like the STOPit mobile app or WeTip both offer a safe, easy way to share information that could save lives and restore young people to their homes. Communities across the US are subscribing to these services as a way for citizens to report incidents to law enforcement. With both of these tools, the person reporting is also kept safe through guaranteed anonymity.
In more and more neighborhoods across the country, citizens, like those who brought STOPit to their Bloomfield, New Mexico community, are successfully working with law enforcement and public safety officers to stop crime and provide valuable assistance to help make victims whole.
“The best thing people can do is reach out — to report suspicious activity and protect someone you know, or to ask for help if you’re the victim,” Walton said. “We are working with our community law enforcement agencies every single day to more quickly identify these cases and take positive action to stop trafficking and get victims the help they need.”
For more information about how public safety officials and citizens in local communities are using anonymous reporting to increase safety and security in their neighborhoods, call now and speak with one of our experts in community safety.
Help for Victims of Trafficking
In light of the significant domestic threat, the US has proclaimed each January since 2010 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the Department of Homeland Security sponsors its Blue Campaign, which offers training to law enforcement and key industries to increase detection of human trafficking, protect victims and bring suspected traffickers to justice.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline provides assistance to victims in crisis through safety planning, emotional support, and connections to local resources. Calls are confidential, toll-free and available 24/7.
CALL: (888) 373-7888
TEXT: HELP to BEFREE (233733)
Indicators of Human Trafficking
The following are some common indicators to help recognize human trafficking:
- Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
- Has a child stopped attending school?
- Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
- Is a juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
- Is the person disoriented or confused, or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
- Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
- Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
- Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation, e.g., where they go or who they talk to?
- Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
- Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
- Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
- Does the person have freedom of movement? Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?