Human trafficking is far from a third world issue. A practice that is modern day slavery, human trafficking is defined by United States law as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor services against his or her will”. It exists worldwide and every year millions fall victim and while there may be some that are more vulnerable than others, victims may be any race, age, gender, nationality or come from any socioeconomic group.
There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding human trafficking. One of the most unsettling is the myth that human trafficking is uncommon, particularly pertaining to the United States. According to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit dedicated to ending sex and labor trafficking in North America, exact numbers are hard to come by because of the hidden nature of the crime but it is estimated that as many as 199,000 incidents occur in the USA every year. In many cases, victims do not believe that they are victims of human trafficking or they will deny it because they are ashamed.
If a person does not view themselves [sic] as a victim, the message about human trafficking will not stick. They will not relate the information to their situation. We need to educate about the issue without using labels.
In 2018, the Polaris project worked on 10,949 cases with 23,078 survivors of human trafficking identified and 5,859 potential traffickers identified. These numbers were a 25 percent increase in cases from 2017 and their estimate is that it is only a small fraction of the number of cases out there.
Another roadblock for collecting accurate data regarding human trafficking in the United States is inconsistencies in state legislation. In fact, human trafficking didn’t technically become illegal in the USA until 2000 when the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was passed, making it a federal crime.
Traffickers prey on vulnerabilities and exploit those who are unable to speak up for themselves. Risk factors for human trafficking include substance abuse, mental illness, immigration (particularly to a country with a different native language), homelessness, and involvement with the child welfare system.
Many victims of human trafficking in the United States enter via an H-2 visa which allows employers to bring immigrants to the country to fill jobs on a temporary basis. Traffickers make false promises of helping these immigrants gain permanent residence if they follow orders despite being paid little to nothing and often experiencing physical and sexual abuse. The H-2 visa binds the employee to the employer because if they leave, they will be deported.
While the USA has made great strides in identifying human trafficking in the last twenty years, it remains a prominent issue. Immigrants and child welfare sit at the center of it and a significant gap in resources for victims and survivors to build a life for themselves after escaping their trafficker.
Human Trafficking and Current Events
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re familiar with the Jeffrey Epstein case. If you have been living under a rock, you can catch up here. Recently, his “companion” Ghislaine Maxwell, was arrested and charged with recruiting young girls to bring to Epstein who would then sexually abuse them. Lawsuits have also accused Maxwell of being present during some of these sex acts. This case has been shrouded in conspiracy and controversy; Epstein’s reported suicide, high profile associates and friends of Epstein (including the Clintons and Donald Trump) many also accused of sexual misconduct, and the fact that he has avoided significant jail time despite the accusations against him.
The American e-commerce company Wayfair has recently been speculated to be involved in human trafficking after social media users flagged the names and prices of furniture being sold on their website as suspicious. Many of the names of the cabinets directly matched names of missing children. Wayfair has since denied these claims and no formal investigation has been opened.
ACT - How to identify human trafficking
It can be incredibly challenging to identify human trafficking because many of the jobs that victims are asked to do are legal in nature (human trafficking does not always mean sex trafficking) like agricultural or janitorial work. However, there are some red flags that you can look for to help identify if someone is a victim of trafficking:
Living with the employer
Poor living conditions/many people crammed in one space
Inability to speak to the individual alone
Employer withholding identity documents (visas)
Little or no pay
Signs of physical abuse
Submissive or fearful
Scripted answers to questions
Under 18 and in prostitution
If you’re not certain, ask questions and see if any red flags are raised. If you believe someone is falling victim to trafficking contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline 1 (888)-373-7888.
Human trafficking may be present in all sectors of work but the most commonly reported are: Agriculture/horticulture Construction Textiles/garments under sweatshop conditions Catering/restaurants Sex work Entertainment Domestic work