“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men and women to do nothing.”
Edmund Burke; and favorite quote of former Los Angeles Dodgers GM Kevin Malone, founder of the U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking
Fundamental human rights include personal freedom and the right to determine the fate of one’s own mind and body. Unfortunately, such rights are all too often stripped away from millions of people worldwide, including what statistics indicate to be countless innocent children. According to the International Labour Organization, there are an estimated 40.3 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, 25 percent of which are children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the average age a child first becomes a victim of sex trafficking is between the ages of 12 to 14.
With January being National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, it’s worth opening our eyes and recognizing that there is indisputable evidence that human trafficking is all around us. Whether we see it or not, human trafficking touches every corner of our country, including my home state of South Carolina, which has seen numerous concerning reports about victims of sex trafficking and smuggling in recent months and years.
Human trafficking is modern-day slavery
If you live, work, and/or travel to any urban area in the United States, there’s a real possibility that a victim of human trafficking or smuggling may be in your near vicinity. Trafficking can occur anywhere or anytime someone is forced, coerced or defrauded into committing a commercial sex act or labor service, thereby subjecting workers and other victims to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or modern-day slavery.
As disgraceful as it is, some would be shocked to know that human trafficking is a $150 billion a year criminal industry worldwide. Of those dollars, an estimated $32 billion are attributed to trafficking in the U.S, making it the fastest-growing organized crime activity in the United States. With that kind of financial incentive, the motivation for traffickers seems to be at an all-time high.
“You can’t arrest your way out of this”
The number one reason why sex trafficking continues to increase despite all of the good faith efforts of so many individuals and organizations is that the “demand” issue still needs to be solved. “You can’t arrest your way out of this or open enough safe homes to make a difference,” U.S. Institute Against Human Trafficking founder Kevin Malone states. “Those are supply answers for a demand problem. We have to shut down demand.”
So how do we do this as a society? Mr. Malone has traveled the country to find out which organizations, groups and municipalities are having the most success in curbing sex trafficking demand. He’s discovered that progress can be made by creating “trafficking-free zones” where a community, including police, schools, businesses and local government officials, work together to attack the problem from all sides.
The takeaway is that there are steps, however small or large, that can be taken within a community to combat the number of buyers of trafficking victims. Everyone can help, but especially those who have the power to act include: businesses, community leaders, schools, healthcare organizations and journalists.
Identifying Victims of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking can be difficult to detect at a passing glance, but warning signs are often there. Victims of human trafficking often aren’t in a position to speak up for themselves, especially children, making it increasingly important that others learn to spot the signs in order to report trafficking when it is apparent. The U.S. Department of Transportation and other federal agencies are currently promoting a number of initiatives to ensure that transportation-industry employees such as truck drivers and flight attendants are trained and have the tools needed to intervene when trafficking crosses their paths. One flight attendant in particular made national headlines after she rescued a teenage girl by leaving a note in the plane’s bathroom, on which the girl responded, “I need help.”
If you suspect that someone may be a victim of human trafficking, report it to the authorities. If you are a victim or wish to report an anonymous tip, you may do so by visiting the National Human Trafficking Hotline online, or call 1-888-373-7888 (TEXT 233733).
What you can do
Not all of us are flight attendants, but each of us can do our part to know the signs of trafficking and speak up. It all starts with knowing what to look for. Websites like the Polaris Project, Hope For Justice, Stop The Traffik, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services all have extensive lists of red flags, and being familiar with them can help all of us identify and help trafficking victims even if we don’t anticipate encountering them.
Unfortunately, relying on individuals to spot trafficking is simply not enough. More work needs to be done on a larger scale by corporations, such as hotel chains, transportation companies, service stations and the like, that not only encounter trafficking more often than the average person, but have the means to make noticeable inroads toward gutting trafficking at its core.
If you know anyone in any of these industries we ask that you please take it upon yourself and bring up this issue. Talk about what is going on. Be OUTRAGED that this is going on every day and continues to increase in our very own communities. But most importantly, don’t speak out just during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, raise your voice year-round. You never know what impact awareness may have on a stranger’s life.