Earlier today, I spoke with a man who is relatively reserved. He is pensive, thoughtful and not quick to speak, well that was until he asked about my career. As the words “…against human trafficking” formed within my response, his voice sharpened, his eyes narrowed as he said, “I have 3 children. If any of my children disappeared due to human trafficking there would be no other focus. I would hunt them down until my child was safe in my arms.” Lest I say more, this retired military man, suddenly had a lot to say. Having lived abroad for many years, he had seen things – despicable things. Frustrated, he spoke about a pervading belief that there is little to no human trafficking within the states. He assured me that this is not true.
This is not the first discussion I have had like this. It will not be the last. Worldwide, there are an estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking, with 17,500 trafficked into the U.S. per year. Two million of those trafficked are children. This $200 billion-dollar industry’s financial margin is second to drug trafficking which is estimated at $360 billion dollars. The second largest criminal enterprise in the world, human trafficking involves activities that are often unrecognized by the general public.
Fortunately, and more recently, global awareness regarding topics such as sexual assault and domestic violence have been underscored by educational programs, public service announcements and the story lines of literature, entertainment, and social media. This growing public interest prods efforts to recognize that human trafficking is deserving of concentrated attention. Sex trafficking is the most prominent activity within the industry, accounting for approximately 79% of all human trafficking.
However, the sale and acquisition of human beings also includes victims who are coerced into deplorable domestic/commercial labor, warfare and the terrors of organ harvesting. Yes, you read that right.
Another misconception is that if someone is sold into the sex trades or domestic labor that is where they remain. There are cases where a victim may be first to be moved into the sex industry, then labour, and then they disappear as they have become an involuntary donor to the underground black market of organ sales. To compound the issue, the average life expectancy for youthful prostitutes is 7 years.
This is cavernous and dark. We need be equipped and shine the brightest light.
With consideration to the growing numbers of parents who have spoken with me about their fears and countless children and young adults who have confided that they haven’t felt safe, there are measures that can be taken. Without creating anxiety for those we care about, there are simple steps to personal and environmental safety that can make all of the difference.
1. Do not go out at night alone. Always have a friend or two (at least) with you. If you cannot have someone walk/drive with you call the police or local security (i.e.: Campus security) they will give you a lift. They want you to be safe.
2. Be careful, really careful online. Major and minor social internet sites, which includes some blog sites, stream your videos. Like any basic computer coding, those videos can easily be hacked. This can lead to the perpetrator’s ability to identify the address of the sender, which is often the person featured in the video. You know those videos that kids make as they learn about self and sexual expression? Beyond the judgment of appropriate behavior, these videos create significant vulnerabilities. If that material gets hacked it can be distributed via the web. (This happened to one of my clients.) This content can also supply your IP address, create opportunities for a trafficker to develop a relationship under the guise of being someone “safe”, and eventually learn about where you are going – like on vacation or to the mall. Please use discretion. Do not assume that your content is exclusively between you and your real friends. You might be right but to ebb on the safe side is better.
3. If new employment is on the horizon, take time to make sure that your employer is credible. This is important. They give directions, send you to “jobs” and so on. Just because someone is in the position of oversight does not qualify them as a ‘good person”. There are countless stories of traffickers masquerading as employers and even boyfriends only to prostitute the person they have employed or care for. Know who you are with.
4. If a vacation is in line do not hesitate to be part of the planning. Spring break? Outing with family friends? Check out the destination. What are their crime statistics? If the statistics are alarming, what is the location like that is being booked? You can look up this type of information on the internet by using a search engine such as Bing or Google to search words like “What are the crime statistics for [fill-in in the destination]?”. You can also go to www.tripadvisor.com as they have crime information on many locations supported by traveler’s posts and government crime statistics. For those who want dig much deeper, you can search through the data collected by the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics. Click on the Official Country Websites link found underneath the heading Information on this page: https://www.bjs.gov/content/ijs.cfm#OCWS. Then you can plan accordingly.
5. Discuss the importance of listening to that small sudden thought in your head. Intuition is often the sound of safety. We have a tendency to ignore the fleeting thoughts that are often contrary to things we want to do. Things that are more convenient like having one more drink, or not burdening friends or being the buzzkill, or how just walking through the park is quickest and easiest because it is late…you get the idea. We have all done this. We have built-in survival instincts – they are there for a reason. Take the time to explain this to those you care about. Also, you have to admit, it is pretty cool to know each of us has built-in wisdom.
We have to work overtime to rescue and help victims to heal, as well as ensure that we continue to amass resources to fund the erasure of the human trafficking industry. Each move we make to increase awareness and safety is equally as important. We can be proactive and keep the perpetrators of these heinous crimes from corrupting the world we live within. The best approach is to not establish unhealthy fear. Awareness is empowering and preventive. We can teach these lessons out of the love that we have for our children, friends and neighbors. Just as we teach our children to not talk to strangers, only later to explain that saying hello to a stranger is generally okay, so can we increase our lessons about personal safety. As you know, these lessons are not limited to children. However, the earlier we make this information understandable, the better the chance that human traffickers will not have ready access to those who they typically set their sights upon. Let’s do what we do best. Let’s focus on understanding that human trafficking is real and become determined to remove this threat from the lives of those we love and care about within our community. #HelpUsHelpThem.
Photo credit: Getty Images/The Image Bank/John Lamb