People from every segment and community in our society are at risk of being trafficked. Photo by Tess Emily Seymour from Pexels
Once you see it, you will notice it nearly everywhere. Human trafficking is the world’s fastest growing crime. It’s an industry that tops $150 billion annually and enslaves up to 48 million men, women, and children (1). The statistics only tell part of the story, however. These statistics tell us that human trafficking is a big problem, but they don’t tell us how we as individuals or our families are at risk — but we are. Beyond the statistics, the human trafficking risk lurks in our everyday lives.
There are many types of trafficking, “including labor, sex, debt, and organ donation,” but labor and sex trafficking are the most common.
Who Does Human Trafficking Affect?
According to the Polaris Project, human trafficking “victims are from all geographic, socioeconomic, ethnic, racial, and educational backgrounds,” but adults with developmental delays, identify as part of the LGBT+ community, struggle with substance abuse, have a mental illness, are “experiencing emotional pain or distress,” have “significant or prolonged family struggles or dysfunction,” are in poverty, are homeless, suffer “from hunger or malnourishment,” and/or a “history as a victim of domestic violence” are all at risk. Some of those categories are pretty broad, such as “experiencing emotional pain or distress” and that’s the point. Sex and labor traffickers will find any type of vulnerability, be it emotional or physical, and they will exploit that.
As one study put it:
“Traffickers prey on an individual’s vulnerability by initially offering to provide for a need, for example, buying a meal or clothing, offering a place to sleep, or paying for transportation. Larger amounts of money spent on behalf of the victim may include providing a plane ticket for a ‘job offer’ or to begin a romantic relationship. Once the ‘act of kindness’ is complete, the victim quickly learns of the deception and debt, triggering an indentured cycle of dependency” (2).
Illegal immigrantsare at risk for this form of exploitation. According to ICE, “immigrants are brought to the United States under the false pretenses of a promised education or a high-paying job waiting for them” (3). Traffickers provide these victims with falsified documents to get into the United States or another destination, such as China or Europe, take away their documents and force the victim into slavery.
Some signs include“physical or psychological abuse, fear of authorities, no ID documents, poor living conditions and working long hours for little or no pay” (1). An article found that “trafficked people of all genders [work] in more prosaic roles like car washes, construction, agriculture and food processing. They receive very little pay and are forced to put up with poor living conditions” (1).
Modeling contracts are a common ploy. The Jeffrey Epstein case shed light on this tactic. Epstein “allegedly found victims through a man named Jean-Luc Brunel. He’s a modeling scout from France who’s accused of bringing girls from overseas to the US under the pretense of getting them modeling contracts” (3). While Brunel denies these claims, we can be certain there are many traffickers using this ploy. They might do this by posting an ad saying “we are hiring for models and the pay would be this much and you get to travel internationally and you would make this much money — that you can send home to support your family — that’s clearly very enticing, especially for individuals who are coming from a more economically unstable background” (3). In another common situation, a trafficker strikes up a romantic relationship with the victim. After awhile, the trafficker tells the victim that they need a favor and money, and prod the victim to do a “modeling job” that in reality is a sex trafficking situation.
Not all modeling contracts are a human trafficking situation. A legitimate modeling job will involve a reputable modeling agency booking a person jobs. It does not involve someone reaching out to you via the internet or who you randomly met in public turning you into a “model.”
Many traffickers lurk on smartphone apps and the internet. Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels.
Smartphone apps, the internet, video games
Teenagers are especially vulnerable; the average age of victims is 16, but some are 9 or younger (4). Many teens suffer from low self-esteem already. A trafficker will get in contact with a teen and shower them with compliments. The internet is a great place for a trafficker to lure teens. They can set up a profile with a different picture, put down a false name and age, and then shower a teen with compliments, and offer them a job or a modelling contract. One non-profit found that “[t]raffickers often seek out children online who appear vulnerable, depressed, seem emotionally isolated from family and friends, have low-esteem or appear to have a lot of unsupervised time” (5). So if your teen is struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and/or has few friends, be especially cautious.
How You Can Help
A common misconception is that most human trafficking victims in the United States are originally from a different country. In reality, most victims in the United States are native-born (4). So it’s important that you become aware of the situation in your community and how to prevent it.
The first place to fight human trafficking is in your home. Educating household members, family, and friends on common signs that they or someone they know is extremely important. Getting a web filter will help keep individuals safe online, which is key since so many children and teens are exploited via the internet. Global EP recently partnered with TheCleanerNet, a company that provides a simple device to provide web filtering.
You can also help by providing supplies to human trafficking victims. When victims are rescued from trafficking situations, they cannot take anything with them. Rescue Packs provide basic necessities such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and pajamas. When victims have these packs, they feel less vulnerable and are less likely to return to a trafficking situation because their basic needs are met.
Trafficking occurs across the globe. Humanitarian trips can be a great opportunity to fight trafficking, especially if the trip includes educating individuals and the community. This education can include skills to help individuals break the poverty cycle or human trafficking awareness. Global EP provides volunteer opportunities to teach both on international trips.