Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Human Trafficking in the U.S.

When I started writing about social justice, I assumed I would mention a couple of issues within the United States and then move on to the wider world.  What I have found, though, is that I continue to return to social injustice within our borders.  

Several weeks ago a friend of mine was disturbed by something her former mother-in-law had done.  My friend wants her children to grow up to be compassionate, caring individuals.  She recently had a  long talk with them about human trafficking and slavery.  However, the former mother-in-law, catching wind of what the mother had been teaching her grandchildren, told them that slavery didn't exist anymore.  The sad fact is that this is a common belief.  Not only do many Americans believe that slavery no longer exists, they would adamantly deny that it exists in the U.S.  This attitude is dangerous - as long as we deny this evil, it will continue to fester and flourish.  Only when we acknowledge it and bring it into the light can we work towards its end.

Human trafficking is considered one of the fastest growing criminal endeavors.  There are two streams of human trafficking in the United States:  individuals brought in from other countries for labor and sex trafficking purposes; and residents, most of whom are minors, who are forced into the sex trade.  Due to the illicit and hidden nature of trafficking, it is difficult to estimate how many victims we have in the U.S.  However, author Kevin Bales, one of the leading experts on human trafficking, estimates there are 27 million slaves in the world.  One-third of these are U.S. citizens.

According to the FBI, individuals who are brought into this country for the purpose of slavery end up working as prostitutes or as laborers in restaurants, hotels, factories, construction sites, or similar settings.  The areas with the highest concentration of human trafficking are New York, California, Florida, and Washington, DC.  While in the U.S., these individuals are beaten, tortured, even raped, work for little or no pay, and are closely monitored when not kept behind lock and key to prevent escape.  They are housed (imprisoned) under horrific conditions, without access to medical care, and denied adequate nutrition.    Experts estimate that anywhere between 17,000 and 60,000 humans are brought into the U.S. each year for the purpose of slavery.  80% of these individuals are women and children.  Many don't speak English so are not able to communicate their plight to the authorities or anyone who can help.  

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates there are between 100,000 and 150,000 sex slaves in the United States.  Sex traffickers in the U.S. especially prey on children, mostly runaways; an estimated 300,000 children are at risk.  According to the Polaris Project, there are around 100,000 children in the sex trade industry each year.  (Statistics don't always line up because of the hidden, illicit nature of trafficking.)  Runaways are extremely vulnerable to sex trafficking as they are desperate, naive, and easily manipulated.  Read one runaway's story here.  Girls as young as 5 years old have been forced into prostitution.  Pimps can be complete strangers who prey on vulnerability - or they can be parents who just want to make a buck.  Women and children are bought and sold - then forced to perform sexual acts for the financial benefit of the traffickers.  A recent trial (and conviction) reveals the depravity of traffickers.  The co-defendants in this case kept females as young as 14 in bondage by securing them with duct tape or handcuffs, imprisoning them in dark spaces, such as closets, taking away their identification, forcing them to take illegal drugs, and brutally beating, raping, and torturing them.  In addition, victims are exposed to sexually transmitted and other diseases and are unprotected against pregnancy.  Medical care is nonexistent.  

Getting help from authorities can also be a problem according to this site aimed at medical professionals working with suspected trafficking victims.  In the case of sex trafficking, sometimes the pimps are police officers; sometimes the police have had prior experience with the women and view them as the problem.  The website advises initially seeking help from a human trafficking organization rather than local law enforcement agencies.

If you suspect human trafficking and want to help a victim, you can call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-3737-888.  And if you believe your life is untouched by human trafficking, think again.  This U.S. Department of State's article, entitled "A Day in Your Life," about a typical office worker will change your mind.  

This five-minute video, produced by World Concern (a division of CRISTA Ministries, which has a four star rating with Charity Navigator) focuses more on international trafficking of children, but also mentions child trafficking in the U.S. and is especially powerful:

Sources and  information:


Books to read:
Somebody's Daughter:  The Hidden Story of America's Prostituted Children and the Battle to Save Them by Julian Sher
Terrify No More:  Young Girls Held Captive and Daring Undercover Operations to Win their Freedom by Gary A. Haugen
Escaping the Devil's Bedroom:  Sex Trafficking, Global Prostitution, and the Gospel's Transforming Power by Dawn Herzog Jewell
The Slave Next Door:  Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales
The Sacred Bath:  An American Teen's Story of Modern Day Slavery by Theresa L. Flores
Not for Sale:  The Return of the Global Slave Trade - and How We Can Fight It by David B. Batstone
Modern Slavery:  The Secret World of 27 Million People by Kevin Bales
Be the Change:  Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World by Zach Hunter (Young Adult book)
The Slave Across the Street by Theresa Flores and Peggy Sue Wells
Sex Trafficking:  Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddharth Kara
Human Trafficking:  A Modern Perspective by Louise Shelley
A Crime So Monstrous:  Face-to-Face with Modern Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner


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