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Help bring the heinous crime of human trafficking out of the shadows

Thursday, Jan. 11, is national Human Trafficking Awareness Day, a day that warrants no celebration, but rather a day to commit to doing whatever each of us can to end this heinous criminal activity.

Worldwide, nearly 21 million people are enslaved by human trafficking, and 26 percent of those – nearly three million – are children. In fact, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, an estimated one out of six endangered runaways reported to the center likely was child sex trafficking victims.

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime reports that men, women, and children usually are trafficked for sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation, a $150-billion industry annually, the second-largest criminal enterprise in the world, behind drugs. And it doesn’t just happen overseas.

Anti-trafficking agencies have heat mapped human trafficking zones across the United States, and Lexington, Louisville, and Indianapolis feature prominently as areas of high incidence of human trafficking. Law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, note that human trafficking activity spike around events such as the Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500, and the twice-yearly Keeneland race schedules.

Traffickers in sex and labor often target people with histories of abuse and then use violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, or other forms of control and manipulation to keep them involved.

The most vulnerable populations include undocumented immigrants; runaway and homeless youth; victims of trauma and abuse; refugees and individuals fleeing conflict; and oppressed, marginalized, and impoverished groups and individuals.

There is no typical victim. Human trafficking spans all segments, including age, socio-economic status, nationality, education-level, and gender, and victims exist in cities, suburbs and rural areas in all 50 states and most countries worldwide

Family & Children’s Place principal focus is child violence, abuse, and neglect, and human trafficking is, unfortunately, a crime where we are seeing significant increases. Our child advocacy centers in Louisville and Southern Indiana often work with local and federal law enforcement on human trafficking cases.

And while improvements in the law have helped protect trafficking victims against being treated as criminals, we must pay greater attention to identifying and rescuing the victims and prosecuting the traffickers.

Over the road trucker associations and motel/hotel companies have created awareness programs to help identify trafficked individuals and groups, but to end human trafficking, we all must work together – private sector, faith communities, social service agencies, government, law enforcement, and advocates.

No voice can be absent.

We also must be attentive to  our own actions that may contribute to human trafficking, from clothes we wear that may have been made by child laborers to food we eat that may have been grown by forced labor. We owe it to the victims to be conscientious combatants against human trafficking.

One simple thing you can do is join the Blue Campaign, a program of the Y.S. Department of Homeland Security to combat human trafficking, and wear blue on Thursday, Jan. 11. You also can support Family & Children’s Place and our work to help rescue and restore trafficked children and adolescents.

Tell your friends, family co-workers and others to do the same.

There’s room for everybody in this effort to protect people from being treated as a commodity. Together we can create one voice, one mission, to end human trafficking.

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