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Human trafficking — modern-day slavery we must work to end

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January is “Human Trafficking Awareness Month,” a time to give the issue visibility and a time to commit to effect sustainable change in the lives of the trafficked and to take serious, enforceable steps to end the atrocious crime.

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, human trafficking is, “the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others,” essentially slavery. It’s the second-largest criminal industry in the world, behind drugs, and growing.

Today, it is estimated that more than 27 million people are enslaved worldwide, the highest number in recorded history. And it doesn’t just happen overseas. Anti-trafficking agencies have heatmapped human trafficking zones across the United States and Louisville shows up as an area of high activity.

Where it happens may shock you, too. Among the areas of highest report in Louisville surrounds the Hurstbourne Lane/Interstate 64 junction. So it’s clear that, as in a recent statement from the White House, “From factories and brothels to farms and mines, millions of men, women, and children in the United States and around the world are exploited for their bodies and their labor.

“Whether through violence, deceit, or the promises of a better life, some of the most vulnerable populations among us – migrants and refugees fleeing conflict or disaster, homeless LGBT youth, Alaska Native and American Indian women and girls, and children in poverty – are preyed upon by human traffickers.”

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 Kosair Charities Child Advocacy Center works with local and federal law enforcement on human trafficking cases, helping provide compassionate care, observation and investigation, but much more effort is needed.

There have been improvements in laws here in Kentucky and elsewhere to ensure trafficking victims are not treated as criminals, but there must be greater attention to identifying and rescuing victims and prosecuting traffickers. Awareness programs instituted by over the road trucker associations and motel/hotel companies are visionary and promising, but there’s room for others to join the effort to protect people from being treated as a commodity.

There are things all of us can do, beginning with education. Learn about human trafficking and commit to do something about it. For example, in just the case of sexual trafficking,

  • About 300,000 children in the United States are believed to be at risk of sexual exploitation. (U.S. Dept. of Justice)
  • The average age of entry for victims in the U.S. for girls – 12 to 14; for boys – 11 to 13. (U.S. Dept. of Justice)
  • A pimp can make $150,000 -$200,000 per child yearly.  (U.S. Justice Dept.)
  • Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (888-3737-888) received reports of 14,588 sex trafficking cases inside the U.S.
  • Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage and other forms of coercion
  • Victims of sex trafficking can be U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, women, men, children and LGBTQ individuals.  Vulnerable populations are frequently targeted by traffickers, including runaway and homeless youth, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, war or social discrimination.
  • Sex trafficking occurs in a range of venues:  fake massage businesses, online ads or escort services; residential brothel; on the street; at truck stops; at hotels and motels.

If we are to rid the world of this modern-day slavery, we must work together – private sector, faith communities, social service agencies, government, law enforcement, advocates – no voice can be absent the conversation. We also must be cognizant of our own actions that may contribute to men, women and children being trafficked – from the clothing we wear that may have been made by child laborers to the food we eat that may have been grown by forced labor – we must be conscientious combatants against human trafficking.

We must also, on Jan. 31, not turn our attention away from the problem, as it won’t go away with the turn of a calendar page. This must be an ongoing, everyday effort until no human – man, woman or child – is forced to behave or act against their will.

Join us. Help us treat and ultimately end human trafficking.

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