National Human Trafficking Awareness Month
January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. According to the definition used by Homeland Security “human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Labor Trafficking occurs most often when someone is forced or coerced into working for little to no money in a factory, domestic servitude or manual labor type industry. [source] While sex trafficking is the trade of anything of value for a sex act through the use of force, fraud or coercion. When minors are induced into the commercial sex trade, force, fraud or coercion no longer need to be proven; exploiting a child for sex is a federal crime due to the inability to legally give consent. Both forms of trafficking may include movement across a border or jurisdiction of some kind, but it is not required. Here at Guardian Group we focus on domestic commercial sex trafficking, which we as a community must realize is more than these basic definitions; it is America’s daughters, sisters, mothers, nieces and sometimes America’s sons.
What is Force, Fraud and Coercion?
One of these three are required to be proven in trafficking cases when an individual is over 18-years-old. Force is simply using threats or violence to gain control over an individual. This can look numerous ways for trafficking victims. “If you don’t do this, I will hurt your family” “You will pay if you don’t come back with $1,000” etc… Most often when a pimp/trafficker is using force a victim continues to do what the they are asked based out of fear. When fraud is in play the pimp/trafficker will promise things that they never intend on carrying out. For labor trafficking this looks like the promise of a job with good wages that results in a job with little or no wages. For sex trafficking this could be the promise of love or marriage, “You do this for a while and then we can get married” while the pimp/trafficker has no intention of following through. Lastly, coercion is persuading an individual to do something by using fear and threats. Again this could look a number of ways, for example a pimp/trafficker may tell a victim that if he/she doesn’t do what they are told then the nude photo they have of them will be shown to their family, friends, co-workers etc… All three have significant psychological and potential physical trauma attached to them.
Trafficking by the Numbers
Sex trafficking can look a multitude of ways, every pimp/trafficker and victim have a unique story. The only common factor is that no one is immune. This crime effects those from every socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity and background. A history of child abuse, foster care or running away does increase the susceptibility of becoming a victim of sex trafficking, however, in that same vain not all victims share this background. Sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states with 83% of victims being US citizens. We do not care where you were born, no person should ever be sold for sex, however this stat proves that this is a domestic issue and is not just coming over our borders. The average age of recruitment into the sex industry is 15-years-old [source] and we are starting to see this age trend down even younger. The depth of the issue in the United States is wildly under studied and it is believed only 1% of victim’s self-report. A recent study done by the University of Texas discovered 79,000 minors for sale in Texas alone [source]. While another estimates that the number of children who are at risk or have already been pulled in the sex trade would fill 1,300 school buses [source]. No matter which number is closer to the truth, we can all agree one child being sold for sex is too many.
Commercial sex trafficking is a business to the pimp/trafficker; they lure and recruit vulnerable victims through various tactics and then sell them for sex acts to the buyer or John. Many pimp/traffickers utilize the internet to advertise their products allowing them to reach more potential buyers. One in four victims surveyed reported when being sold online they saw ten or more buyers per day [source] with the number of buyers slowly decreasing from there. The pimp/traffickers also monitor social media or dating sites for potential victims. They look for a problem they can solve, posting “my mom is the worst” on your Facebook page offers a predator the opportunity to swoop in and become the victim’s hero. Once a victim has been lured and a “date” with a John has been created the pimp/trafficker will utilize places such as hotels or airbnb’s for the sexual act to take place. These places offer privacy to their guests allowing the pimp/trafficker to exploit the location for their criminal activity to take place. The lucrative nature of this business combined with the low risk of being caught has allowed this crime to grow at an alarming rate surpassing the gun and drug trade. Reason being a person can be sold over and over while a drug or weapon can only be sold once. Once a pimp/trafficker feels pressure from Law Enforcement they simply move on to the next town or county.
What Can I do to Stop Sex Trafficking?
One of the most important things an individual can do is Get Educated, pursue a basic knowledge of what this crime looks like and if you see something you think may be trafficking call the local police. Here is a great place to start. The reporting and research on this crime is minimal so every call only increases the ability of law enforcement to better combat it.
Get Involved, become a Guardian, a monthly supporter of Guardian Group or start a fundraiser on Facebook or through platforms like GoFundMe. The more reliable and sustainable income for organizations like Guardian Group the more victims offered a path to freedom and predators behind bars.
Get Trained, if you work in the hospitality industry lobby your organization to receive the Guardian Seal® Recognition and Response Training. If you don’t work in the hospitality industry, ask your local hotels/motels or those that you stay with when you travel if they have been trained.
Raise your Voice, the more people talking about this crime and advocating for change within their communities the better. Speak to your schools about getting training implemented for teachers and young people, speak to your city councils about requiring training for law enforcement, hospitals and hotels alike. Share your knowledge with other parents and caregivers or young people.
Trafficking is a community issue and will require a community response. Join us and help protect America’s children!