January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, so it is time to recognize, and bring awareness to, the horrible evil of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is when individuals use violence, threats, debt, and other forms of coercion to force women, men and children to engage in sex or acts of labor against their will. It is a modern-day form of slavery involving the exchange of people for exploitation or commercial gain. According to the International Labor Organization, there are about 20 million victims of human trafficking globally, including 5.5 million children. Their research also shows that the majority of victims are women and girls. Most traffickers use planned encounters or social media interaction to recruit their victims, primarily by using a false sense of family and belonging.
Although human trafficking is a major international problem, it happens here in America as well. This illegal activity has been estimated to generate about $10 billion a year in our nation alone. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline received reports of more than 3,600 sex trafficking cases in 2013. In fact, there were 465 calls from Virginia to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in one year.
It is estimated that between 100,000-300,000 American youth are currently at risk for becoming victims of trafficking. The average age of a child who enters the sex trade in America is 12-14 years old. In 2013, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 7 runaway children reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims.
The foster care and youth group home community is particularly vulnerable to human trafficking because of the instability of their situation. And sadly, traffickers often target young individuals who have an unstable life, and have been abused, neglected or exploited. For example, a recent Los Angeles Probation Department survey revealed that about 60% of the 174 children arrested for prostitution were foster children. Youth that “age-out” of the foster care system, typically at age 18, are among the most preyed upon for trafficking. They often are in need of money, have a deep desire for belonging, and traffickers believe no one will look for these young people if they go missing.
Here in Virginia, our law enforcement community and Department of Social Services are doing a good job of becoming more aware of trafficking situations among the people they serve. In addition, trafficking victims are being treated more as victims than criminals, especially those under the age of 18. Our state government has also extended the age that foster youth “age-out” of the system from 18 to 21 years old, in an effort to protect and better prepare them for adulthood.
As a community, we must remember that trafficking occurs in Virginia and here in Prince William County. We must remain vigilant to spot signs of human trafficking, like drastic behavioral changes, signs of abuse, strong anxiety about a debt, and claims of long working hours with no workplace details. To learn more information about trafficking activity and signs to look for, check out the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Initiative or the Polaris Project at .
If you suspect an individual is being trafficked, or you yourself may be a victim, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text INFO or HELP to them at: BeFree (233733). Save this number in your phone and give it to individuals you think might need help but do not feel like they can ask for it. You can save a life from the horrors of human trafficking. Virginians can make a difference in reducing trafficking, but we, as a community, must become educated and aware about its risks and signs.
(This article first ran in InsideNova.com on January 11, 2015)