The term “human trafficking” has become a media and cultural buzzword of late. It seems not a day passes without a number of stories flanking the news about slavery, forced prostitution, and child exploitation. The term evokes images of the lively, crowded, colorful streets of India or the sticky air and golden temples of Thailand. It has felt more like a far away, overseas nightmare than a lurking, tangible tragedy…until now.
Not many people are complete strangers to the concept of human trafficking though it’s safe to say most Americans are entirely unaware that it’s happening in our own backyards. We are not immune to this “Third World” problem, yet our culture has not been trained to look for signs of human trafficking, making it all too easy for it to happen undetected, directly under our noses.
It’s important to first understand what the phrase “human trafficking” actually means. By definition, human trafficking is,
“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (United Nations).
Each year an estimated 14,500-17,000 people are trafficked into the United States, including Americans. Amazingly, the average age of a victim of human trafficking in the US is 14.
These figures hit close to home when we hear about stories such as that of a 19 year old Long Beach, CA resident. When this young woman was only 14, she was coerced into ditching school by another young woman who befriended her randomly. After repeated instances of cutting class, the young woman ran away to her new “friend” who promptly delivered her to a pimp who began to prostitute her out for $250 per half hour. She was given a fake ID and moved from city to city where she was arrested on more than one occasion under her false identification, causing authorities to continually come up shorthanded in their search for the missing teen. The girl’s father began a rampant search for his daughter in which he relayed her story to the media as much as possible. After tiring of her father’s very public search, the young woman came home, then 16, suffering from severe emotional issues and a bad drug habit. Needless to say, she soon ran away again, back to the life she had been “brainwashed” into associating with her security and well-being. Now at 19 years old, the young woman is back in contact with her parents, though she will not tell them where she lives. She reassures them that she is making some positive changes in her life but it is safe to assume the troubled teen will be dealing with repercussions from her experiences for a long time to come.
A story like this may not come as a shock to most people but it might surprise you to learn that this young woman is a victim of human trafficking. Those out to exploit others for sex and services generally target young women and girls with low self-esteem who tend to not question those they perceive in authority. Once these girls are targeted, they are lured into the lives of pimps who use charm and the appearance of security to earn the trust of the unsuspecting victims. Often times, the young women are encouraged into drug addictions, anything to keep them dependent on their pimp.
Half the battle in fighting human trafficking on our soil is to know it exists. Don’t remain ignorant to the issue, gain knowledge and spread the word. We can help fight human trafficking in the US and in other parts of the world…but you have to be willing to act.
Read more about the young woman’s story here and help other young girls avoid falling victim to human trafficking.