When people hear the word slavery, most think of the atrocities committed in the South during early America. It is perceived as an evil that is now in the past. However, slavery is just as present today, called by a new term: human trafficking. According to the Blue Campaign, a predominant anti-human trafficking organization, human trafficking is “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or commercial sex.” The International Labour Organization (ILO) includes forced marriage in their calculations of trafficking and exploitation.
While no one knows the exact number of people being trafficked, the 2021 Global Estimates reported in September of 2022 that there are approximately 50 million people enslaved at any given time around the world. This equates to roughly one in every 150 people on the globe. This horrific issue spans across all types of communities, from rural areas to big cities, and across all ages, genders and cultural backgrounds.
Though extremely corrupt, human trafficking is a very lucrative business, making it appealing to anyone willing to turn a blind eye, manipulate a family member or betray a significant other. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the industry’s global profits are estimated to be around $150 billion annually. The Dressember non-profit reports that 42% of people are brought into trafficking by a member of their own family. This statistic sheds light on many inaccurate assumptions made by the public that trafficking primarily occurs through kidnapping. Though it can happen, people are often not detained by a stranger in a white van. Instead many are manipulated into trafficking situations by people they know or lured out by traffickers who make themselves seem trustworthy.
Almost 20% of trafficking victims are children, according to the United Nations. Child sex trafficking is a major child labor industry that impacts children of all ages, from toddlers to high school students. With the expansion of online networks that many children are connected to, especially in America, it is much easier for children to be found over social media or gaming chat rooms and then groomed without parental knowledge.
When a child is “groomed,” he or she learns to trust the adult in the situation, who slowly asks more and more. The next step is often manipulating the child into giving explicit content like nude photos and videos. These are then used to blackmail the victim into giving more content or providing sex acts for the profit of their trafficker. Sometimes this means the trafficker asks to meet. In the case of teens, traffickers will often pose as a boyfriend, giving the victim a reason to trust and an excuse to meet with them.
Human trafficking is an international issue but is also very prevalent in the United States. Recognizing that this industry often goes unnoticed, the government has recently taken some strides in working to combat it. On a state level, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin released an executive order in January of 2022 that established a team focused on ending human trafficking and providing support for survivors. This commission will take practical strides to combat the issue by increasing enforcement, empowering survivors and enhancing education.
On the federal level, several pieces of legislation were recently put into effect. In 2022, President Biden signed the Countering Human Trafficking Act, which expands and funds the Department of Homeland Security’s efforts through the Center for Countering Human Trafficking. Congress also passed the Human Trafficking Prevention Act of 2022, requiring the posting of the Human Trafficking Hotline Number (1-888-373-7888) in a variety of public places.
Various organizations such as Blue Campaign, O.U.R. Rescue and Freekind are fighting human trafficking globally by arresting traffickers, breaking apart trafficking rings and providing safety and support for victims. In November 2022, O.U.R. Rescue celebrated a successful operation that led to the arrest of 18 traffickers and the rescue of several survivors. At Regent University, the Rescue Initiative organization seeks to raise awareness on-campus of human trafficking. They connect students with local organizations like Freekind and work to bring to light the scope of the issue by surveying students and providing statistics. They strive to make a tangible difference by providing resources like the OnWatch training. Their next goal is to grow students’ skills in identifying the subtle signs that the person you pass on the street could be a trafficking victim.
If you want to get involved in the fight against human trafficking, joining clubs like Rescue Initiative or volunteering with Freekind are great places to start.