Hello everyone! I recently submitted a research paper for one of my college classes on human trafficking of youth in the United States. I wanted to share this alarming information with all of you, in hopes to bring some awareness to my community and yours. I encourage you to share this with your friends and family because we need more education on this terrible crime that is happening in our country and worldwide. Please be extra vigilant with your children and always know what is happening in their social lives, especially on social media where predators lurk. If you are a mandated reporter, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to learn the warning signs to detect a victim of human trafficking and the proper ways to report this crime. I hope this brings some awareness to you and you can take action to learn more about the warning signs to protect our children.
Human Trafficking of Youth in the U.S.
Human trafficking for the purpose of labor or sex slavery is an international social issue that the United States is becoming more aware of happening in America in recent decades. This issue violates many aspects of basic human rights; however, because of the recent discovery of the prevalence of this crime occurring in the U.S, laws have just started being put in place to prosecute perpetrators recently. There are still major gaps in government policy and awareness that leave America’s youth susceptible to this organized crime. More measures need to be put in place to bring more universal attention to this international crime to bring awareness to parents, caretakers, and mandated reporters, that are employed or volunteer in a youth setting, and communities. This could help to identify the warning signs of potential or actual victims of human trafficking and teach these individuals how to properly respond if they are presented with or suspect a case of trafficking minors. American’s should also be educated about the targeted population of homeless, disadvantaged, neglected and abused youth, so that closer attention and supplementary care or programs can be provided to these children to prevent trafficking from happening to them. Knowledge and information gained from trafficking cases will allow legislation to enforce more policies that will help to prevent trafficking and gather accurate data to estimate the cost to provide victims with health and other services that will help them through their recovery. Education and training for mandated reporters and the community will also help to prevent trafficking youth in America. Through these implemented efforts the amount of cases of human trafficking in the United States will expectantly begin to plummet.
Keywords: human trafficking
Human Trafficking of Youth in the U.S.
Slavery is a term often referenced in history books, but in the U.S., modern day slavery has discreetly been occurring for some time. Only recently has attention been drawn to the minors that are being abducted and forced into slavery as property under ownership. “Trafficking in persons is defined as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat of 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 giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation” (Vejar, 2015, para. 3). Human trafficking of youth is a social issue that has been emerging with more attention in the U.S. media; however, little effort is being made to implement a system to protect minors and bring awareness to the community to prevent children from becoming targets of human trafficking. Most American’s view human trafficking as a foreign crime; however, according to the Office of Safe and Healthy Students, it has been “reported in all 50 states, Washington D.C., and the U.S. territories” (2013). Most cases of trafficking may go unnoticed because it is easier to identify a minor being unlawfully used for sex slavery, but it is harder to recognize a child being used as a domestic servant, especially among adolescents (Walts, 2017).
The U.S.’s Attempt to Prevent Human Trafficking
The United States has tried to resolve this problem of human slavery through prevention and prosecution. In 2000, the U.S. enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), that punishes traffickers and provides protection and relief to victims (King, 2008). Due to the recent awareness of human trafficking in the U.S., all 50 states have not enacted laws to punish trafficking. Due to the gap in the law, concerning trafficking and forced labor, TVPA has established new crimes and expanded previous statutes to punish perpetrators. According to Walts (2017), “These new statutes attempt to expand anti-slavery statutes, particularly involuntary servitude, and include a broader range of tactics perpetrators use to compel and coerce individuals to perform labor or services, including sexual services” (p. 59). This expansion tunes into the tactics of psychological manipulation that abductors and traffickers use to coerce and exploit their victims (Walts, 2017). Through this act, victims are protected through delegated funds to specialized services and further research of human trafficking (Walts, 2017).
Other bills have been passed to resolve the issue of human trafficking in the U.S. through measures that enforce a harsh penalty to individual’s that purchase services from child sex traffic victims, and policies that do not punish but rather protect the victims (Walt, 2017). Even with the government’s attempts to decrease the frequency of human trafficking, it is still a prevalent issue in the U.S., with the amount of sex trafficking surpassing labor trafficking, especially surrounding minors (Walt, 2017).
International Policies for Human Trafficking
The enforcement of policies against human trafficking in the UN will help cut down the rate of this international crime in the U.S. and allow a resource to more accurately track data. Europe has been reported as having the highest flow of international human trafficking worldwide (Vejar, 2015). Prior to 2003, anti-trafficking legislation was not in place in 65% of countries (Vejar, 2015). “In December 2003, the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons came into effect,” resulting in “…63 percent of 155 countries and territories passed laws against human trafficking” (Vejar, 2015, para 12). The UN has also created other global programs; such as, “the Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings (GPAT)”, in 1999, and “The United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT)”, in 2007, for better data collection, to track human trafficking routes, to increase government legislative efforts, better international communication, awareness, and gain support from law enforcement (King, 2008).
Human Trafficking Statistics and Data Collection Deficiencies
The frequency of human trafficking is difficult to gauge because the actual number of cases could easily exceed the number of reported incidences (Walt, 2017). It is suspected that many cases go unreported making an accurate collection of data difficult to attain. There is also no systematic policy in place for crimes to be reported among different international countries, which distorts the actual number of crimes and prevents an accurate international comparison and off-count of U.S. cases of victims that were sold to criminal networks internationally. This count drastically differs with the number of reported cases. “Estimates of the scope of human trafficking from the United Nations, governments, and non-governmental organizations range from 800,000 people shipped and traded annually, as if they were goods not people, to 2.5 million people reported as trafficked and enslaved, and as many as 12.3 million people in forced labor situations” (King, 2008). In 2015, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US Department of Justice reported 2,847 open trafficking cases and 377 traffickers prosecuted, with another 3,889 open trafficking cases opened by federally funded human trafficking agencies (Rothman, 2017).
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline (NHTRC), reports that the majority of their trafficking calls in the past five years are for sex trafficking, with “33% of all sex trafficking reported cases made to the hotline involved children versus 16% of labor trafficking reported cases involving children” (Walt, 2017, p. 60). According to Vejar (2015), an estimated “80 percent of trafficking victims are women and children and 50 percent are minors” (para. 2). There is also a discrepancy of cases of labor and sex trafficking between government and non-governmental agencies. For instance, according to the Walt (2017), in 2011, a non-governmental agency reported 64% labor trafficking victims and 10% labor and sex trafficking victims; whereas, law enforcement had a discrepancy reporting that 83% of their cases were victims of sex trafficking. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), recognizes data may be errored because it is easier to identify a victim of sex trafficking than it is to recognize a victim of labor trafficking; therefore, reported more often (Vejar, 2015). Without a standard definition for human trafficking there is no way to accurately collect and compare data internationally (Vejar, 2015).
The Targeted Minority of Human Trafficking
The targeted majority for labor trafficking are homeless youth who are vulnerable to the promises of basic necessities; mainly food, shelter, and profitable employment positions (Walt, 2017). Predators feed on the hope and economic disparity of these children and can encourage them to travel with them under false pretenses (Vejar, 2015). These children are forced into inhumane living conditions, usually with other victims of labor trafficking, without or barely any compensation, and forced to work long hours (Walt, 2017). Victims may be “…isolated, coerced, threatened, beaten, and restrained” (Vejar, 2015, para. 6). In many cases, traffickers use fear and dependency for survival as a tactic to maintain power and control over their victims (Vejar, 2015). In many cases, victims are taken internationally and told to fear law enforcement because they do not have identification papers (Vejar, 2015). According to Walt (2017), “In 2014, of the 9% of the reported cases to the NHTRC involving child labor trafficking, the top forms of labor trafficking were (1) traveling sales crew, (2) begging, and (3) peddling” (p. 61).
It is estimated that “80 percent of [international human] trafficking victims are women and children and 50 percent are minors” (Vejar, 2015, para. 2). According to the Office of Safe and Healthy Students, human trafficking school-aged children are a targeted sector of the population in the U.S. (2013). This is due to the ease for predators to target youth from unfortunate family environments (Office of Safe and Healthy Students, 2013). This information should encourage the U.S. to enforce mandated reporters to receive more training on warning signs and preventions tactics to avoid exploitation of the children in their care. According to the American Orthopsychiatric Association, a recent study showed a vast “60% of mandated reporters in the sample had no specific training on DMST [domestic minor sex trafficking; while], almost 25% of respondents did not believe DNS existed in their communities” (Hartinger-Saunders, 2017, p. 195).
According to the Office of Safe and Healthy Students (2013), “Traffickers may target minor victims through social media websites, telephone chat-lines, after-school programs, at shopping malls and bus depots, in clubs, or through friends or acquaintances who recruit students on school campuses” (Office of Safe and Healthy Students, 2013). Parents need to be more active in their child’s social life. Living in an age of increasing technology, vigilance should be not just outside the home, but also monitoring of social media outlets, and other forms of virtual communication, where children can be easily manipulated through the lies and deceit of perpetrators.
Identifying a Victim of Human Trafficking
It can be difficult to identify if a child is a victim of human trafficking because the warning signs can be minor changes to their behavior. Other times, there are major changes that are difficult to overlook but that are unfortunately often ignored by school staff and administrators who are unsure how to approach the situation. Some warning signs that a child may be a targeted or actual victim include: a child that is frequently absent from school, constantly running away from home, often talks about traveling to other cities, is exhibiting signs of emotional or physical abuse, is lacking identification forms and does not have control over their schedule, appears to be poorly taken care (i.e., hungry, underweight, is not receiving proper medical care, is inadequately dressed), sudden changes in behavior (i.e., promiscuous behavior, new relationships, difference in attire or tangible items), uses inappropriate sexual terminology, or speaks about or is seen with a significant other that is considerably older (Office of Safe and Healthy Students, 2013).
Further research is needed to uncover more information that could aid the U.S. government to discover the vulnerabilities that lead children to become targets to human trafficking predators. It is difficult to identify a particular profile for child trafficking victims because cases have shown that there is a vast array of demographics in the victims (Walt, 2017). However, some studies suggest that runaway children, homeless youth or youth that come from an abusive or negligent household are easier targets for trafficking (Walt, 2017). Unfortunately, research shows that minors of human trafficking have endured emotional and physical abuse prior to becoming victims of trafficking (Walt, 2017). According to Walt (2017), “In one study, at least one-third of young people receiving services as trafficking victims had been previously involved in the child welfare system and nearly two-thirds of one non-governmental clients had been involved in the juvenile justice system” (p. 62). “A recent study surveying over 600 homeless youth in the United States and Canada reports that nearly one in five homeless youth were or are victims of either sex or labor trafficking, and in some cases, both…with the majority (81%) reporting forced drug sales” (Walt, 2017, p. 62).
Human Trafficking as a Profitable Crime
Human trafficking is a very profitable crime and women make up a large portion of predators. “According to the UNODC report, in 30 percent of countries where gender data was recorded, more women were prosecuted or convicted of human trafficking than men” (Vejar, 2015, para. 9). It is suspected that crimes occur in a region that is domestic to both the offender and the victim, inferring that there are criminal networks that abduct victims from a trusted environment, where they can use fear tactics of danger to loved ones to coerce their cooperation and then they sell them to international crime networks who migrate the victims internationally (Vejar, 2015). According to Vejar (2015), “…it is estimated that human trafficking generates $10 billion a year [worldwide], of which each trafficker receives approximately $10,000 per victim, depending on their location in the world and the type of work the victims are forced to undertake” (Vejar, 2015, para. 2).
Solutions to Human Trafficking Crimes
Human trafficking has only been discovered as an international occurrence in the past couple decades, resulting in several gaps in the U.S. government that contributes to the ongoing abduction and trafficking of minors in America. Some of these flaws include: poor public awareness and education on how to identify trafficking victims, mismanaged data collection in the U.S., poor international communication, and lack of government legislation, crimes, and penalties for traffickers. “Data for the United States from 2003 to 2007 show a rising trend in investigations, prosecutions, and convictions for human trafficking offenses, indication that specific anti-trafficking legislation and increased public awareness have strengthened the ability of law enforcement and the courts to prosecute human traffickers” (Vejar, 2015, para. 13). As we gain more knowledge about human trafficking, we will be able to gain a better estimate of incidence and prevalence in the U.S. from statistics calculated from government and non-governmental trafficking agencies. Once an accurate estimate has been made, cost to provide services to trafficking victims can be identified and attained. Research needs to be expanded to determine risk factors, determinants, and survival factors from previous trafficking cases to develop programs for prevention and community education. Education and training should also be required for health care workers, social service providers, and people that are employed in facilities with youth to inform them of the process of identifying and reporting a possible trafficking victim. Prevention strategies should also be implemented to provide community awareness and support for the targeted youth population through education and assistance. Lastly, data collection should be shared internationally through a universal portal to get an accurate worldwide trafficking data collection.
Scriptural Interpretation of Human Slavery
In the Bible, God’s hears the pleas from the Israelites to free them from slavery and cruel treatment. He answers their cries and delivers them to the Promised Land with the covenant that they will abide by his commandments, one of which is to worship only Him and no other false gods. Romans 6:22 says, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (NRSV). Jesus teaches that to be a true disciple of God we are to live our lives the way of the Lord, and be “slaves of God” through teaching and practicing his doctrine. No person or tangible item can be held more precious than God. Slavery is the act of forcing a human being to obey the wishes and commands of a master. We cannot be a slave to anyone but God because that would lead us away from our chosen path to the Lord. Therefore, human trafficking would be a sin in the eyes of God.
Human trafficking is a crime that has only recently been recognized in the U.S.; therefore, action is just beginning to come underway to come up with methods to recognize victims and punish the traffickers. Many government and non-governmental agencies are trying to raise awareness and develop crimes and policies for human trafficking. Through past cases of trafficking victims, U.S. agencies are beginning to learn more information including the targeted population, human trafficking routes, and estimated number of incidents, that will help to enforce new policies to decrease cases. The U.S. is beginning to learn more about this is a horrible form of modern day slavery and hopefully in the next few decades we will see a better system that will increase in community awareness and education, more policies and crimes in place, and a decrease in prevalence.
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