Today marks National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in America. Each year the U.S. State Department estimates that approximately 800,000 persons are enslaved or “trafficked” into bondage to perform services as indentured slaves in the 21st century. Tens of millions are enslaved currently around the globe. Seventy percent of those persons are women, of which 50 percent are under the age of 18 years old.
I am not unbiased in my opposition to the scourge of modern day slavery and have worked on this unbelievably shocking crime internationally, in post-war states like Bosnia and Herzegovina. Our State Department does an admirable job in addressing human trafficking as a global phenomenon by issuing an annual Trafficking in Persons report on every country in the world (except our own because it is not within its legal mandate). But what many Americans don’t know is that our own State Department estimates that approximately 50,000 persons enter America each year, sold into bondage, and may be living in a neighborhood near you, enslaved as a prostitute or a domestic worker.
We Americans like to think of ourselves as “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” but more and more, local news outlets are exposing some of the most shocking crimes in America–that of trafficked human beings, many of whom who have been sold into sexual slavery as children and, in fewer numbers, into forced labor. More and more, there are state and local organizations working to address this old problem with a new face. One of the ironies of globalization is that we obtain information more and more quickly, but because of the nature of globalization, crime transmigrates with remarkable swiftness across the planet too, and in extraordinarily heinous ways, spiriting human beings far away from their homes, trapped because their passports and identification have been stripped away by their captors. Without documents, many people become “stateless,” trapped by their jailers, afraid to approach the police for fear they could be punished for being illegal immigrants and repatriated against their will.
I challenge the LGBTQ community to think about the human trafficking issue as a gay issue too. Here is the reason why: the American Center for Progress conservatively estimates that 320,000 to 400,000 gay and transgender youth face homelessness each year. Gay and transgender youth are the most vulnerable among us. Without a home or loving family, on the street, they become easy targets and prey by international networks of criminals who seek to exploit their bodies for primarily commercial sexual exploitation as prostitutes.
The U.S. Department of Education has recognized human trafficking as a serious problem in America and asserts such crimes have been reported in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia. Read the DoE’s fact sheet on human trafficking.
What can you do? Start by going to Facebook and sign up to learn more by “liking” a page that focuses on human trafficking. Familiarize yourself with legal initiatives of the U.S. Justice Department and where to report a crime to law enforcement when you think someone may have been trafficked.
Get involved by giving money or volunteering to support those who may have been exploited. There are hundreds of organizations nation-wide that are working to eliminate the scourge of modern slavery. Let me leave you with some mind numbing statistics provided by the Stop Child Trafficking Now.org:
Child/Human Trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world. Child/ human trafficking is the world’s second largest criminal enterprise, after drugs.U.S. State Department
The global market of child trafficking at over $12 billion a year with over 1.2 million child victims. UNICEF
As many as 2.8 million children run away each year in the US. Within 48 hours of hitting the streets, one-third of these children are lured or recruited into the underground world of prostitution and pornography. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
The average age of entry for children victimized by the sex trade industry is 12 years.U.S. Department of Justice
Approximately 80% of human trafficking victims are women and girls and up to 50% are minors. U.S. State Department
The average number of victims for non-incestuous pedophiles who molest girls is 20, for pedophiles who prefer boys 100! The Association For the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA)
300,000 children in the U.S. are at risk every year for commercial sexual exploitation. U.S. Department of Justice
600,000 – 800,000 people are bought and sold across international borders each year; 50% are children, most are female. The majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade. U.S. Department of State, 2004, Trafficking in Persons Report, Washington, D.C.
An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. The number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is even higher, with an estimated 200,000 American children at risk for trafficking into the sex industry. U.S. Department of Justice Report to Congress from Attorney General John Ashcroft on U.S. Government Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons
An average serial child molester may have as many as 400 victims in his lifetime.Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Study
Child pornography is one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States right now. Nationally, there has been a 2500% increase in arrests in 10 years. FBI
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which helps to identify and locate children in pornography photos and videos, says it’s staff reviewed more than 10.5 million images in 2009 alone.
Reports of exploited children grow every year, in 2009, the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children received more than 120,000 reports on its cyber tip line. In 2010, the number grew to over 160,000 with the vast majority being from child pornography.
Yes, let’s stop human trafficking now. Together, within our humanity and compassion, as members of the human race, let’s eliminate modern slavery!
Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.
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