Human trafficking is the forced exploitation of a person within or across borders through the abuse of power or position by the trafficker. The first law in the United States regarding human trafficking was put into place in 2000 and was known as the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Human trafficking is broadly separated into labor and sexual exploitation, with the most common forms of human trafficking being:
- Domestic Servitude
- Forced Begging
- Forced Criminal Activity
- Forced Marriage
- Organ Trafficking
- Forced Sexual Exploitation
Who Is the Most Vulnerable to Human Trafficking?
Those who are most vulnerable to being victims of human trafficking are minorities, other marginalized groups, and displaced persons. Those who are impoverished, as well as victims and survivors of domestic violence and homelessness, are also at an increased risk. Within the labor and sexual exploitation areas of human trafficking, children make up about a quarter of the victims. In many cases, human traffickers are either related to or are close acquaintances of those they are exploiting.
How Many People are the Victims of Human Trafficking?
Global estimates on the number of people who are trafficked vary from 20-37 million, although it is difficult to get a firm number within such an illicit market. It is estimated that human trafficking generates $150.2 billion annually, with about 29 percent of these profits from forced labor, and about 66 percent from sexual exploitation. The remainder of the profits come from forced criminal activity, forced begging, and organ trafficking. The highest profits come from victims of sexual exploitation—an average of $21,899 per victim.
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Trafficking of Children
Although boys are victims of human trafficking, more young girls are being exploited for someone else’s benefit or being treated as a commodity. To keep them from attempting to escape the sexual exploitation, young girls are subjected to violence, coercion, threats and abuse of power. Child trafficking victims, whether they are being trafficked for sexual exploitation, labor or organs, come from all backgrounds, typically spanning an age range from one year to eighteen years, with the most common age being about 14.
In many cases, trafficked children are brought to the United States through a promise of work or school, and their parents are told the children will send money back to the family to allow them to also come to the U.S. In some cases, families who do not have a clear understanding of what will happen to their child will actually sell the child to a trafficker. About 50 percent of all victims of human trafficking are children, and as many as three-quarters of transactions for sex with underage girls begin on the Internet.
Labor traffickers often make false promises of a high-paying job, travel opportunities or educational opportunities to lure people into horrific working conditions. The victims of labor trafficking find they are working very long hours for little—or no—pay. The employers of these victims use physical abuse, confiscation of passports or money, debt bondage, threats against the victim’s family members, or promises of bringing the victim’s children or other family members to be with them. Vulnerable populations are more likely to be the victims of labor trafficking, such as those who are poor, those who are in the country illegally, those with no immediate family or support system, or even those from the LGBTQ community, who may feel disenfranchised.
The industries most likely to “employ” victims of labor trafficking are agricultural businesses, factory workers, restaurants, the construction industry, and carnivals. In some cases, health and beauty workers may also be victims of labor trafficking. The International Labor Organization estimates there are 14.2 million people who are trapped in forced labor situations. One study done by the San Diego State University found that 31 percent of undocumented, Spanish-speaking migrant workers who were interviewed in San Diego County, had experienced labor trafficking.
Sex traffickers also use violence, debt bondage, lies, threats and other forms of coercion to force children and adults to engage in sex acts against their will. In the United States, any minor who is younger than 18 and is induced into commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of whether force, fraud or coercion was used. In fact, many victims of sex trafficking start by becoming romantically involved with someone who later forces or manipulates them into prostitution. Some children are forced into prostitution by their parents or other family members, and many remain in this situation for months, years, or even decades.
False massage businesses, escort services, “brothels” at truck stops or residential brothels at hotels or motels are the most common places where sex trafficking occurs. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found that as many as one in 6 runaways were sex trafficking victims, and across the globe, some 4.5 million people are trapped in sex trafficking situations. It was estimated by the Urban Institute that the underground sex economy is about $290 million in Atlanta and nearly $40 million in Denver.
The Impact of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking brings in more money for the traffickers than the illegal sales of arms, and it is expected that human trafficking will surpass illegal drug sales within the next few years. Human trafficking numbers are rising in all 50 states in the United States. The average lifespan of a human trafficking victim is about seven years, as victims are often found dead after abuse, an attack, HIV or other STDs, drug overdose, suicide or malnutrition. Children are typically targets of human traffickers as they are easier to manipulate, and more money is earned by the trafficker from young girls and boys, particularly virgins. Traffickers have been known to inject pre-pubescent girls with hormones to bring on puberty, and young girls are in the highest demand.
Children who are trafficked will suffer a multitude of problems—that is if they live through their ordeal. Long-term health problems are common, including sleeping and eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, pelvic pain, rectal trauma, urinary difficulties, and HIV/AIDS. Drug addiction is almost the norm, and children who are trafficked for labor in agricultural, construction or sweatshop conditions may suffer chronic back, heart, respiratory and hearing problems. Mental issues such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, fear, guilt, and shame may all occur in those who have been the victim of human trafficking, and in less-common cases, the victim of human trafficking may suffer traumatic bonding with his or her trafficker.
Runaways in the United States are at a higher risk for child trafficking as they are emotionally vulnerable, homeless, and are trying to find a way to survive. These children may first engage in “survival sex,” then find themselves vulnerable to traffickers who are involved in prostitution networks. It is estimated that more than half of all “street children” engage in prostitution, although the number could be much higher. More and more often, human traffickers are involved with organized crime; when victims are transported, both legal and illegal means of transportation are used.
Human Trafficking in the State of Florida
The city of Orlando ranks third in the nation for the number of reports to the national human-trafficking hotline. Orlando—and the entire state of Florida is heavy on tourism, meaning the transience makes human trafficking more likely to happen. Because we are much less likely to know our neighbors in this day and age, a house where children or adults are kept for trafficking purposes is more likely to escape the notice of those who live in the area. Because of the high rate of human trafficking in the state, Orange County commissioners agreed to spend over $2 million over the next couple of years to staff the first crisis shelter for human trafficking victims.
While Florida Abolitionist will handle intake into the crisis shelter, Aspire Health Partners will provide therapy and round-the-clock care for those who are brought to the shelter. This shelter is particularly important because there are few good options for victims of human trafficking—just as, a couple of decades ago, there were no designated safe harbors for victims of domestic violence. With the shelters in place, when a call comes in at midnight, there will now be a designated place to take these victims, ensuring their safety.
Florida state officials received more than 1,900 calls regarding suspected human trafficking of children and teens in 2016. These calls came into the Department of Children and Families hotline. Additionally, between 2007 and 2016, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received 790 calls regarding adults being trafficked in the Orlando area. If you consider only the numbers, Orlando is ranked 20th in the nation for human trafficking if you are only counting numbers, however if the numbers are based on per capita, the city ranks a dismal third, behind only Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, and ahead of St Louis, Sacramento, Las Vegas, and Miami. Orlando female victims of human trafficking are largely sexually exploited, however across the state of Florida it is believed labor trafficking is an even larger problem, especially in rural areas where these victims are essentially enslaved and forced to perform agricultural work.
Stopping Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is, essentially, modern-day slavery, and the United States is, unfortunately, one of the top destinations across the globe for trafficked victims. Coming from more than 50 countries, worldwide, tens of thousands of people are trafficked to the United States—nearly 80 percent are female, and half are children. Major destinations for these victims are tourism centers, such as Las Vegas and Florida. The countries of origin are primarily Mexico, the Philippines, Haiti, Guatemala, India, and the Dominican Republic.
Often, those from these countries are tricked into accepting an offer of a job which promises them a better life than the one they are currently living. Later, when they realize they are the victims of force, fraud, and coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor, they have no way to escape. The only way to stop human trafficking is for all of us to be more alert to those living around us. Human trafficking thrives on secrecy, and our current society tends to live more on social media than in our actual “space.”
In other words, many of us do not know our neighbors and do our best not to pay attention to what is happening next door, or on our block or street. Think about this—one phone call could save a life, or lives. If you see any of the following, consider the possibility that you may have encountered a person who has been trafficked:
- A person who shows signs of physical abuse;
- A person who has a malnourished appearance;
- A person with obvious injuries;
- A person who seems disoriented and does not know where he or she is;
- A person who always seems to wear the same clothes, regardless of circumstances or weather;
- A person who seems to have very few personal possessions;
- A person with no identification documents;
- A person who avoids eye contacts;
- A person who appears very hesitant to engage in conversation;
- A person who is fearful of law enforcement or other authority figures;
- A person who appears to rarely be allowed to come and go independently, or
- A person who works excessively long hours.
Aside from keeping an eye out for trafficked individuals, learn what typically goes on in your neighborhood so you can recognize anything which seems out of the ordinary. You can also lobby for local and state anti-trafficking legislation, participate—or organize—a community task force against human trafficking, talk to your children’s school(s) about including a human trafficking awareness programs, and even write a letter to the editor or an article regarding ongoing domestic trafficking in Florida and across the nation. If you have children, have guidelines in place regarding internet usage, teach them never to walk alone, and to be wary of strangers.