Victims are rarely identified, so with every child found or adult given the opportunity to be set free one can’t help but be moved. At this point, regardless of the news, good or bad, my eyes just fill up and maybe one tear will stream down because I don’t have time to spend my day crying. There is too much work to be done.
As a survivor of human trafficking, the only time I cry for myself are tears of gratitude that I’m still alive. It’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m still here.
Human Trafficking Is a Large and Profitable Business
The United Nations refers to human trafficking as the “hidden figure of crime” and estimates show that only 0.04% of survivors of human trafficking cases are identified. The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally.
I think when folks see that number they don’t fully realize why it’s so high. 40.3 million includes all victims of sex and labor trafficking. Child marriage (in some cases, not all, unfortunately), illegal adoptions, digital sex trafficking, child sexual abuse material, and the black market sale of human organs are all included under the crime of human trafficking.
In early 2020, Forbes magazine stated that for the first time human trafficking would gross more net profits than the drug trade at $150 billion globally. Black market oil and drugs can only be used once. A human can be sold for sex and/or labor countless times. Criminals only care about the bottom line. To human traffickers, these victims are seen as a product, nothing more, nothing less.
For the first time, in 2020, human trafficking would gross more net profits than the drug trade at $150 billion globally.
After COVID-19 entered the picture, the reality of human trafficking went from bad to worse. In the first month of the lockdown alone, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received a reported 40% increase in calls.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported 126% increase in reported child sexual abuse material. According to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission, “In 2019, there were more than 16.8 million reports of online child sexual abuse material (CSAM) which contained 69.1 million CSAM related images and videos. More than 15.8 million reports–or 94% –stem from Facebook and its platforms, including Messenger and Instagram.” So just imagine, 126% increase from those numbers. Human trafficking cases have risen 185% compared to this time last year according to the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST), one the nation's largest service providers for survivors. About 89% of CAST's clients are people of color. 21% of CAST's clients are men and boys.
That’s just here in America. Yes, here in America. We’re losing a war against traffickers, pimps, abusers, and pedophiles. We’re losing badly. Human traffickers have better technology, more money, and more manpower than we do. That’s just keeping it real.
Who Can Fall Victim to Human Trafficking?
So what’s the problem? Is it borders? No.
According the U.S. Department of State 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, 77% of trafficking victims are exploited within their country of residence. In other words, although one can be trafficked into the United States, that’s not always the case. Human smuggling and human trafficking are very different crimes that often get folks confused. Human smuggling is a consensual agreement to cross a border. A human doesn’t even need to leave their own home to be trafficked.
77% of trafficking victims are exploited within their country of residence.
Is it stranger kidnapping? It happens, but not always. Reuters reports that “On average, fewer than 350 people under the age of 21 have been abducted by strangers in the United States per year since 2010, the FBI says. From 2010 through 2017, the most recent data available, the number has ranged from a low of 303 in 2016 to a high of 384 in 2011 with no clear directional trend.” Only 10% of child sex traffickers are strangers to the child.
The truth, most survivors of human trafficking have an established relationship with their abusers prior to abuse. In many areas, we’re seeing trafficking by a parent or loved one on the rise. In some cases, children are trafficking themselves without leaving their own homes. They send images and pictures to a predator online thinking that it’s a safe person their age. Once the predators have the content they blackmail for more.
Who is at risk? Low income, both rural and urban. Those with a history of sexual abuse or domestic violence in the home. Those who struggle with addiction issues. Those experiencing homelessness. Folks with disabilities. LGBTQ. Folks who struggle with mental health issues. Immigrants. Indigenous populations. Black and brown folks. Black girls are most likely to be affected by this crime, according to a report by the Congressional Black Caucus and Rights4Girls, but any age, race, ethnicity or gender can be trafficked.
Only 10% of child sex traffickers are strangers to the child.
In my case, I fell for a bogus modeling deal in Hollywood in my late teens. We see these same schemes play out now as predators promise young folks a “better more glamorous life” on social media.
As if the reality of human trafficking wasn’t bad enough already, we have a new enemy as well, misinformation online about human trafficking. This is a challenge I never imagined coming onto the scene in a million years. I’ll say this, if there’s ever any question about human trafficking that pops up, the National Human Trafficking Hotline website has very detailed statistics and data collected over 10 years about the crime, as well as up-to-date information. Yes, they even address rumors and conspiracy theories as well.
Perpetrators Are Being Held Responsible
So where’s the silver lining? Well, for me, it always starts with survivors of these crimes. Survivors are stepping forward, and survivors are taking a stand! In late 2020, I experienced my most hopeful time as an advocate yet. First, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times published a piece called “The Children of Pornhub.” This piece exposed the well known fact that Pornhub has been profiting from child sexual abuse material, human trafficking, and sexual assault for a very long time. As a result, every credit card company broke ties with Pornhub, and to date, they have removed 10 million images and videos from the platform. Other major porn sites fell in line shortly afterwards. It took brave survivors stepping forward to do that, but they did it!
Shortly afterwards, fashion designer Peter J. Nygard was arrested by the FBI. To date, over 100 survivors have stepped forward and spoken out against Nygard. He has been accused of sex trafficking, among other crimes. The survivors’ attorney Lisa Haba told ABC News, “The stories mirror each other over and over again. We have seen a pattern of prolific abuse of women and children over the course of the last 50 years.”
Haba said Nygard was “worse” than Jeffrey Epstein, and she hailed the arrest. I did as well.
Peter J. Nygard was arrested and over 100 survivors have stepped forward and spoken out against him.
Jean-Luc Brunel was also arrested. The former modeling agent and associate of the financier Jeffrey Epstein was arrested at an airport near Paris as part of an investigation into allegations of rape and sexual assault, including against minors, according to authorities. Survivors stepping forward and being vocal led to the arrest. When news of the arrest broke, that was one of those tears of joy moments for me. I yelled out, “Hell Yes!” with tears in my eyes. A victory for survivors somewhere is a victory for survivors everywhere.
What We Can Do To Combat Human Trafficking
We’re honestly just beginning as a movement. The momentum is growing and rapidly. I’m anticipating that 2021 will be the year of reckoning and justice for many survivors. Looking ahead, one of my tasks is encouraging innovation around Human Centered Artificial Intelligence and facial recognition. The new technologies can detect child sexual abuse material and human trafficking online at a faster rate than ever before. My goal is to completely get rid of the child sexual abuse material and human trafficking online within the next five years. This would allow law enforcement and organizations that serve survivors to focus on the crime in other ways. Right now the online space is our biggest obstacle to ending the problem.
The other ways to combat the issue are to raise awareness and to educate the youth before it happens in the first place. We must also provide survivors of human trafficking adequate aftercare once they have the opportunity to be free. This will help to stop survivors from returning to their pimp or trafficker. Yes, that’s a huge problem as well. I think one of the most perplexing things for folks to wrap their head around is when survivors return to and/or love their abusers. We call it a “Trauma Bond,” but folks often refer to it as “Stockholm Syndrome.” When we talk about human trafficking, the abuser can use force, fraud, and/or coercion. Oftentimes, in a coercion trafficking situation, a victim will fall in love with their abuser and not want to leave. Adequate aftercare can help to untangle the trauma.
We must also provide survivors of human trafficking adequate aftercare once they have the opportunity to be free.
Last but not least, we need to start throwing more energy behind survivors of labor trafficking in the United States. Modern day slavery has no home in the United States. We should be the first country in the world to prioritize ending slavery once and for all. This bold move forward would help to end slavery around the globe.
As a survivor of human trafficking I firmly believe that all humans deserve an opportunity to be free. We will only end human trafficking if we work together.
U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888
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