When you think about human trafficking, the first thing that comes to mind is probably a movie like “Taken.” Human trafficking isn’t just a plotline in an old Liam Neeson movie though, it’s a very real problem.
I remember when I studied abroad in Europe back in college. Before I left, my friends jokingly told me to be careful so I wouldn’t get “taken” like in the movie. Because of movies like that, we tend to think that human trafficking is only an issue in faraway places like Eastern Europe, Asia or South America, but human trafficking happens right here in the United States as well, and there are recorded incidents in every single state.
The Disturbing Facts about Human Trafficking
Did you know that there are an estimated 25 million victims of human trafficking in the world today? It’s an extremely lucrative global industry with an approximate market value of about $99 billion dollars. To put that into perspective, that’s even larger than the cocaine industry, with more yearly revenue than major brands like McDonald’s and Netflix.
So how much does a human being cost, in the eyes of traffickers? According to a 2011 report from the Financial Action Task Force, “the estimated annual profit per woman in forced sexual servitude was $100,000, and the estimated annual profit per trafficked child was $207,000.” Only about .04% of trafficking survivors are ever identified, so there’s no way to determine the exact number of victims, but there is no doubt that human trafficking remains one of the direst and most repressive issues in the world today.
Human trafficking is an issue that affects women and children at a disproportionate rate. About 99% of people used for sex trafficking are women and children. Furthermore, studies show that children in foster care are especially vulnerable to sex trafficking. One study of New York agencies discovered that almost 50% of victims were in the child welfare system or had been in juvenile detention. Another study estimated that over 80% of sex trafficked girls were involved with the child welfare system.
About 99% of people used for sex trafficking are women and children.
Sex trafficking is not the only type of human trafficking that occurs, however. Forced labor actually makes up about 80% of all human trafficking cases. While sex trafficking disproportionately affects women, about half of all forced labor victims are men.
According to the Polaris Project, which operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 16,658 identified victims of human trafficking in the U.S. in 2020. However, they believe the real number of victims is significantly higher and those statistics on it don't even include migrant smuggling, which is an entirely separate crime. While human trafficking is a serious crime, it’s not one confined to dark alleyways and hidden places. Cases of human trafficking “have been reported and prosecuted in industries including restaurants, cleaning services, construction, factories and more.”
Human trafficking often occurs in plain sight, and you might even be unknowingly supporting it. Think of the last construction site you walked past, the last restaurant you dined in, or the cleaning service you recently used. Any of those places or services could have concealed an incident of human trafficking.
Human trafficking victims often live with their employer, in poor conditions, and act submissive or afraid.
If you’re heated up after reading all of these mind-blowing statistics, then good. You should be. I’ll be honest, prior to writing this article, I too was pretty ignorant about just how pervasive and common human trafficking still is in the world today. The good news is that there are a number of great organizations that are committed to fighting against human trafficking and providing justice for its millions of daily victims. Here are some you should consider donating to or volunteering for:
Free the Girls
Donating money is great, but Free The Girls wants your used bras too! Their mission is to “help women rescued from sex trafficking reintegrate into their communities” and they’re doing it one bra at a time. Your donation “helps survivors of human trafficking start their own businesses selling bras in their local second-hand clothing markets while they recover and build their new life.” They have a number of bra drop-off locations around the U.S. Click here to find the location closest to you.
The Tim Tebow Foundation
Turns out that Tim Tebow is more than just a professional football/baseball player. He’s also a huge philanthropist. His faith-based foundation is dedicated not just to helping free victims of human trafficking, but also to proactively combatting the root of the issue “through international community resource centers that come alongside at-risk families providing training and support to strengthen the family unit, preventing them from being taken advantage of in their vulnerability or having to turn their children into commodities out of desperation.” Click here to donate.
The foundation has also partnered with the ministry Her Song which supports female survivors of human trafficking with “residential support, programs, and spiritual growth opportunities.” Her Song has a campus in Jacksonville, FL that has helped over 2,000 women heal and prepare for a new life. The program will be expanding to Tennessee and Ohio soon. Click here to donate.
Operation Underground Railroad
This organization is taking action to end child sex trafficking and exploitation by rallying law enforcement and military personnel. O.U.R.’s team “consists of highly experienced and extensively trained current and former law enforcement personnel. Other members have a background in either the military or in intelligence work.” Their goal is “to develop long-term relationships with foreign governments and their law enforcement agencies” so that they can free victims and put an end to organized crime rings. Click here to see all the ways you can join their fight.
This organization is a little different in that they’re actually fighting against slavery, which is a separate issue from human trafficking but still just as grotesque. While slavery was abolished in the United States over 160 years ago, there are 167 countries around the world where it still persists, in many cases legally. Unseen is working to end that by fundraising, raising awareness, and directly assisting victims via their case workers. Click here to donate.
Nomi combats human trafficking and slavery by “creating pathways to safe employment and economic stability, we prevent trafficking and empower women to rewrite the narratives for future generations.” They’re concerned not only about ending the cycle of abuse for victims, but also what happens to these women after they’re freed from imprisonment. Their efforts include workforce development programs, creating ethical supply chains, socializing young girls, and more. Here are all the ways you can get involved.
I said earlier that human trafficking often occurs in plain sight and you might unknowingly support it where you shop. There’s a high likelihood that you’ve met a human trafficking victim before without even realizing it. We all need to be more aware and better prepared. Here are some telltale ways to identify a victim of human trafficking, according to the State Department:
They live with their employer, often in poor conditions.
You’re unable to speak to the individual alone.
Their answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed.
There are signs of physical abuse.
The individual acts submissive or fearful.
Believe you’ve identified a victim? Then call the National Hotline: 1-888-373-7888.
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