AMU Law Enforcement Original Public Safety

Human Trafficking: A Pervasive Problem in US Cities and Towns

By Steven M. Wynne, J.D.
Faculty Member, Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business and Community Ambassador, Anti-Trafficking International

According to Etactics writer Elia Meltzer, human trafficking happens in every big city and small town in the United States, as well as all communities around the world. Although it is difficult to provide exact figures for victims, The High Court estimates that more than 25 million human beings across this globe are denied their fundamental right to freedom.  

Who Is Involved in Human Trafficking?

In the U.S., human traffickers in every community typically take advantage of the innocence and insecurity of their targets. They can be:

  • Organized crime syndicates
  • Local players in the sex industry
  • Street gangs
  • Abusive partners
  • Family members

Combating Human Trafficking Starts with Raising Awareness of How Pervasive It Is

Human trafficking is a problem in every city and town in the U.S.

Raising public awareness that human trafficking is a real problem in every city and town in America is the first step to combating human trafficking. DeliverFund, a nonprofit intelligence organization dedicated toward eliminating human trafficking, notes that “between 15,000 to 50,000 women and children are forced into sexual slavery in the United States every year, and the total number varies wildly as it is very difficult to research. One study from the Department of Health and Human Services estimated the number between 240,000 and 325,000, while a report from the University of Pennsylvania put it at between 100,000 and 300,000.”

Finding exact statistics on human trafficking at home and globally is not possible, as far too many victims do not report this crime. Some trafficking cases are mischaracterized as domestic disputes, or they are somehow lost in the criminal justice system. 

Even if a human trafficking victim escapes bondage (only 1% are believed to escape), he or she may not report this crime for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to):

  • Insecurity
  • Embarrassment
  • Fear of retaliation
  • Intimidation

Some trafficking victims may be convinced that their new lifestyle was a choice, so they really have no one else to blame for their current situation. Others feel a false sense of empowerment; this feeling especially applies to the sex industry, where human trafficking victims live a different lifestyle than they normally would.

The lack of accurate reporting on human trafficking demonstrates that whatever statistics we compile will always be a gross underestimation of the actual human trafficking that happens in this country and around the world. Whatever statistics are provided will never account for all the human trafficking that happens globally. However, Anti-Trafficking International notes that every 30 seconds, a child is stolen somewhere on this planet.

Education: The Second Step to Combating Human Trafficking

The second step to fighting human trafficking involves education: teaching ourselves and others to recognize fight this ever-growing threat to our children and our society. According to Anti-Trafficking International, public awareness and education are our best tools in the ongoing war on human trafficking.

No One of Any Age Is Immune from Human Traffickers

Children are normally the target of human traffickers, although adults can also fall prey to the slave trade, whether it be for forced labor or the sex industry. No one is truly immune from human traffickers; they will target men, women and children – anyone who appears vulnerable.

Anti-Trafficking International observes that children are especially vulnerable as they are easier to manipulate, intimidate and control. Kids who feel marginalized, misunderstood at home or school, insecure, or alone make particularly good targets.  

RELATED: The Transportation Industry and Mitigating Human Trafficking

The Human Slave Trade Is Highly Lucrative

Human trafficking has become a sophisticated and extremely profitable criminal activity. It is the second largest criminal enterprise on this planet, behind illegal drug trafficking.

According to Anti-Trafficking International, human trafficking is estimated to be a $150 billion per year industry. Many experts estimate that human trafficking will soon overtake drug trafficking as the largest criminal enterprise.

Drug trafficking is a risky business because illegal drugs must be transported over borders and can only be sold one time. By contrast, human trafficking victims can be resold hundreds or thousands of times.

RELATED: The Use of Facial Recognition Technology by Law Enforcement

Technology Has Made It Much Easier for Human Traffickers to Target Victims

Digital platforms have become the largest threat to our children because they provide easier access to children and greatly reduced the risk of capture to human traffickers. These criminals can quickly make an online connection with hundreds or even thousands of kids, rather than simply lurking around playgrounds. Most children feel like they don’t fit in at some point, so in some ways, all children are at risk for human trafficking.

These traffickers working online gain a victim’s trust and develop a pseudo-caring relationship that seems very real to the victim. For victims, the relationship seems so real that they often willingly choose to the trafficker in person and are then kidnapped.  

There are several common tactics traffickers use to manipulate and control their victims:

  1. Love bombing – overwhelming the victim with affection, adoration, gifts and love
  2. Gaslighting – making victims question their sense of reality or sanity
  3. Negging – causing a potential victim to feel bad or worthless
  4. Guilt tripping – making victims feel that they should do more to help the trafficker, especially in romantic, professional or familial relationships
  5. Emotional blackmailing – using blackmailing tactics such as a threat of suicide or sending illicit photos to family and friends

Organizations Designed to Stop Human Trafficking

Thankfully, there are organizations dedicated to helping the public become more aware of human trafficking and its impact on our society. These organizations include the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the A21 Campaign. The Department of State also offers an annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

In addition, Anti-Trafficking International provides education programs tailored to specific audiences. This organization has award-winning curriculums for local school systems, is currently working on awareness programs at the college level community level and even offers specific training tailored for certain occupations.

In 2023, Anti-Trafficking International will hold an online conference with pre-recorded presentations from multiple speakers. These presentations will be available from January 28 to February 28, 2023, so viewers can watch at their convenience.

Steven Wynne earned his Juris Doctorate with a certificate in international legal studies from Loyola School of Law and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of the District of Columbia with a specialization in international business and marketing. He has worked as an international law and global business consultant for more than 30 years, working on strategic plans and with many different corporations in more than 80 nations. Steven has also taught at the graduate and undergraduate level for more than 20 years, focusing on international law and global business. He has consulted with Fortune 500 companies and governmental agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency. Steven has also worked with global nonprofits such as the ONE Campaign to help end global poverty, and he is currently the Community Ambassador for Anti-Trafficking International.

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