National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is traditionally recognized on January 11, according to National Today. Part of January’s National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is intended to educate people about the ongoing problem of human trafficking.
What Is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking is a crime that typically involves sex trafficking, forced labor or domestic slavery. Organ harvesting and forced marriages may also be a part of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a prolific problem around the world. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, there are an estimated 40.3 million people forced into human trafficking globally, and it is a $150 billion industry.
Human Traffickers Commonly Exploit the Weak and Vulnerable
Often, human traffickers exploit the vulnerabilities of their victims; for instance, they look for poverty-stricken people or runaway children. Although anyone can become a victim of human trafficking, traffickers often target women and children, according to the United Nations.
Human Trafficking in the United States
Human trafficking is not just an overseas problem. It exists across the United States; cases of human trafficking have occurred in every state.
Human traffickers are in both metropolitan areas and rural communities. Organized crime groups, gangs and other criminals have turned to human trafficking due to its profitability.
With drug trafficking, for example, the product can only be sold one time. In order to make another profit, a drug trafficker must go out and acquire more product to make a new sale, which increases the risk of an arrest and costs money.
But with human trafficking victims, the “product” can be sold over and over to earn a sizeable profit. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, a victim can be sold for anywhere from $4,000 to $50,000.
Sadly, human trafficking profits are large and the risk of getting caught is low. As a result, the victims of human trafficking suffer greatly, especially the victims of sex trafficking.
According to the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, the average age for a child to become a sex trafficking victim is 12 years old. Any child under the age of 18 who is engaged in commercial sex is considered a human trafficking victim.
How Do Sex Traffickers Find Their Victims?
Sex traffickers lure their victims into exploitation through false promises. Commonly, they seek victims through social media sites, schools, bus stations and shopping malls.
Human traffickers often groom their victims. The grooming process involves befriending a vulnerable person and gaining that person’s trust.
The trafficker feeds the victim’s ego by expressing feelings of caring and interest in the victim’s wellbeing. Once the victim lets his or her guard down, the trafficker encourages a face-to-face meeting.
The victim is then grabbed and taken to a location the trafficker chooses. The victim’s personal items, like phones and wallets, are taken away to prevent escape. The victim is then forced into sex trafficking or another form of trafficking through physical harm or threats of death.
Recognizing Trafficking Victims
One of the advantages of the National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is that it raises awareness of what trafficking looks like, which can help the public to identify and report it. Common indicators that someone is a human trafficking victim include:
- Bruises at various stages of healing
- Another person coaching them on what to say
- An inability to leave a current living situation
- Someone who is not a family member or friend caring for a runaway
- Tattoos on the legs, neck, lower stomach, back or arms that indicate the victim belongs to a specific trafficker
- Excessive work hours without adequate pay
- Higher-than-normal security measures to prevent victims from escaping from their living quarters
If you suspect that someone is a human trafficking victim, report your observations to the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. It is manned 24/7 and is available in over 200 languages. Reporting indicators of human trafficking is vital; it enables law enforcement to be aware of and monitor a victim’s situation to determine if he or she is in danger.
Human Smuggling Can Lead to Human Trafficking
Currently, the southwest border of the U.S. is seeing unprecedented numbers of undocumented migrants gaining entry. Many of the migrants have joined caravans and experienced long trips from their home countries, seeking a better life in America.
Some migrants have even resorted to using criminal organizations to make an illegal entry into the United States. The numbers are staggering: Customs and Border Protection (CBP) arrested 2,150,370 illegal immigrants in 2022, according to Congressman Chuck Fleischmann. Fleischmann also notes that the southwest border of the U.S. has “become overwhelmed with human and drug trafficking and cartel activity.”
However, the number of illegal immigrants only reflects Customs and Border Protection encounters, not the undocumented migrants who made it into the United States by evading capture. For those who came in illegally and without government detection, they may have used the services of criminal organizations such as cartels and human smuggling organizations.
According to the New York Times, the fees that smugglers charge range from $4,000 for migrants who come from Latin American countries and up to $20,000 for those coming from Africa, Eastern Europe, or Asia. Human smuggling is different from human trafficking because human smuggling is transportation-based. An undocumented person or their family pay a smuggler to be transported across the southwest border of the U.S. without detection.
The New York Times also says that human trafficking organizations have teams who specialize in surveillance, stash houses and accounting. Revenues from these illegal human smuggling activities have reached up to an estimated $13 billion, the New York Times notes.
But sometimes, a smuggler may increase the price beyond what the illegal immigrant can afford. Some of the reasons for an increase in price might include changes in transportation costs due to law enforcement activities, delays or unexpected problems.
What happens when migrants cannot afford the increased transportation costs? They are more likely to be forced into human trafficking to pay off this debt.
Powerful Mexican cartels have control over the smuggling routes. According to NBC News, these cartels are heavily involved in human trafficking; it is believed that human trafficking is the third-largest criminal activity in Mexico behind drugs and guns.
Migrants may be forced into human trafficking either in Mexico or the United States until either their debt is paid or they die. It is another strong reason why our southwest border needs better monitoring.
National Human Trafficking Awareness Day Is a Vital Educational Opportunity
National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is an educational opportunity and should be a chance for all of us to learn about the scope of human trafficking and how it impacts communities throughout the United States. In addition, law enforcement agencies nationwide should receive training on preventing human trafficking, and citizens should report human trafficking when they observe its signs.