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Slavery still exists in the United States. In contrast to slavery in the pre-Civil War years, contemporary slavery is harder to discern, even though it is widespread. It hides in motels adjacent to highways, in suburbia, and in sleepy rural towns. But, we can be a part of the solution. When a person, family, or community chooses to learn about human trafficking, it makes them and the people around them safer. In this op-ed, I will go over three steps that everyone can take.
For context, human trafficking is a term to cover both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. A trafficker can use force, fraud, and coercion to exploit their victims. It should be noted, “Human trafficking can take place even if the victim initially consented to providing labor, services, or commercial sex acts” (“Understanding Human Trafficking”).
Trafficking affects adults and children of all identities and backgrounds, but ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples, and LGBTQ+ individuals are disproportionately affected. For example, an article by Taylor Paiz and Amber van Schooneveld says around four out of ten sex trafficking victims are Black, and trafficking also impacts Native Americans at a high rate (Paiz and Schooneveld). Traffickers are usually of the same group they are trafficking, but studies show white men are the people who fuel the industry through their purchases.
The first step to keeping ourselves and others safe is to have open conversations. I believe it is important to have a good support group of trusted people, such as friends and family, and to have conversations with them if you ever feel unsafe because of someone.
Of course, life is not perfect. Sometimes we are not connected with friends and family because they let us down or hurt us. Sometimes we might not have our needs met (food, shelter, money, etc.)
In the case that you or a loved one need to talk to someone, professional counselors and therapists are fantastic outlets, and there are also free telephone counseling services. If you or a loved one need something more physical, like a place to stay the night or food, many cities have emergency shelters and serve food to those in need.
Traffickers prey on people who are vulnerable or that need something. Once they gain trust, they will meet the needs of their victim (in the case the trafficker is a family member, trust is easier to gain.) For example, if someone needs shelter, the trafficker will provide a place to stay. For emotionally vulnerable people, traffickers will pretend to care about them. Often, a trafficker will act as their victim’s partner.
A simple way we can help fight this is by having open and frank conversations with the people we love and by loving the people around us for who they are. I promise that it makes such a big difference.
If something seems wrong, such as a friend with a boyfriend who is being manipulative and pushy, ask about it and express your concerns. Do not victim-blame or tell them that they should have known better. Traffickers are skilled at manipulating victims for their gain, so they are the ones at fault.
The second step is to know the signs of a trafficking victim. A trafficked individual may have physical signs like bruises, broken bones, cuts, and branding (this can be something like a burn or a tattoo.)
Other warning signs include malnourishment, interactions that appear scripted or fearful, and drug addiction. Mental health is often poor in trafficked individuals as well, and they can show signs of anxiety and depression.
If you ever identify someone as a trafficking victim who is in immediate danger, call 911. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a good line to call if the victim is not in immediate danger or after you call 911.
The third step is to stay safe on the internet and to be aware of how the internet and trafficking are connected. Many traffickers recruit victims online. Traffickers can also control victims online, even if they are in different cities, through location tracking. A rule of thumb is not to give personal information or images to strangers or people you have just met.
With the constantly changing internet, I believe it is important to recognize that exploitation is not entertainment. Traffickers are profiting off of videos of their victims.
When companies fail to protect those who are being trafficked or even care that people are sharing illegal content on their platform, they should be held accountable. Most of the time, they are not. Personally, I choose not to engage with social media and other forms of media where trafficking is prevalent.
To end, I believe we can make a change together and help put an end to human trafficking. I would encourage you to talk about trafficking to others, learn about the signs of trafficking (there are plenty of online courses for those who want to learn more), and review the safety of your online habits.
Paiz, Taylor, and Amber van Schooneveld. “Race and Human Trafficking: How This Crime Disproportionately Affects Ethnic Minorities and Indigenous Persons.” The Exodus Road, 6 June 2022, theexodusroad.com/race-and-human-trafficking.
“Understanding Human Trafficking.” United States Department of State, 26 Apr. 2022, www.state.gov/what-is-trafficking-in-persons.
If you or someone you love is a victim of trafficking, I would highly encourage you to call The National Human Trafficking Hotline. You are so important and so are the people you love <3
Hey friends! This is a topic that's been on my mind for a while now. I have spoken about it before in my community but I have never written extensively about it. I know poetry is kind of my schtick but I do enjoy writing opinion pieces and essays for fun when I have the time. I hope this piece is impactful and inspires change not only for individuals but for communities :)