July 30th is an international day set aside by the global community to bring light and awareness to the horrific epidemic of human trafficking. Often thought of as a third-world issue, human trafficking is rampant across every country and may be one of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. According to the United Nations, “Human trafficking is a crime that exploits women, children and men for numerous purposes including forced labour and sex. The International Labour Organization estimates that 21 million people are victims of forced labour globally.” Trafficking victimizes the most vulnerable in our societies, forcing them into labor and sex exploitations, children being almost a third of all victims.
From UN Women
This year the global community wanted to highlight not only human trafficking, but also the enormous amount of migrant and refugees being trafficked by fleeing conflict zones and natural disasters. Unfortunately we don’t have to look far for an example than the story that came out of San Antonio where several bodies were found dead in a trailer parked in a Walmart lot.
Year after year we are hearing horrific stories of women, children and families leaving their beloved homes in search of safety. For young girls, they can fall victim to being lured through online avenues, only to find themselves immediately pimped out and forced into situations where they are repeatedly raped on a daily basis to provide money for their pimp. Confined to hotel rooms, at the mercy of their captors, young women and girls are often taken across state and international borders into lucrative markets such as Dubai and other large, international cities where they are held in apartments or locations and forced to pay back debts by being pimped out.
Girls rescued/at-risk of sex-trafficking in Thailand, take photography lessons at an NGO.
What can be worse, is when girls and women are rescued from these horrific conditions, only to be shunned by society as dirty, sex workers, or thought of as having made a decision to enter into those sexual situations. It makes for an uphill battle when re-assimilating these victims back into society. When arrested by law enforcement, the trafficked girls are arrested, not the pimp, and it is the pimp who then rescues the girl from jail, only to force them back into the sex industry to continue being raped for money. It feels like a never-ending cycle.
But there is hope. With the rise in awareness of the issues and continued efforts of law enforcement and advocacy groups, the level of education is growing amongst the general public. Industries such as aviation and hospitality have taken upon themselves to stand at the front line of this issue by training their staff and team members to recognize the signs of a person being trafficked. A story just earlier this year hailed stewardess Sheila Fedrick on Alaska Airlines who noticed a disheveled girl and subsequently left a note in the bathroom for the girl where it was determined she needed help. After alerting the pilot, law enforcement was waiting for the trafficker upon touchdown at the destination.
Trafficking helpline signs in women’s bathroom stalls in airports. (Left – sign in bathroom stall in Redmond, OR. Right – sign in bathroom stall in Las Vegas, NV).
How can the average person help? We all can combat human trafficking by educating ourselves on the issues at hand, learn the signs of a person being trafficked, and know where in your local community you can take the victim, or where to get them help. Resources such as TraffickingResourceCenter.org, the UN’s site, and The Polaris Project, are all leaders in the fight against trafficking. With knowledge comes power, and together, we can stop human trafficking.