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What is the human trafficking problem?
Human trafficking is the most prevalent and painful injustice of our time. The children, women and men who are trafficked have a vulnerability (ranging from poverty to low self-esteem) that makes them a target for false recruitment promises, sexual grooming and further abuse. Rather than treating these people as human beings, traffickers use them as products to be sold for personal profit. Today there are over 40 million people in forced labor (including commercial sexual exploitation) and forced marriage around the world, with women and girls disproportionally affected (International Labour Organization, 2017). Far from immune to this problem, the United States is one of the worst offenders – a top 3 country of origin in 2018, along with Mexico and The Philippines (United States Trafficking in Persons Report, 2019). Colorado is a hub of human trafficking in the country (look up the statistics for your own state!).
This problem affects every one of us. People are trafficked into at least 25 industries, from construction, restaurants and massage parlors to commercial sex (Polaris, 2018). They work in faraway factories, fisheries and farms. They work in nearby stores and restaurants. Vulnerable populations are forced, lured and deceived into situations where they endanger their own lives and work in unsafe conditions. Whether we see them or not, they bring us products and services we use everyday.
What does human trafficking mean?
Essentially, human trafficking is the severe exploitation of someone for the purposes of sex or labor through force, fraud or coercion. Victims and survivors of human trafficking include children, women and men, and come from different races and religions. It has many faces and includes more situations than many people realize. But the common elements are clear — someone with more relative power targeting someone with a social vulnerability and compelling (physically or psychologically) that person to work or provide commercial sexual services.
What are examples of human trafficking?
The U.S. Department of State identifies the below populations as the most vulnerable to trafficking in the U.S. It also points to an increase in the use of online social media platforms to recruit and advertise.
- Children in the child welfare and juvenile justice system, including foster care
- Runaway and homeless youth
- Unaccompanied foreign national children without lawful immigration status
- American Indians and Alaska Natives, particularly women and girls
- Individuals with drug addictions
- Migrant laborers, including undocumented workers and participants in visa programs for temporary workers
- Foreign national domestic workers in diplomatic households
- Persons with limited English proficiency
- Persons with disabilities
- LGBTI individuals
- Participants in court-ordered substance use diversion programs
- Runaway kids from broken homes lured into prostitution
- Desperate laborers conned into impossible debt for the chance to work abroad
- Isolated sheep herders whose visa sponsors seize all of their wages for food
- Children sent by parents to work in factories after natural disasters
- Domestic servants for the international elite
- Soldiers whose labor is contracted out to local businesses by their commanders
What tools do traffickers use to control their victims?
Traffickers want to keep their victims isolated, dependent and hopeless, and so they may use different tactics.
- Abuse individuals physically, sexually, psychologically and emotionally, sometimes through calculated unpredictability
- Threaten families and loved ones
- Destroy, conceal, confiscate, or deny access to passports, driver’s licenses and personal belongings
- Impose harsh conditions of individual’s captivity, such as unsanitary housing, low quality food and water, limited freedom of movement
- Expose individual to cruel working conditions, such as crowded factories, high levels of pesticide, unsafe work equipment, long working hours, inadequate pay
- Refuse communication or access to people that could help, such as neighbors, community, family and friends
- Misrepresent terms of employment through misleading recruitment practices that do not disclose basic information and lie about wages and fringe benefits, location of work, employer-arranged living conditions and housing, significant costs charged to employees and dangerous nature of work
- Charge high recruitment fees that can never be repaid with the earned wages
What do human trafficking survivors need?
Human trafficking survivors’ needs are as diverse as their stories. For someone who has been trafficked, the road to rebuilding a stable and fulfilling life is long and hard. Many survivors report having diverse legal issues that are related to how the trafficker abused the law to control them, such as criminal records, debt and child custody. These legal issues often block their ability to reclaim their lives and find employment, qualify for housing and access services and benefits. Survivors need professional legal help to move out of vulnerability to stability. Often, connecting quickly to an attorney is the critical difference between staying trapped in the trafficking cycle, and the hope and opportunity we all deserve.
What can I do about this huge problem?
The horrors of human trafficking may seem too big for any one of us to solve. And indeed they are. Yet you can still play a critical part in the anti-trafficking movement! Support the work of ALIGHT and other anti-human trafficking organizations that are on the front lines.
Are you …
A concerned citizen? Help us fight for the rights of human trafficking survivors! Donate or become an ALIGHT Ambassadors of Light to engage your own community on these issues and organizing a fundraiser. This program provides you with resources to go deeper into this complex issue and a platform to share your passion and purpose with your family, friends and colleagues. To discuss becoming an Ambassador of Light, write to us here.
An advocate or service provider in Colorado who needs free legal services for your human trafficking clients? Get in touch with us about partnering here. For immediate legal help, the human trafficking survivors can call the ALIGHT Intake Advocate at 720-608-6039 (more information and resources are here).
If you suspect human trafficking near you, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at1 (888) 373-7888 or text233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”) 24/7.