Human Trafficking in the United States Final Blog Compilation by Caleigh McDonough
Human Trafficking is a pervasive issue, as millions of victims are trafficked worldwide each year. According to International Labor Organization estimations, human trafficking generates USD $150 billion a year in global profits (Gallucci). The United States is one of the highest-ranking countries in the world for human trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as the use of fraud, force, or coercion to obtain labor or sex exploitation (“What is Human Trafficking”). Data reported from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline indicates that in the U.S. in 2018 alone, there were 10,949 human trafficking cases and 23,078 survivors were identified. Of these cases, 7,859 involved sex trafficking, 1,249 involved labor trafficking, 639 involved both sex and labor trafficking, and 1,202 were not specified. 65% victims were female, 13% male, and 22% unknown gender. Hispanic and Latina women disproportionately suffer from human trafficking in the U.S. (36.8% victims in 2018). Asians are the next highest suffering demographic (28%), followed by African American and Black victims (17%) and White victims (15%) (Polaris).
Some risk factors that increase an individual’s vulnerability to human trafficking include recent migration or relocation, substance use, unstable housing, homeless youth, and mental health concerns (2018 Statistics). Young women from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking, especially in night clubs, bars, and cantinas. Data collected between 2007 and 2016 reports 200 cases involving Latina victims in U.S. bars and cantinas, occurring in 20 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. 96% of the 1,300 victims were female, mostly from Mexico and Central America, and 63% of them were minors (“Thousands of Women”). Spreading awareness of these risk factors is one strategy to combat human trafficking.
Being aware of tactics used by traffickers to recruit victims is another way to identify signs of trafficking and prevent trafficking, reprimand offenders, and help victims. Traffickers use force (physical violence, and sexual abuse), fraud, coercion, and manipulation to lure vulnerable women into these abusive, inhumane situations (“Fighting Sex Trafficking”). They make false promises of good jobs, love, and/or a better life in the U.S., threaten victims and their loves ones, and deceive, coerce economically, physically, and psychologically, blackmail, intimidate, isolate and confine, and manipulate victims (2018 Statistics). Control tactics include raping, gang raping, blackmailing, and controlling victims with drugs by sedating the victim, causing the victim to get addicted to drugs, or manipulating a pre-existing drug addiction (Paticchio). Traffickers can be a criminal network or individuals such as coyotes, employers, romantic partners, or a victim’s own family member. Victims often get trapped in sex trafficking based on vulnerabilities from an inability to speak English, a lack of financial resources, and a lack of access to a legal passport or work permit (“Thousands of Women”). Understanding how a victim first got involved in sex trafficking is important in encouraging their successful recovery and protecting them against falling back into trafficking. Tragically, 40% of victims identified by the police (2013-2017) who were removed from the trade (reunited with families or relocated to live elsewhere) slipped back into sex trafficking (Gill and Swanson). Usually the reason they fall back into trafficking relates to the same factor(s) that caused them to be vulnerable in the first place and/or to be lured into sex trafficking. Trafficking victims who are able to recover often take many months or years of counseling and emotional support to regain their autonomy and self-confidence (Gill and Swanson). Supporting victims during this period by connecting them with recovery resources is incredibly important.
Although Latina women disproportionately suffer from this atrocity, other populations are not invulnerable to human trafficking; hotspots exist in communities of all demographic backgrounds. Although poverty, broken homes, and violent neighborhoods increase one’s vulnerability to trafficking, stable and higher-income families are also susceptible. Northern Virginia is one of these hotspots because of the market demand and ease of accessibility. Regarding the market, “the typical buyer of teenaged sex is married, male, with children, and money to spend, which is a common profile in affluent northern Virginia” (Gill). Secondly, the highway infrastructure contributes to this area being a hotspot, as it makes for conditions of easier contact, motel access, anonymous travel nodes and quick exits. The ethnic background of female sex trafficked victims in Northern Virginia mirrors national data. Between January 2013 and February 2017, the Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force identified approximately 500 sex trafficking victims, most of whom were female, but a significant minority were male; boys and young men from the LGBTQ community are especially vulnerable to trafficker recruiting (Gill). The average age of victims in Northern Virginia is 15-18 years, and in the U.S., 12-15 years. The initial meetings between victims and traffickers typically takes place online or in public places such as shopping malls. Typically, a trafficker gains the victim’s trust by posing as a friend, and then uses manipulation and coercion to control the victim (“Fighting Sex Trafficking”).
Public and private groups work to combat human trafficking by raising awareness about its prevalence as an issue and by providing information to reduce vulnerabilities. Information campaigns inform the public on indicators of human trafficking and increase awareness in a preventative effort to address this issue. Polaris is a nonprofit NGO that works to combat and prevent human trafficking in North America (Polaris). Polaris operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, which connects callers with local anti-trafficking resources, trainings, and general information. It is equipped to handle calls from potential trafficking victims, community members, law enforcement, medical professionals, legal professionals, service providers, researchers, students, and policymakers (U.S. Department of State).
With the increased awareness of and information on human trafficking in the U.S., the U.S. government has responded with policy initiatives to combat this issue. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 established the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. This initiative aimed to enhance coordination among U.S. Federal government agencies in their anti-trafficking efforts (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services). It also increased federal penalties and victim services to address this growing social and criminal problem (Copley). Various factors complicate the effectiveness of a legal approach. For instance, an undocumented immigrant might be afraid to seek legal protection based on her legal status. The manipulative nature of many relationships between traffickers and victims might also deter a victim from speaking out and seeking help. A comprehensive approach to combat human trafficking in the U.S. requires increasing public awareness, spreading information, and connecting victims with resources. Most important, combating human trafficking demands a strong understanding of risk factors, identification of vulnerable populations, and devotion of resources and efforts to supporting the vulnerable and prevent them from falling victim to this atrocity.
“2018 Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline” Polaris.
Copley, Lauren (2014). Uncovering Latino Sex Trafficking in a New Destination Area: A Case
Study. PhD diss., University of Tennessee, 2014. https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_graddiss/2813
“Fighting Sex Trafficking of Latinas in U.S. Cantinas and Bars” Polaris. 9 September 2016.
Gallucci, Jaclyn. “Human Trafficking is an Epidemic in the U.S. It’s also Big Business” Fortune.
Gill, Wallicia and Brad Swanson. “Special Report: The Reality of Teen Sex Trafficking in
Northern Virginia.” The Blue View. 15 August 2018. Retrieved from http://blueview.org/2018/08/15/special-report-the-reality-of-teen-sex-trafficking-in-northern-virginia/
Paticchio, Emma. “Addicted to You: Drug Addiction as a Means of Coercion.” Trafficking
Matters. Retrieved from https://www.traffickingmatters.com/addicted-to-you-drug-addiction-as-a-means-of-coercion/
Polaris. About Us. Polaris. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/about-us/
“Thousands of Women from Mexico are Forced to Sell Sex in the U.S. We Need to End It.”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Federal Government Efforts to Combat Human
Trafficking. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://www.acf.hhs.gov/otip/resources/federal-efforts
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Combat Trafficking in Persons. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/identify-and-assist-a-trafficking-victim/
“What is Human Trafficking.” U.S. Department of Homeland Security.