On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by Abraham Lincoln to end the burden of slavery within the United States. Congress officially enacted the proclamation in 1865, however incidences of modern slavery still exists today. According to the U.S. Department of States’ fact sheet, it is estimated that more than 24.9 million adults and children are exposed to human trafficking around the world – including the United States.
What is Human Trafficking?
But, what is human trafficking in the first place? Why is it such a rampant issue?
Forced labor and sex trafficking are key areas of concern that ultimately define what we know as modern slavery. Forced labor, “Encompasses the range of activities involved when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to obtain the labor or services of another person,” explains the U.S. Department of State. Traffickers act upon interests through recruitment, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining efforts to lure potential victims for labor or services.
“Threats of force, debt manipulation, withholding of pay, confiscation of identity documents, psychological coercion, reputational harm, manipulation of the use of addictive substances, threats to other people, or other forms of coercion,” are common ploys to secure labor or services. While there are several types, the U.S. Department of State highlights domestic servitude and forced child labor as, “frequently distinguished for emphasis or because they are widespread.”
The government further emphasizes sex trafficking as, “Activities involved when a trafficker uses force, fraud, or coercion to compel another person to engage in a commercial sex act or causes a child to engage in a commercial sex act.” Like forced labor, following a framework of actions, means, and purpose also applies within the realm of sex trafficking. Traffickers recruit, harbor, transport, provide, obtain, patronize, or solicit another person to engage in commercial sex.
Uses of force, fraud, or coercion can result in non-violent tactics, serious, psychosocial, and/or reputational harm, threats to others, and debt manipulation. Traffickers engage individuals in commercial sex acts within locations like private homes, massage parlors, hotels, or brothels, and even online.
The U.S. Department of State stresses principles and concepts of consent, movement, debt bondage, non-penalization, state-sponsored human trafficking, unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers, and accountability in supply chains all impact perpetual forced labor and sex trafficking around the world.
Awareness & Prevention
Though these facts are grim, the future looks brighter.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 highlighted the U.S. government’s stance towards a world free of human trafficking. 10 years later, former President Obama declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Several proclamations followed suit thereafter.
Both individually and collectively, there are ways that you can help raise awareness and prevent occurrences too. Calling 911 for urgent situations and/or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 are highly recommended when trying to assist a victim.
Regardless, start by looking for common indicators.
Poor living conditions, the inability to speak to the individual alone, answers appearing to be scripted and rehearsed, employers holding identity documents, and/or signs of physical abuse are examples of red flags suggested by the U.S. Department of State.
Traffickers do keep victims in secrecy, however victims can also be found in public. They include nail salons, restaurants, hotels, and more. It can be difficult to interact with victims out of their fear of threats and harm from traffickers. If you suspect someone in such a circumstance, safe questions to ask include:
- Can you leave your job if you want to?
- Can you come and go as you please?
- Have you been hurt or threatened if you tried to leave?
Everyday prevention is equally as important as helping victims directly. Simply being a conscientious and informed consumer, a volunteer supporting anti-trafficking efforts in your community, and even meeting with and/or writing to your local, state, and federal elected officials are proactive steps against human trafficking.
Together, we can make the world a safer place with more awareness, knowledge, and overall compassion towards one another.
More in-depth information can be found in both the Annual Report released by the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking, and the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking.