Often when the term human trafficking is the topic of a news story or a political discussion, many people immediately think of it as a crime involving illegal immigrants that have been forced against their will into a life of sexual slavery. The truth is, human trafficking operates in several forms; most commonly sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Moreover, this crime has not boarders. It is a domestic as well as a world epidemic that is in the shadows of everyday life.
Sex trafficking is the one arm of human trafficking of which most people are familiar. It is easily mistaken with prostitution but there is a distinct difference in the two. Prostitution by definition is the act of having sex in exchange for money, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) defines it as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purposes of a commercial sex act, in which the commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age. The person trapped in sex trafficking is there against their will.
This crime is in the shadows of mainstream America but there are movements and organizations pushing to shine the light these horrific crimes. Polaris, an organization out of Washington DC works with government leaders to protect victims’ rights by building partnerships with the world’s leading technology corporations. They encourage long-term change that focuses communities on identifying, reporting, and eliminating trafficking networks. Their comprehensive model puts victims at the center of all that we do — helping survivors restore their freedom, preventing more victims, and gathering the data to pursue traffickers wherever they operate. They have been in existence since 2002. All Worthy of Love is another organization helping to free women from the streets and their oppressors. They have a team of people who go out each week to the streets of Detroit, MI, and Austin, TX to show God’s love and to let then know there is a way of escape. Just recently, they posted on their Facebook page of a rescue of a sex trafficking survivor. They collaborated with the NHTRC and a local hospital to provide restorative housing for her.
Labor trafficking is not always an easily identifiable crime either. Labor trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, using force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. Recently in the Detroit Free Press, reported that a restaurateur was charged after five immigrants were killed in a fire in the house that he owned. Although he was not charged with labor trafficking, one could argue based on his statement he made to officials that “he didn’t know the victims’ names and that he had no documentation for them” that this could have been a labor crime but was misidentified.
This infographic outlines the human trafficking cases that were reported in Michigan in 2015.
The numbers seem low but with better education and awareness, these crimes can begin to be identified for what they truly are and criminals will be prosecuted accordingly.
Because human trafficking is a crime that lives in the shadows, organizations like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have collaborated with Blue Heart Against Human Trafficking in Medellin, Colombia to bring awareness. They displayed a series of exhibits across the city to highlight this crime and the effects it has on women, men, and children globally. Additionally, the Human Trafficking Abolitionist Group out of northern California, the state with the highest human trafficking reports, artfully displays statistics and information about the crimes on their Pinterest boards. It is a less intimidating way to be informed and to see a big picture overview on the effect of these crimes through infographics, charts, and statistics.
These crimes are happening right our communities. They are easy to ignore or misidentify. Take time to get informed, recognize the signs and to take a stand to end this modern-day form of slavery.