Have You Seen Me?

By DR. JOY MARTINEZ, Staff Writer

Perpetrators of trafficking and forced labor are victimizing over 20 million humans across the globe. Within the United States 100,000 children are trafficked each year.

According to the United Nations, hundreds of thousands of victims are trafficked across international borders every year. 80 percent of these are women and half are children. In America alone, there are nearly 3,000,000 adults and 100,000 children who are forced to work as prostitutes. The average age when a girl enters prostitution is 13. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimates that one in six endangered runaways are likely victims of sex trafficking and slavery.

We consider slavery a part of our history, but it has never disappeared. Instead, it has taken a different form. Every 90 seconds a child, woman, or young man goes missing and is forced into slavery. Human trafficking is the modern form of slavery and involves the movement of people by means of violence, deception or coercion for the purpose of forced labor, servitude or slavery-like practices. Many trafficking victims are exploited for purposes of commercial sex, including prostitution, stripping, pornography and live-sex shows. However, trafficking also takes the form of labor exploitation, such as domestic servitude, sweatshop factories, or migrant agricultural work. Human traffickers are slave traders. They deceive their victims by offering the victims a better life, employment, educational opportunities or marriage.

Human trafficking is the second-fastest-growing crime in the world, second only to the drug trade. Traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits every year while victimizing millions of people around the globe. The statistics are terrifying. Most women are raped 6,000 times and each woman is worth $100,000 a year. Their high value makes their chance of release or escape almost impossible. It’s not just happening in big cities or bad neighborhoods, but in almost every community in our nation and experts warn – COVID-19 is accelerating the human trafficking crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the world under enormous strain, affecting the lives of everyone. The unprecedented measures adopted to flatten the curve include enforced quarantine, curfews and lockdowns, travel restrictions, and limitations on economic activities and public life. While at first sight, these enforcement measures and increased police presence at the borders and on the streets seem to dissuade crime, they has also driven it further underground.

The large number of children and vulnerable women exposed to the internet for longer durations as a result of virtual and hybrid work and schooling has, according to The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, “channelled through social media, dark web and messaging platforms easier access to potential victims, while hiding the identity of the perpetrators.” The panel of UN-appointed independent rights experts also warned against “an increased demand for child sexual abuse material and technology-facilitated child sex trafficking.”

“Millions of women, children and men worldwide are out of work, out of school and without social support in the continuing COVID-19 crisis, leaving them at greater risk of human trafficking. We need targeted action to stop criminal traffickers from taking advantage of the pandemic to exploit the vulnerable,” said United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Ghada Waly.

Traffickers have made the most of the situation, exploiting the precarious financial situation of many of their victims. Furthermore, while the authorities are reporting increased sexual exploitation and criminal activity online, stretched resources and delays in the justice system are hampering efforts to bring traffickers to account and to provide justice and compensation to their victims.

“Because traffickers prey on those who are vulnerable, those who are less likely to have access to good jobs or educational opportunities, who are less likely to be treated as equal by place in the justice system and who are less likely to be believed when they report that they are being targeted or abused,”

“If we’re serious about ending trafficking in persons, we must also work to root out systemic racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination, and to build a more equitable society in every dimension,” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a press briefing on Thursday.

The annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report found that “enduring misconceptions about human trafficking have helped misinformation and rumors about the crime spread rapidly throughout communities and through social media, particularly in the United States.”

“In recent years, participants in online forums have spread a number of false and misleading claims about child sex trafficking, sometimes deliberately deceiving the public through disinformation efforts connected to conspiracy theories unrelated to human trafficking,” according to the report.

It noted that “this spread of misinformation has real and detrimental impacts on the ability of the anti-trafficking community to protect those who have or are currently experiencing human trafficking and to bring traffickers to justice,” as advocates must take time to fight the rumors, law enforcement resources are used to chase down false leads and baseless calls and tips “can overwhelm systems of intervention and care.”

The 2021 report also identified 15 governments for “having governmental armed forces, police, or other security forces, or government-supported armed groups that recruit or use child soldiers.” Among those governments was Turkey, marking the first time a NATO member has been included on the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, according to a senior State Department official. “As a respected regional leader and member of NATO, Turkey has the opportunity to address this issue the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Syria and Libya,” the official said.

Putting an end to slavery and human trafficking starts at home, with the way we teach and protect own children and our computers. According to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, reports of online child sexual exploitation doubled in 2020.

Cammy Bowker is the CEO and founder of Global Education Philanthropists, a nonprofit that works to prevent human trafficking worldwide. She said online predators target anyone, anywhere.

“But, know who they’re talking to online. We’ve helped with some undercover stings, and these kids are so young. As young as seven, getting groomed on roadblocks and Fortnite,” Bowker said. “Again, it doesn’t matter if it’s Arkansas or Seattle; what I would just suggest in any city is to start having conversations.” Bowker added that prevention beats rescue 100 percent of the time. What she means by that is to talk to your kids about what to watch out for online.

To report suspected human trafficking crimes or to get help from law enforcement, Call toll-free (24/7) U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at 1-866-347-2423 to report sexually exploited or abused minors.

If a child is in urgent need of assistance, contact law enforcement or child protective services to report abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a child. Contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline to speak to professional crisis counselors who can connect a caller with a local number to report abuse:1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).

You can also call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s (NCMEC) hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST (1-800-843-5678). Report incidents at http://www.cybertipline.org.

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