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Tue, November 1, 2011
Human Trafficking
Disclaimer: The article you are about to read will likely appear frank, eye-opening, and perhaps even a little depressing. However, I promise that if you can make it through the entire read, you will not only be doing a service to yourself, you could potentially save someone’s life and make a huge impact in the lives of many others. Knowledge is power!

Global estimates suggest there are upwards of 27 million people enslaved in the world today. Modern day slavery, or human trafficking as I have come to know it, is alive and well… and it needs to be stopped!

The phrase “human trafficking” might not mean anything to some; its definition and implications absolutely unknown. To others, it might conjure up the image of something that occurs in the back alley of a hot, east-Asian country, perhaps with connotations of prostitution.

Certainly fewer yet would recognize human trafficking as a growing epidemic of both commercialized sexual exploitation and labor slavery within the borders of the United States, and more likely than not, even in your own town. Yes - your own town.

So, what IS Human Trafficking?

Before we can start making a difference, we first have to understand what we are up against.

According to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 “human trafficking” is defined as:

The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining a person for:

Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
Labor services, through use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.
What we as Americans need to understand is that this is not something that “just happens in other countries,” or something that happens only to women and/or teens of certain socio-economic groups. Certain marginalized groups might be more are risk, and easier targets for traffickers because, believe me, they are GREAT at reading people and manipulating emotions and fear, but it could happen to anyone.

That’s why it’s so important to be educated on the issue.

What Does Trafficking Look Like?

To get the full concept, you must also understand that human trafficking goes way beyond what we might think of as “common” occurrences of exploitation (prostitution, migrant slave labor, etc.). Other forms of trafficking can include:

Strip clubs/Exotic dance bars
Escort services
Nail/hair salons
Massage parlors
Residential brothels
Street prostitution
Clothing factories
Why is This Happening?

Unfortunately, the answer is that this is one of the easiest criminal enterprises in the world, and there is high demand. I could go on and on about how our over sexualized and desensitized culture is clearly impacting the demand, but that issue could be an entirely separate article!

Aside from demand, it comes down to big business.

The United Nations now estimates human trafficking to be a $33 billion a year business. After sales of illegal drugs, human trafficking ties with the sale of illegal arms as the second largest criminal industry in the world.1

With a gun or a bundle of drugs, the dealer can make only one sale. They will mark up their price to ensure a profit is made, but once the sale is done, it’s done. It’s a different story with victims of human trafficking. Once a trafficker buys a man, woman, or child, the potential for re-sale goes on and on. One victim of commercial sexual exploitation can earn their trafficker $250,000 or more per year.

More Facts on Human Trafficking and Who is at Risk

The United States Justice Department estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 foreigners are trafficked into the US every year.2 This picture of trafficking in the US doesn’t include the estimated 293,000 US children at risk for being victims of commercial sexual exploitation.3 It also doesn’t include other adult US citizens who have been trafficked or the estimated 100,000+ child victims already trafficked.

Disturbingly, the average age of a girl trafficked in the United States is 12-14 years old. The average age of a boy trafficked in the US is 11-13 years old.4 Could that be your son or daughter, your grandchildren, or nieces and nephews? All of the sudden the reality of the situation starts to sink in when you start to think about just how far reaching this problem is.

While anyone could certainly become a victim of trafficking (remember, human trafficking doesn’t discriminate between age, sex, socio-economic status, race, or religion), there are certain groups who tend to be more at risk.

Any marginalized population is a clear target. By “marginalized,” I mean groups of people that have ended up on the peripherals of societal norms and therefore have limited options. These people are more susceptible to not only being approached or tricked by traffickers, therefore becoming victims, but they are also people who may not be noticed as missing. Additionally, marginalized people typically do not have the same capacity for seeking help or knowing where to turn for help.

Marginalized groups at risk of trafficking include:

Immigrants with language barriers
Where will they turn for help if they don’t speak the language?
If they are illegal aliens, often times traffickers will coerce them into silence on the grounds that the police would only be interested in arresting and deporting them anyway.
A minor who has run away from home probably has no plan, no money, and hasn’t had the chance to finish complete brain development. Because the prefrontal lobe hasn’t had a chance to completely develop, minors have a hard time distinguishing what is a good, safe, and logical decision to make when it comes to getting help from strangers.
Traffickers know how to sweet talk children and teens into trusting them. Once the stranger (i.e. the trafficker) is now seen as a friend, the minor decides it’s ok to go with them, even if they initially only agree to one warm night on a couch rather than a cold night on a park bench.
Children, Teens, and Adults with low self-confidence or self-esteem
You must remember that traffickers are masters of manipulation. They can sniff out targets a mile away and know how to play to insecurities and vulnerabilities. Traffickers understand by showing a little interest and paying attention to someone not used to feeling special, they can quickly gain favor and trust of their potential victim.
Often times this happens before the trafficker and victim meet. We see this with minors that strike up relationships with strangers over the internet. A predator posing as a younger person will play to a target’s emotions and many times convinces the minor to meet up with them at a secluded, unknown location. When family and friends discover the minor has gone missing with no clues, the police often times will deem the child a runaway, when in reality they may have likely been lured away and then been forced or coerced to depart with the predator.
Please stress the importance of internet safety to your children and grand children!
Other risk factors include:

Prior sexual abuse
Inadequate supervision
Lack of basic needs (food, shelter, or clothing)
That’s just a slice of people at risk for trafficking, both in the US and abroad.

In Our Backyards

What is perhaps the most frightening and disturbing for people is that the trafficking of people is happening right here in the United States. We don’t need to go overseas to experience the horrors of modern day slavery—it’s happening here, and that is often times a hard fact to swallow for us as Americans.

The state of Michigan, specifically, is a pipeline for trafficking. We have international borders and airports, and are ranked 13th in the nation for our quantity of sex trafficking victims.5

We are also home to Detroit, which is one of five major gateways for trafficking victims into the US. The others are Toledo, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Chicago.

There’s quite a bit I could say on state and federal legislation when it comes to protecting victims of trafficking (again, this could be a whole separate article!), but the biggest issue I would like to convey is that we need our law enforcement officers to have access to training on human trafficking.

Many times, our dedicated police officers are the first ones to see victims of trafficking, but because of a lack of awareness, they are unable to “see” when it’s right in front of them. One main push right now from those in the anti-trafficking movement is to encourage our legislators to help our law enforcement treat victims as victims, not criminals.

In order to have an adequate and appropriate response to human trafficking, we need to make sure there are resources available for our first responders to receive training. If they can’t identify and respond to signs of trafficking, the cycle perpetuates, and we fail those being victimized.

What to Do

We all have a choice about what we choose to do about the evils around us. We can stick our heads in the sand and pretend like it doesn’t affect us, or we can choose to accept the reality of the situation and find the best ways we as individuals can stand up and fight.

For many, the best place to start is getting educated. Perhaps this is the first time you have heard about human trafficking within the United States. I know that when I first heard, it was hard to believe. However, I have learned to accept that the more outrageous and unbelievable a crime sounds, the more likely it is to be true.

It took me just over a year and a half of learning, researching, and processing before I decided I couldn’t just sit back and remain silent. I had heard too much, seen too much, and hurt too much to simply pass the responsibility of responding to this issue off on someone else.

Now, I am planning unique fundraising events, raising awareness through my writing and speaking to different groups on the reality of human trafficking within the United States. It’s all about awareness.

Now that you are aware, what will you choose to do? If nothing else, tell at least two people what you have learned. The more people become aware of the reality of modern day slavery, the closer we become to stamping it out and ensuring safety and freedom to those affected.


US Department of Health and Human Services Fact Sheet on Human Trafficking,

United States Department of Justice, Attorney General’s Annual Report to Congress on U.S. Government Activities to Combat Trafficking in Persons, Fiscal Year 2005 (June 2006).

Richard J. Estes and Neil Alan Weiner, Executive Summary, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, University of Pennsylvania (February 2002 revision).

US Department of Justice, Child Prostitution and Obscenity Section,

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

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