Human trafficking persists as form of modern day slavery

Cindy Rojas, Staff Writer

In early October, 22 suspects were arrested in St. Petersburg, Florida for human trafficking after police conducted an undercover investigation where officials set up hidden ads for commercial prostitution and responded to those who engaged with them. After this undercover operation finished, police were able to bring three possible victims of human trafficking to safety.

According to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, about 200,000 American children are in danger of human trafficking each year. Florida is number 3 in the country for human trafficking, as reported by the World Population Review beaten out only by Nevada and Mississippi.   In the state of Florida, Palm Beach County is third.  As human trafficking becomes more and more prevalent (there is an estimated 40.3 million people enslaved), it is important to understand the severity of the problem. 

Human trafficking can be defined as the process of trapping a person through an act of violence, coercion, or deception and exploiting them for personal benefits or economic gain. There are various forms of human trafficking, but the most common types are forced labor, organ trafficking, and sex trafficking. 

Forced labor is characterized by being forced to work against your own will. This can include migrant workers toiling in the fields processing sugar cane and picking corn in Okeechobee and Pahokee to women coming over to care for children without pay.  Oftentimes, as in the case of a Jupiter, Florida massage parlor, Orchids of Asia Day Spa, that was raided in October 2019.  During the raid, the owner of the Patriots football team, Robert Kraft, was caught up in the bust and arrested.  Police found  women living at the business with no passports or proper work permits.

Less prevalent in the US is organ trafficking.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), organ trafficking is “the trading of human organs, tissues and other body products.  These organs, etc. are removed from individuals and put into the highly profitable organ transplant market in Israel, China, Pakistan, Turkey, and Brazil.  This industry, according to some sources, nets anywhere from $840 million to $1.7 billion annually where a heart can be worth as much as $130,000 USD and a lung can be worth anywhere from $150,000 USD.

The most infamous form of human trafficking is sex trafficking, which is the act of illegally transporting people from one location to another for sexual exploitation purposes.  The average victim caught in this industry is 15 years old, female, and a runaway according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.  

All these forms of human trafficking, worth a total of $150 billion worldwide, have one thing in common: the use of coercion and deception to lure in their victims.  Although slavery was abolished over a hundred years ago, many believe human trafficking is considered a form of modern-day slavery because it also requires the use of coercion and deception in order to lure or force a person into a labor of a kind. Human traffickers hold their victims in a vulnerable position where they have no escape and are being controlled. Many victims are smuggled out of their home country and sent oversees.  Smugglers will often confiscate the victim’s passport so that even if he/she does escape, they cannot return home.

Because this is a dangerous, global problem, hundreds of organizations work tirelessly to infiltrate the industry by spreading information, working with police, and offering help to survivors.  One such organization is The A2 Campaign based in California.  This nonprofit group is very clear in their conviction to end slavery.

“What is happening with nearly 40 million humans around the world is modern-day slavery,” said Mollie Thorsen, a U.S. advocacy director for A21, in an interview with WTKR. “It’s people that are being held against their will, and they are being forced to do things they don’t want to do.”

With the rise in human trafficking, there are many precautions one can take, such as being aware of your surroundings. Human traffickers tend to prey on vulnerable people such as women, children, and teens. 

The Child Liberation Foundation states that children make 25 percent of human trafficking cases and tend to be from the ages of 12-14. The foundation also states that about 98 percent of sex trafficking cases are made up of women and girls.

Even though women and girls make up the most part, boys and men are also at risk for human trafficking. According to the International Labour Organization, men make up 42 percent of labor exploitation.

“I think that human trafficking has made me be more cautious when I go out,” said freshman Adrian Miller. “Boys can be trafficked as well, so I find myself being more observant to my environment and those around me.

Many individuals wonder if there are ways to stay safe from these predators, and there are. Since most traffickers prey on the vulnerable, people should avoid walking alone, especially at night, and instead should walk with another person or a group of people. If you happen to be alone, go to a public place filled with people to stay safe.

“When going to new places, always go with people you trust because it’s always safer traveling in groups,” said junior Grace Obeso. “To bring awareness, it’s easiest to talk about it to your friends or even posting on social media.”

Being vigilant will help you become aware of your surroundings during a threatening situation. Traffickers regularly come in groups of two or more and try to deceive their victims using various methods, such as pretending to need help or lying about job opportunities. 

The internet makes people, especially young people, more susceptible to becoming a target of human trafficking, which is why it is important to be careful with what is being posted on your social media. They will often attempt to groom their victims over time in order to make them easier to manipulate into this illegal system.

Not only can one protect themselves from these predators, but they can also help others who are in need of help. They can help others who are trapped in this on-going system by observing their surroundings and looking out for signs of help.

Often, victims of human trafficking will show signs of fear and poor living conditions. These victims will most likely also live with their “employer” and have the inability to speak alone to another individual.

To help the victims reach safety, it is important to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline or any anti-trafficking services in your area. Once you contact one of these services, they will provide you with the general information and the next steps to take after.

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