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If you live in the “Land of the Free,” you might be surprised to learn that human trafficking in the USA is a reality. It is happening perhaps right in your own community. In fact, 2018 statistics show that human trafficking occurred in every state. While human trafficking can look quite different globally, people living in the United States are no less affected.

Human Trafficking Defined

Often confused with human smuggling, human trafficking does not have anything to do with moving people across borders. Human smuggling can and does sometimes occur alongside trafficking, but it is important to understand the difference. As defined by the United States Department of State: “Human trafficking is a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Where a person younger than 18 is induced to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion. Human smuggling involves the provision of a service—typically, transportation or fraudulent documents—to an individual who voluntarily seeks to enter a foreign country illegally.”

Sex trafficking is oftentimes also confused with prostitution. Sex trafficking occurs when a sexual service is provided with an element of fraud, force, or coercion, or when the victim is a minor. You can read a bit more about the difference between the two here and we encourage you to download our free ebook: “Truth About Sex Trafficking.” It’s a free resource that is full of facts, stories, and information on what to do if you do suspect sex trafficking in your own community.

The numbers on human trafficking in the USA

The National Human Trafficking Hotline, created by Polaris, reported over 10,000 cases of human trafficking in the USA in 2018. Of those, over 7,000 were women or girls and nearly 8,000 were sex trafficking cases. The others were labor trafficking or sex and labor trafficking combined. More than 2,000 of these total victims were children. What is staggering is that these are just the reported cases and represent only a fraction of the 403,000 modern slaves estimated by the Global Slavery Index in 2018 to be in the United States.

How does human trafficking happen in the USA?

Human trafficking can happen to anyone, but traffickers often target the vulnerable. In the United States, many of the vulnerable are children, including those in the foster system, runaways and homeless youth, those struggling with drug addictions or mental illness, and newly-located foreign nationals. Traffickers take advantage of these vulnerabilities to create dependency while they abuse and sell their victims in exchange for purported security, shelter, affection and more.

Victims of trafficking may not even perceive they are held against their will but are unable to leave their situations because of the created dependency and manipulation. Familial sex trafficking is especially common and hidden as traffickers groom, shame, and threaten children not to talk about their abuse. Thirty years ago, one survivor of familial trafficking spoke up against her abusers and is now advocating for those who are being trafficked in the United States. Her story is a powerful reminder of trafficking that often occurs right in our local communities and high schools.

What is being done to stop human trafficking in our country?

Once an unknown crime that was hardly punished, human trafficking is now increasingly being prosecuted by our judicial system. Even so, there remains room for awareness, education and further action against this heinous crime.

On April 11, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law with bi-partisan support the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which is aimed at closing websites that enable the crime to occur and prosecuting their owners and users. Some traffickers use websites as a storefront for trafficking, and this law makes it illegal to knowingly assist, facilitate and support human trafficking.

Locally, we can fight human trafficking by educating ourselves and our children about the signs of trafficking and the risks online. If you believe you may be a victim of human trafficking or suspect someone you know is, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733 which is completely confidential and available 24 hours a day.

Non-government organizations continue to multiply and grow within the United States to fight human trafficking. Some lead prevention and training programs for youth, while others promote quality care for survivors. Federal and local authorities continue to increase in their expertise of fighting human trafficking, and social welfare departments are growing in their capacity to serve this particular population. Meanwhile, in the last two decades, our government leaders continue efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers. We still have much to do together, but progress is most definitely being made.

Help fight human trafficking here in the United States

If you want to keep learning how you can fight human trafficking, a great next step is TraffickWatch Academy course. In just an hour, you’ll be certified in human trafficking awareness and prevention — and better armed to be part of the fight for freedom.