Human trafficking is often called “modern day slavery.” It is the human rights issue of our day.  Human trafficking is a relatively new term and not many people know what it is.  That most of us cannot even define human trafficking speaks volumes about the hidden nature of these crimes.

Human trafficking is a growing criminal industry.  Drug trafficking is the #1 criminal activity in the world today.  But human trafficking is the #2 criminal activity and the fastest growing criminal industry in the world.  Traffickers gain complete control and force their victims into labor, service or the commercial sex trade.  They maintain control through coercion, force, violence (brutal beatings, repeated rapes, threats of severe harm to the victim and often to their families) lies, deception and psychological abuse and manipulation.  Those who are into drug trafficking quickly realize that commerce in humans is much more profitable and far less risky.

Human trafficking is a very lucrative industry.  It is estimated that $150 billion are generated annually through human trafficking activities.  And these are just estimates.  So it stands to reason these numbers are probably much higher.  Drugs can only be sold once.  Human beings can be sold over and over again.  In the case of a sex slave, that might be 15, 20 or more times a day.

 The average cost of a slave around the world is $90.  It is estimated that there are approximately 27 million slaves around the world.  Approximately 79% of trafficking victims are female; however, more and more males are being trafficked than ever before.  Half of trafficking victims in the world are under the age of 18.

Who are the victims of human trafficking?  Victims of human trafficking are children, boys, girls, teenagers, men and women.  Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking.  Approximately 600,000 to 800,000 victims annually are trafficked across international borders worldwide, according to the U.S. Department of State.  Victims are generally trafficked into the U.S. from Asia, Central and South America and Eastern Europe.

Of the 27 million slaves in the world today about half are children.  It is estimated that two children are trafficked into sexual exploitation every minute.  The most vulnerable population are:

  • Runaways.  One-third of runaways are lured into sexual exploitation within 48 hours of leaving home  90% eventually end up in commercial sex trade.  We need to educate young people and their parents of the dangers of human trafficking.
  • Children on the fringes.  They may be homeless; from abusive homes; neglected children; “latch key” children; children with parents who may be working multiple jobs with little or with no time to keep track of their kids; or they may just be children who for whatever reason, don’t fit in.

What methods does a trafficker use to lure their victims?  The “Tricks of the Trade” or the ploys used by traffickers can vary with each situation, with each trafficker or even with each prospective victim.  They use whatever will work for the situation. They will usually promise a job, tell the victim to come to a different country where they can work (often as a waitress or model), promising big money. But when they reach the other country, there is no job waiting and most often these sex traffickers use these tactics to trick and coerce women into prostitution.

A recruiter will attract them, someone who befriends them (a boyfriend; someone who seems safe; someone who offers to find them a job or offers to help them in some way).  It is not uncommon for traffickers to target girls in rural communities because they appear sweet and wholesome.  Sweet wholesome girls who are virgins bring the highest prices.

Trafficking is driven by profit.  Traffickers will recruit from malls, schools, colleges, playgrounds, theaters.   Anywhere children and young people can be found, traffickers will be around waiting for the opportunity to lure them into slavery.

Human trafficking also takes the form of labor exploitation, such as domestic servitude, sweatshop factories, or migrant agricultural work.  The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA) defines “Severe Forms of Trafficking in Persons” as sex trafficking and labor trafficking. 

Human traffickers will use whatever method will work to trap their victims into doing what they want them to do.  They will use force, fraud and coercion to gain and maintain control over their victims.  Force involves rape, beatings and confinement to control victims.  Forceful violence is used especially during the early stages of victimization, known as the ‘seasoning process’, which is used to break victim’s resistance and make them easier to control.  Fraud often involves false offers that induce people into trafficking situations.  Coercion is used to make a person believe that failure to do what they are told will result in serious harm, physical abuse or physical restraint.

Victims of trafficking are often subjected to debt-bondage, usually in the context of paying off transportation fees into the destination countries.  Traffickers often threaten victims with injury, death or torture against themselves or the victims’ family back home.  Most victims never see the money they earn and may not even know the specific amount of their debt.  Traffickers commonly take away the victims’ travel documents and isolate them to make escape more difficult.

Victims are removed from their normal, safe surroundings where they have a support system.  Therefore, because of language, social, and physical barriers that keep them from obtaining assistance, they don’t or cannot find help.

Where does human trafficking occur?  Until a few years ago, human trafficking was thought to be only an international issue.  It continues to be an international problem today as seen in the movie “Taken” (starring Liam Neeson) from a few years ago.  That movie was pure Hollywood.  The outlandish heroics of the father usually do not happen in real life.  But the story outlines what can and does happen to young girls in foreign countries.  It is based on fact.  They get forced to do drugs, get addicted and will then do anything to feed their addiction.

In the United States in recent years, human trafficking has become a real issue.  Human trafficking occurs in all states in the nation and all types of neighborhoods.  It happens in any and all metropolitan areas, including small towns and suburban neighborhoods.  There are an estimated 200,000 people in bondage at any given time in theUnited States — and this is a conservative estimate.

While escort services, massage parlors, and street prostitutes are certainly abundant more and more, these can easily be internet-based operations that do not need a store front or a sign to be classified as a business.  They can quickly put an ad on the internet and they are instantly in business.

Is our community a high risk area for human trafficking?  Trafficking “hot spots” can appear anywhere.  Along interstates, truck stops are a popular spot for trafficking where prostituted children are derogatorily called “lot lizards” and sent from truck to truck to service the men.  To use an example that is near us, Nashville has become a “hot spot” for human trafficking activity.  There have been a number of human trafficking cases documented, involving children between the ages of 11-17 providing sex to truckers, between Nashville,Tennessee and North Alabama at several of the   I-65 truck stops along that route.

Huntsville certainly fits the profile for potentially becoming a “hot spot” for human trafficking, too:

  • We have a very busy interstate leading into North Alabama;
  • We have many conferences and new businesses coming into the area;
  • And we have a large immigrant population– and immigrants are very vulnerable to trafficking.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.  This number should be readily available for anyone who is interested in the fight against human trafficking.  However, if you think someone is being trafficked, please do not attempt to rescue the person yourself.  Do not hesitate to call the Hotline, the FBI or local law enforcement and give them the details of the situation.  They will check it out and take action if needed.  DO NOT put yourself or the victims in harms way by attempting to rescue them by yourself.

Does Alabama have a law against human trafficking?  On July 1, 2010, Alabama became the 44th state to adopt and enact a law against human trafficking crimes in our state.  Until that time, any crimes committed within the state were prosecuted under federal law.  Because of this, there are few real statistics regarding human trafficking activity within the state ofAlabama.

Public awareness and education is key to ensure our community is aware of human trafficking crimes and how to identify victims.  The local Human Trafficking Taskforce was established in 2009.  It offers awareness seminars and presentations to churches, law enforcement, service providers, local businesses, universities and other organizations on human trafficking.  By educating our community of the horrors of human trafficking, we can better arm ourselves to prevent these terrible crimes.

North Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force