In the United States, slavery may be remembered as an abolished practice of the past, but it is still happening here today. It has been carried on through a new, illegal outlet: human trafficking.
The Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” Taking the definition a step further, the National Human Trafficking Hotline describes human trafficking as “modern-day slavery.”
Just looking through the news, I have come across countless stories — some just hours old — updating the world about ongoing human trafficking instances. For example, an incident occurred on May 26, only a state away in Oshkosh, Wisc. Slightly south of Green Bay, the area’s local ABC channel covered the ongoing inspection of a spa where victims and evidence of human trafficking have been discovered.
The FBI breaks down human trafficking into three forms. While all three involve the use of “force, fraud, or coercion,” they have different, inhumane purposes.
Historically creating the highest number of victims, sex trafficking forces victims to “engage in commercial sex acts.” Children and women are often the most vulnerable to this type of trafficking. These victims may suffer serious trauma, leading to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, sleeping disorders or eating disorders. Along with reproductive problems, victims may also contract infectious diseases from unsanitary living environments.
Labor trafficking, much like it sounds, forces victims to perform labor or service. This type of trafficking is the most similar to the historical, unethical practice of slavery here in the United States. It falls into two categories: bonded labor and forced labor. Bonded labor is when the victim is in debt to the trafficker, while forced labor is when the trafficker violates the victim’s free will.
Lastly is domestic servitude, in which the victims are often held in a household and “appear to be domestic workers,” like nannies and housekeepers but are really being controlled through force. People most likely to be subject to this type of trafficking are immigrants or people of color. They make up 65% of all domestic workers in the United States. Immigrants are often blackmailed by traffickers, who threaten deportation when the immigrants do not yet have full citizenship.
My Lenten readings from Pope Francis to Olga Segura have all repeated the same prophetic call to “build communities of care,” and it’s not just an Easter or Earth Day call. It’s a survival imperative whether we’re praying for Ukraine or vulnerable women and children on Hollywood Boulevard. Communities of care guarantee love, strength, energy, and resources resulting in peace and freedom for all.
I invite you to watch the video below and listen to the events of February 2022 when it seemed like the whole world descended on Los Angeles for the Super Bowl! But for people like Theresa Flores, trafficking survivor and founder of the SOAP Project (Saving Our Adolescents from Prostitution), it meant “get yourself to Los Angeles and organize! Build a community of care around the Super Bowl! Raise awareness! Tell the horror of human trafficking!” Few people realize that predators often take advantage of big sporting events like the World Cup or Super Bowl, descending on vulnerable children and adult victims of societal neglect. And so Theresa came. She enlisted powerful organizations like the Junior League and rallied young and old to join her in the SOAP Project. What a thrill to do something together to wake up L.A! The Sunday before the big game Theresa gathered over 200 community builders and empowered us. We listened to her terrifying story of being trafficked at 15, then packaged up soap bars and launched carpool teams to visit over 400 L.A. hotels. We offered hundreds of bars of soap and a photo page of 11 missing young women. Yes, we boldly asked managers to place these precious survival soaps, labeled with the National Human Trafficking Hotline #1-888-373-7888 in hotel bathrooms – leaving a lifeline to freedom!
My own reluctance in approaching an unsuspecting hotel manager was quickly dispelled when he asked: “You’re only giving us 75 bars of soap, and what about going over to the Cloud NineMotel down the street?” Before that first stop, I felt like we might be seen as the “do-good” advocates for victims meeting business people who didn’t care. How wrong I was! People do care. Ordinary staff care! That day we helped build communities of care. As Sister Julie said about the day: “What I appreciated most about the SOAP Project was meeting with the hotel staff. The whole day felt like a movement from the ground up. We met managers who actually witness human trafficking. They are aware, but need resources like a HOTLINE! It felt like an Alleluia experience to me.”
We all wondered if our work on that Sunday afternoon made a difference. Who really knows, except victims. To our surprise the following week L.A. Sherriff Alex Villanueva published a report from their effort, Operation Reclaim and Rebuild. “Nearly 500 human trafficking-related arrests were made in Southern California during Super Bowl week.” Police focused on two goals: free victims of sex trafficking and send a message to pimps, exploiters, and buyers that it is unacceptable to buy another human being for sexual purposes. How great to witness communities of care being built among three disparate groups: SOAP Project supporters, police, and hotel staff, all wanting to protect victims – to give them a lifeline to freedom, while raising awareness in Los Angeles of this horrific crime.
We hope to keep living up to the Easter song that proclaims, “the journey makes us one.”
DETROIT (WXYZ) — A new movie about human trafficking made right here in metro Detroit has now been released to the public.
The movie called “Men Who Buy Sex” was made by the Wayne County Medical Society Foundation and Digital Media Works. It focuses on the demand side of human trafficking, hoping to bring an end to the epidemic.
The film may be new, but the problem is not. Sex trafficking has existed in metro Detroit for decades, and experts say it’s still happening every day.
“Absolutely, human trafficking is something that is happening every day,” said Amy Allen, a forensic interview specialist with Homeland Security Investigations. “We know there are lots of youth and women being trafficked every day here in the metro Detroit area.”
Allen is based out in metro Detroit and works with sex trafficking victims in the region. She says many of them report being trafficked up to 12 or 13 times a day to paying customers.
“The demand side of trafficking has really been something that hasn’t been talked about that much,” Allen said.
When Sister Rose Ann Barman gave a seminar on sex trafficking to community members in Colorado Springs in 2014, one of the people in attendence asked, “‘Well, what are we going to do about this?’” The Benedictine nun at Benet Hill Monastery wanted to do more than raise awareness; she wanted to provide support for survivors.
Eight years later, Barman partnered with Liz Kosofsky to open Bakhita Mountain House, a non-denominational home, which will be one of the few places in Colorado for adult women who are victims of sex trafficking.
Human traffickers compel victims to participate in labor or commecial sex. While exact numbers are difficult to calculate, the National Human Trafficking Hotline recorded over 10,000 cases in the United States in 2020 (the last year for which data is available). Colorado had 137 reported cases that year, making it among the top 20 states with the highest number of reported cases. A majority of those cases were for sex trafficking.
The Bakhita Mountain House is a two-year program where the six female participants will determine what resources they most need to recover.
The goal is to give the women a place for healing, said Kosofsky, program director for Bakhita. “What we’re hoping to offer at Bakhita is a place for people to stop and take a deep breath. To reflect and to look at what they want. Not, ‘What needs to happen right now?’ but, ‘What do I see for myself moving forward?’”
ALBANY COUNTY, N.Y. (NewsNation Now) — People who dedicate their lives to helping victims of human trafficking and exploitation say it’s demanding work. Now, their mission has become even more difficult as misconceptions grow about what these crimes look like and who they impact.
Real and shocking stories of private islands and trafficked children have dominated recent headlines, along with viral internet conspiracy theories of a global faction of celebrity pedophiles. While all this goes on, human trafficking support agencies, like the Albany County Safe Harbour program in New York, say there are real examples of exploitation in our neighborhoods.
“We see it here in the Capital Region, in gangs,” said Nicole Consiglio, coordinator of Safe Harbour. “We also see parents trafficking their own children to feed a drug habit, or to pay their bills. It really does take on a lot of forms, and can happen anywhere at any time.”
Consiglio said both unproven conspiracies and large-scale Hollywood crimes can make parents unsuspecting of the commonplace dangers posed by traffickers.
“We don’t want that message to be lost in these stories that are out there to pull away and draw attention from what’s really going on here,” said Consiglio.
Viral internet theories have also muddied the messaging.
To read the full story by Giuliana Bruno on News Nation: Click Here
Missouri was among the top 10 states last year for the number of defendants it prosecuted in human-trafficking cases, according to an annual report.
The Human Trafficking Institute’s 2019 Federal Human Trafficking Report looks at data from every federal human trafficking case U.S. courts handle each year. Its findings provide a summary of how the federal system holds traffickers accountable for exploitative conduct, according to its authors.
Missouri is fortunate, said Nanette Ward, a co-founder of the Central Missouri Human Trafficking Coalition, in that prosecutors here decided several years ago to focus on disrupting human trafficking in Missouri. There was a time, Ward said, when Missouri led the nation in the number of federal cases being processed.
In more ways than one, Missouri acts as a crossroads in the center of the country, she said.
“We have conditions that occur everywhere,” she said, “such as child abuse, domestic violence, homelessness and hits on the child welfare system.”
On top of that, the state has multiple north/south and east/west highways that pass through.
“We have all the makings of trafficking being possible,” Ward said.
Trafficking happens everywhere, she pointed out, but added that agricultural and tourism industries are major supporters of Missouri’s economy. Either industry could lead to instances of forced labor.
In 2018, Missouri lawmakers approved House Bill 1246, which combats human trafficking by requiring placement of posters containing resources to assist victims in many public buildings statewide.
The posters contain a national hotline number, 888-373-3888. Victims can also text 233733 (BEFREE) to the number or visit the National Human Trafficking Resource Center website at traffickingresourcecenter.org.
The hotline is available 24 hours per day, confidential and accessible in 170 languages.
To read the full story by Joe Gamm on The News Tribune: Click Here
CLEVELAND (CNS) — Advocates fighting human traffickers are alerting children, parents and vulnerable adults that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed traffickers into new venues, potentially endangering more people to being exploited.
Seemingly innocent online venues are becoming popular places for sex traffickers to groom unwitting children and entice adults facing financial turmoil because of the pandemic. The danger is leading the advocates to call for funding of anti-trafficking programs in any new federal legislation in response to the public health crisis.
The pandemic’s impact on labor trafficking is less certain, but the advocates warn that people desperate for work may be prone to employment schemes in which they are cheated out of promised wages.
What is known, according to the Polaris Project, which operates the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, is that buyers of sex are as active as ever, pandemic or not.
“Anecdotally, we have heard from survivors that trafficking victims are now being forced to participate in remote, web-based sexual activity or pornography and that the marketplace for those activities has grown,” the organization said in an April 17 post on its blog at polarisproject.org. “It’s important to remind buyers of these materials that a person on a webcam or in a pornographic video is as likely to be a trafficking victim as a person selling sex in any other environment.”
That poses dangers for children especially, said Jennifer Reyes Lay, executive director of U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking.
“With the restrictions and limited mobility and physical distancing, the fear is that particularly children, but anyone who can be a potential victim, is going to be more targeted through online sources,” she said.
“Electronic communications and social media networks have become more important than ever,” Lay told Catholic News Service. “We are trying to think of creative ways to reach people and get the message out while they’re at home.”
Tracking the inroads of traffickers into new online venues is difficult. They are able to move silently through online sites frequented by children, who are spending more unsupervised time surfing the internet while at home. Once identified, traffickers quickly move on, hiding out in cyberspace waiting for the next young person to show up.
Concern among the advocates largely rests in online pornography.
“There is a huge demand for pornography online right now,” said Hilary Chester, associate director for anti-trafficking programs with Migration and Refugee Services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “People (traffickers) are going to try to meet that demand. There are real concerns about people being coerced into it, not realizing they are being recorded.”
While it is difficult to track the emerging trends in the actions of traffickers, experience has shown they are adept at maneuvering around their trackers and their motivation is money.
“Once they realize somebody’s on to them, they’ve switched,” said Charity Sister Sally Duffy, a member of the End Slavery Cincinnati, an anti-human trafficking coalition.
Tori Curbelo, manager of education, training and advocacy for LifeWay Network in Forest Hills, New York, described traffickers as opportunistic.
“Their services follow supply and demand,” she explained. “Our hunch is the more demand, the more traffickers will try to meet the needs of individuals online.”
The chairmen of three USCCB committees recently called on Attorney General William Barr to “confront the ongoing harms wrought by the pornography industry and to protect its victims.”
In an April 30 letter, they urged Barr to enforce obscenity laws, open criminal investigations of pornography producers and website owners, and carry out “national leadership in encouraging states and localities to develop rigorous policies against the industry.”
Pornography, they said, is the “antithesis” of Pope Francis’ reflection during a March 27 prayer service in the throes of the pandemic in Italy that “affirmed our common ‘belonging as brothers and sisters’ in the midst of crisis” deserving of human dignity and respect.
To read the full article by Dennis Sadowski on Catholic News Service: Click Here
(CNN)About 4.8 million people worldwide — roughly the population of Ireland — became victims of sex trafficking in 2016, according to the International Labour Organization.
Sex trafficking is commercial sex induced by force, fraud or coercion or performed by a minor.
Though US figures can be hard to pin down, 7,255 sex trafficking victims were identified in 2017by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Countless victims simply can’t reach out. But you can help.
Help victims escape
Learn to recognize the signs of trafficking. If you suspect someone is a victim, call 1-888-373-7888 or text “help” to BeFree, 233733. This call center is operated by the nonprofit Polaris and provides immediate support and local and national resources, 24 hours a day. You can submit anonymous tips online here.
Aid their transition to a new life
When victims can escape a trafficker, they don’t have many options. Some only have their clothes and limited job skills. They often lack social or family support and have nowhere to go.
Compounding that, experience in the commercial sex industry leaves some victims with alcohol and drug addictions and some with criminal records.
To read the full story by Christopher Dawson on CNN: Click Here
Trigger warnings for rape, sexual abuse and violence.
A survivor of human sex trafficking from Ohio began her journey as a sex slave, being raped 27 times in the first night. What started as a harmless trip to New York with a neighbor took an unexpected turn of events when she was forced into a situation she couldn’t escape.
The leader of the La Crosse Task Force Sister Marlene Weisenbeck, who convened the organization in regards to human sex trafficking in 2013, shared a story about a victim. She said it began with trips to the zoo and recreational parks. This was one way a predator groomed victims into becoming sex slaves.
Once he convinced the girls to go on a trip to New York the environment changed. He bought them beautiful clothing. However, when he got them back to the hotel, the clothing wasn’t the only thing there. Accompanying the clothes were toys for sexual pleasure.
The girls tried to say no, but were met with violence. Without the presence of their parents and far away from home, they could not escape. That night he brought the girls out to service clients. The survivor from Ohio was raped 27 times, becoming a victim of human sex trafficking.
“In fact, the traffickers have said, ‘If you give them heaven, then they will follow you all the way to hell,’” Weisenbeck said, “then they will begin to take advantage of them and say, ‘You owe me.’”
Similar stories occur in this state every year. Since 2007, there have been a total of 362 human sex trafficking cases in the state of Wisconsin alone.
The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported 64 human trafficking case reports and 122 calls in Wisconsin during the year of 2018, the victims ranging from minors to adults, as well as male and female victims. Weisenbeck said about 90% of victims are women and children, while perpetrators are primarily men.
She said, “It’s everybody’s problem.” By everyone, Weisenbeck means everyone. This is a global issue, the International Labor Organization estimates 40.3 million people in 2016 were forced into human sex trafficking, making it the 2nd highest profiting criminal activity.
According to Weisenbeck, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 has three criteria of human sex trafficking. The criteria include victims being forced against their will, a perpetrator fraudulently telling a victim a situation that is different than reality, and the threat of violence to coerce a victim.
Major forms of human trafficking include sex trafficking, child pornography, child soldiers, illegal adoptions, mail-order child bribes, and forced labor or bonded labor, which is when a victim is forced to pay off a debt with labor.
Last December, a UW-La Crosse student took matters into her own hands in order to spread awareness of human sex trafficking. A non-traditional Sophomore Leah Williams and a group of UWL students gathered by the clock tower wearing dresses.
To read the full story by Chantal Zimmerman on The Racquet: Click Here