#minorsextrafficking | Opinion: Don’t let human trafficking escalate because of the pandemic

One of the bestselling books of 2020, “The Girl with the Louding Voice,” is ultimately a story of hope and courage, but Abi Daré’s novel also served as reminder that sometimes the darkest crimes happen in the open.

The novel’s protagonist is a young girl sold into servitude for a wealthy family in Nigeria. It may seem archaic and appalling to some readers, but is still a reality for many around the globe.

While most industries have felt the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, one area that isn’t hurting are criminal enterprises. Among them, human trafficking, which garnered its moment in the spotlight last summer.

Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. A horrific, heinous and despicable crime, human trafficking continues to plague the world. More disturbing, the risk of human trafficking has a history of being elevated during times of serious infectious disease.

Widespread job losses and a rise in orphaned children leave many vulnerable to human trafficking schemes.

As criminals evolve their methods, so too much the methods to combat human trafficking and spread awareness about how to help.

I’ve referred to it as human trafficking, but it’s also known as modern slavery — and it is violent. Victims of human trafficking suffer physical, verbal, and sexual abuse.

Today, more people are enslaved than at any other point in history. The International Labour Organization estimates that there are roughly 40.3 million victims trafficked globally each year. That’s an average of 5.4 out of every 1,000 people in the world.

Even as technology has made trafficking more prevalent, it is also the biggest reason that ending trafficking is more possible than ever. Donating to anti-trafficking organizations, spreading awareness and rallying together are easier than ever before.

The beginning of that end, experts say, starts with becoming educated on what human trafficking is, what it looks like, and what resources are available for reporting it.

In 2016, I reported on a group of students that had put together research for an organization working to stop trafficking in North America and Mexico. The focus of their research? Trucking companies.

I learned that there isn’t a single state that hasn’t reported human trafficking crimes. And with the methods often used to transport and recruit victims, truckers are in a prime position to spot and report signs of trafficking.

According to the organization, trained truckers have identified more than 1,200 victims since their efforts began.

It was a lesson to me about how small things can make such an impact. Teaching truckers about recognizing signs of human trafficking may not seem as glamorous as an overseas mission to infiltrate a suspected trafficking front, but it can have a more immediate, long term impact.

Consider these statistics:

  • Human trafficking is a $150 billion dollar industry.
  • 1 in 4 slavery victims are children.
  • 24.9 million people are trapped in forced labor. Of those, 16 million can be found in the private sector, especially domestic work, construction and agriculture.
  • Women and girls are the largest group of victims, accounting for 99% of victims in the sex industry and more than half of the victims in other sectors.
  • It is estimated that 1 in 6 endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2016 were likely child sex trafficking victims.

Though its nature is dark and unspeakably evil, human trafficking does not operate solely in dark alleys or remote areas. Contrary to popular belief, most human trafficking happens in the open.

Modern slavery doesn’t not happen in hiding. It’s all around us and is at risk of growing even larger from pandemic fallout. Taking a few minutes to learn about the signs of trafficking is the first step in halting its spread.

As we all work to recover from COVID-19’s wrath, those who have fallen on hard times cannot become victims of an even greater tragedy. Much has been lost over the last year, but we must not lose our humanity.

If you recognize signs of or suspect human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888.

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