Crimes in Your Own Backyard

Some aren’t old enough to drive a car, or vote, or have even reached the designation of teenager. One survivor told of how girls were shown a horrific act perpetuated on one victim who tried to escape. Yet it’s likely less than 1 percent of an estimated almost 21 million human trafficking victims worldwide are identified, according to Capitol Hill testimony given by Bradley Myles, executive director and CEO of Polaris Project, a non-profit that combats human trafficking, to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  

For gangs, explained Don Knabe, the Los Angeles County Supervisor for the Fourth District, human trafficking ends up being more lucrative than the trafficking of drugs or guns, and safer—for the criminals. The real-life horrors of forced human labor take many forms—from forced conscription of child soldiers to sexual servitude.

Fixing the problem requires overcoming multiple challenges in all facets of the process. Finding safe housing for trafficked children is difficult with, according to the Polaris Project, only 1,644 beds for trafficking victims in the U.S. Children who have been trafficked may be treated as criminals, rather than as victims, because of the acts committed.  Certain states are looking at changing laws to do just that, but a Sense of the Congress resolution would help the situation. Another legal hang-up is that prosecutors have to prove the sex trafficker knew the victim was a child. Finally, the issue of public awareness. People have not yet comprehend such things are happening in their own communities.  Communities need to be saturated with awareness of what trafficking is, how to spot it, and what to do when it’s discovered. Sometimes, law enforcement members are no more aware of this issue than the public.

In addition, there is a Federal problem. According to Committee Chairman Ed Royce and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, there is also a struggle with the State Department to get them to accurately label some countries where trafficking may be a major issue.  “In the past 13 years, international peer pressure and the potential threat of U.S. sanctions have pushed many nations to try to avoid the stain of a ‘Tier 3’ designation in the State Department’s annual report, and more than 130 countries have enacted anti-trafficking laws,” Royce said. “The struggle that Chairman Chris Smith and I have had over the last few years is with the State Department and their lack of willingness – their lack of honesty in naming names and in putting on the Tier 3 list those countries that are involved.”

As the spotlight intensifies on these problems, however, there is also good work being done to combat the evils of human trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, has “fielded over 75,000 calls and played a role in identifying nearly 9,000 survivors of trafficking to date.”  In addition, local anti-trafficking hotlines have reached and aided victims. There have also been successful collaborations with private enterprises, such as Clear Channel and Lamar Advertising giving over 100 billboards and 50 digital displays as part of a campaign in Los Angeles to raise awareness of sex trafficking. Also in Los Angeles, the Collaborative Court has provided the young girls with a victim-centered response team to help them with their physical and mental health issues, and to support them with housing, education and training services.

Learn more at Elisabeth Meinecke’s article: Crimes in Your Own Backyard: Shocking Human Trafficking Statistics.


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