Human trafficking occurs in U.S., too


By Camron Owens

Slavery still exists in America, and it’s a major growing business. The human trafficking business was estimated at $44 billion in 2005 and jumped to $150 billion in 2014, according to the International Labor Organization. This is a frightening and disgusting figure, especially because the practice occurs right under our noses.

Human trafficking is considered a form of slavery because it involves using force and fraud to exploit victims for labor or sex. It can include anything from prostitution to those in the stories we read about people who have been locked in basements for years against their will.  

When I think of human trafficking, I often think of less developed countries and dark secretive locations. This is not something I had considered a major problem in the United States until recently. 

Last Friday at All Campus Worship, a once-a-semester service for all Christian students on campus, Nikki Toyama-Szeto, the Senior Director of the International Justice Mission Institute and Prayer in Washington DC, discussed sex trafficking and how vital it is to look for signs of it in America. This is an issue that her organization is concerned with and is seeking to end.

While sex trafficking is even more prevalent in other countries, victims are often transported to the United States on commercial airlines and are forced to work jobs at hotels, massage parlors and restaurants. Often massage parlors serve as fronts for brothels, and many victims live and work out of hotels. Toyama-Szeto even said a restaurant she frequented had gotten busted for human trafficking. This, along with the fact that I could be interacting with such people without knowing it is alarming and heartbreaking.

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Toyama-Szeto explained that identifying those involved in human trafficking is especially difficult because victims blend in with our society. I believe it is important that we read and research human trafficking so that we can better understand and identify it. It is a much larger business than I realized, and those involved are being denied human rights. They are being used and mistreated.

But those being trafficked aren’t always foreign. Eighty-three percent of people forced into prostitution in the United States are actually from the United States. Unfortunately, many victims, especially young ones, are easily targeted through the Internet. Earlier this year, the FBI rescued 168 children in a nationwide operation that targeted child sex traffickers in over 100 U.S. cities. 

Because trafficking in our country is widespread but secretive, we should be on the lookout for it. If we are, we can save lives.  

Recently, a woman in Philadelphia was rescued from her detainer, who had held her for years after using MySpace to lure her in when she was 15. Thankfully, the police got involved with the woman and she was able to escape her abuser. This story is an example of why we should be concerned. If we can raise awareness and educate people, we could decrease the amount of stories like these.

Many organizations against human trafficking confirm that stories like these are common. The Internet and social networks are full of people looking to abduct others into human trafficking.

We need to identify these predators and work toward abolishing human trafficking. Human trafficking is a problem that many, including the International Justice Mission, believe can be solved in our lifetime, as long as we start looking for signs and taking action. If we see people in suspicious abusive relationships, we should look into them. The Justice Department suggests that rather than asking direct questions about trafficking, we should ask questions about workplace and living conditions. 

It is also important to encourage businesses to do the same. Companies like Delta Airlines are beginning to train employees to identify signs of trafficking by looking for bruises and wounds on customers, as well as for unusual behavior. Additionally, many hotels are also working with law enforcement to detect odd room bookings and questionable individuals. Since these businesses have hundreds of customers a day, they will better be able to identify irregularities in customer behavior.

The first step in ending human trafficking is identifying it. If we see odd or suspicious behavior, it is important that we tell someone about it. Some red flags for human trafficking include excessive work hours, injuries, and odd relationships with employers. Being on the lookout for human trafficking could save lives. Many activists believe that we should view trafficking in a similar way to terrorism: If you see something, say something.

Camron is a junior in LAS. He can be reached at [email protected].