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July 28 2008

Ongoing Slavery in the US?

What could be more exciting for a young girl than to be approached by someone who is promising her a modeling career?  All she would have to do is stop by a studio for a few head shots to be sent off to the agency and then her life of luxury will begin.  Too good to be true?  Of course.  But these scams work on too many naïve young girls.  This child-potentially your daughter, niece, friend, or granddaughter-may be being targeted by a labor recruiter seeking to lure her into a prostitution ring.

Human trafficking, also known as modern day slavery, is a rapidly growing phenomenon that falls only second to the drug and arms trade in the organized crime industry.   There are more slaves today than at any other time in history. 

When most people hear about human trafficking, they picture a victim somewhere in a far-away country. However, an estimated 15 to 18 thousand victims are trafficked right here, into the United States from other countries. This does not even include the millions trafficked within national borders every year, which include American women, girls and children. 

According to National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children, one out of three teens on the street will be lured towards prostitution within 48 hours of leaving their home.  These children are trafficked within the U.S. as prostitutes.  The U.S. is among the top three destination countries for sex traffickers. 

We meet victims of trafficking in the places we visit in our daily life: in our place of work, where we eat and shop, massage parlors, carnivals, and national sports events.    Victims, whether domestic or trafficked from different countries, are often lured with false promises of well paying jobs and better lives, only to be forced to work under brutal and inhuman conditions. They often don't attempt to leave because a deep fear of authorities is instilled in them by the perpetrators and they become afraid of being labeled and jailed as criminals.

A common misconception is that human trafficking only involves prostitution.    Yet many people are trafficked and forced into a variety of jobs. For example, in California, victims could easily be working as janitors or waitresses, or in sweatshops or agricultural fields. 

Human trafficking has many negative consequences and poses a major threat to the U.S. and the world.  Victims are denied basic human rights and freedoms as they are stripped of their humanity.  Also, trafficking of humans is considered a reason for the furthering of the global HIV/AIDS epidemic, which is clearly a significant global health risk.  Victims often suffer emotional and physical abuse, rape, threats to their lives and their families, as well as theft of their legal documents such as an ID or passport.

The U.S. government has provided millions of dollars towards supporting anti-trafficking programs in more than 120 countries and Congress has passed legislation to protect victims of human trafficking while duly prosecuting traffickers. However, we must also tap into a mode of personal responsibility. We shouldn't leave the responsibility of identifying victims or perpetrators to others but we should be active members of our society and community.

Raising awareness about the issue should start at home. 

Individuals living in the U.S. should gain greater knowledge about human trafficking.  Initiatives must be made where there are open discussions and frequent dialogue in places of worship, educational facilities such as schools and colleges, and our local law enforcement agencies. Most importantly, parents should talk to their children about the dangers of human traffickers' promises of fame and fortune (mainly into fabricated propositions of modeling and acting).

For more information on how to identify a victim of human trafficking and who to contact should you suspect someone has been trafficked, please view the following links:

Department of Health and Human Services' Trafficking Information and Referral hotline number: (888) 373-7888

Department of Justice's Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force complaint line: (888) 428-7581                                   

Go to www.state.gov/g/tip for a human trafficking fact sheet and "How Can I Recognize Trafficking Victims?" link.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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