by Comprehensive Staff

01/17/2020 10:26 pm

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month

U.S. law defines human trafficking as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will. The use of force, fraud, or coercion is not necessary for victims under the age of 18.  Any inducement of a minor into commercial sex is considered human trafficking.

The Polaris Project states that human trafficking is a criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world. Worldwide, there are more situations involving labor trafficking than sex trafficking.  However, in the United States, sex trafficking is much more prevalent.  Human trafficking earns global profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, $99 billion of which comes from commercial sexual exploitation (www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers). It is estimated that 71% of enslaved people are women and girls, while men and boys account for an estimated 29%.  In 2018, over half (51.6%) of the criminal human trafficking cases in the US were sex trafficking cases involving commercial sexual exploitation of children (2018 Federal Human Trafficking Report).

Victims of trafficking can be U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, women, men, children, and LGBTQ individuals (Polaris Project).  However, there are some people who are more vulnerable than others.  Some risk factors for being trafficked include recent migration or relocation, substance use, mental health concerns, involvement with the child welfare system and being a runaway or homeless youth. Traffickers are experts at identifying vulnerability and skilled at leveraging vulnerability to create dependency (Human Traffickinghotline.org).

Human Trafficking is similar to domestic violence and sexual violence in that the trafficker uses a range of power and control tactics such as physical and emotional abuse, isolation from friends and family, threats, and economic abuse to gain and maintain control over their victim.  The victim may see the trafficker as someone they are in a romantic relationship with.  There can be a grooming process that takes place whereby the trafficker progressively becomes more controlling and more abusive.  The victim becomes trapped and may not see a way out due to psychological trauma, shame, emotional attachment, or threats of violence towards themselves or their family. 

Aspen Victim Advocacy Services is an actively working with our community partners (child welfare, juvenile justice, law enforcement, service providers, healthcare, educators, and prosecutors) to improve how Yakima County responds to commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC).  Currently we are being assisted by Laura Nagel from Center for Children & Youth Justice (CCYJ) in the development of the Yakima CSEC Task Force.  We want to expand our reach and invite key members from our community who are interested in making a difference.  If this is something you are interested in, please contact Debbie Brockman, Program Manager Aspen Victim Advocacy Services, at (509) 57-4326 for additional information.

To get help or to report a tip, contact the NATIONAL HUMAN TRAFFICKING HOTLINE (HTTPS//HUMANTRAFFICKINGHOTLINE.OR/), call 1-888-373-7888, text HELP to BEFREE (233733), or email help@humantraffickinghotline.org.

To get help locally, contact Aspen Victim Advocacy Services at our 24/7 hotline (509) 452-9675.

Warning Signs of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is often a crime that is hidden in plain sight, which is why it is important to be aware of its warning signs. Some indications that a person may be a victim of human trafficking include (especially in the case of women and children):

  • Appearing malnourished
  • Showing signs of physical injuries and abuse
  • Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures/law enforcement
  • Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction
  • Lacking official identification documents
  • Appearing destitute/lacking personal possessions
  • Working excessively long hours
  • Living at place of employment
  • Checking into hotels/motels with older males, and referring to those males as boyfriend or “daddy,” which is often street slang for pimp
  • Poor physical or dental health 
  • Tattoos/ branding on the neck and/or lower back
  • Untreated sexually transmitted diseases
  • Small children serving in a family restaurant
  • Security measures that appear to keep people inside an establishment - barbed wire inside of a fence, bars covering the insides of windows
  • Not allowing people to go into public alone, or speak for themselves.

These warning signs are adapted from information provided by the Polaris Project and its National Human Trafficking Resource Center and Innocents at Risk.