Opinion

The human trafficking and slavery problem | Amy Johnson

Earlier this month, President Barack Obama proclaimed January 2010 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, calling “upon the people of the United States to recognize the vital role we can play in ending modern slavery, and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.”

With attempted terror attacks and continued economic woes, why would our president take time to make this proclamation?

After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and is the fastest growing. Approximately 800,000 people are trafficked across national borders, which does not include the millions trafficked within their own countries.

In the U.S. alone, 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked each year. 80 percent of trafficked people are women and girls; 50 percent of trafficked people are under age 18, according to National Council of Churches USA.

Domestic sex trafficking has been a problem for decades in our country, and has begun to get attention from media and lawmakers in order to create and enforce legislation that targets the perpetrators instead of the victims. Arresting and detaining prostitutes, without digging any deeper into their circumstances, can contribute to the elusiveness of domestic traffickers.

According to a February 2009 story on the "Today" show, perpetrators of domestic sex trafficking often use different types of psychological manipulations in order to keep victims quiet. They force victims, usually young teen girls, into unwanted sexual acts. They may then photograph them, and threaten to post pictures online or show them to friends and family if the victim doesn’t cooperate with further acts of coercion. While it may seem logical to you or I to disregard these threats and tell authorities, keep in mind that these perpetrators often target vulnerable youth without support systems, though there are increasing reports of this happening to more well-off youth in suburbs across America (http://today.msnbc.msn.com).

A December 2005 National Clearinghouse on Families and Youth report indicates that some of the youth who are most at risk for domestic sexual exploitation include:

• Youth who run away from home.

• Children ages 10-17 living in public housing.

• Female gang members.

• Transgender youth.

• Foreign children ages 10-17 brought into the United States legally (and illegally) and U.S. youth ages 13-17 living within driving distance of a Mexican or Canadian city.

A 2009 Health and Human Services Report (aspe.hhs.gov) adds to the list: A history of poverty, physical, sexual or substance abuse; loss of a parent or caregiver; sexual identity issues; and lack of support systems.

Currently, the challenges of dealing with this issue include difficulty identifying victims, lack of resources, and lack of training and coordination of services. Once identified, victims are often inhibited from getting help by shame, learned helplessness, PTSD, lack of transportation, fear of retaliation, and lack of knowledge of services.

As you embrace the New Year, don’t make the mistake of doing nothing because you can’t do everything. Keep communication open and healthy with your children, and talk about sexuality, so they know they can come to you with concerns about themselves or friends. Volunteer to be a mentor with Communities In Schools here in Federal Way. One hour a week can make a huge positive impact with a child in need, many of whom experience some of the above risk factors. Stay informed about the issue of human trafficking. Turning a blind eye doesn’t help anyone.

Consider donating time or money to one of the following organizations who dedicate their time and human resources to this issue.

Polaris Project (www.polarisproject.org): Combats human trafficking and modern day slavery.

National Center for Missing, and Exploited Children: www.missingkids.com

The Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking: www.acf.hhs.gov/trafficking

Children of the Night (www.childrenofthenight.org): Rescues American children from prostitution.

Shared Hope International (www.sharedhope.org): Founded by former Congresswoman Linda Smith to lead a worldwide effort to end sexual slavery. Includes information about domestic trafficking. Based in Vancouver, Wash.

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