Human trafficking is a global phenomenon from which even the United States cannot escape. But what is it, what types of trafficking exist and who are the most vulnerable?
“I am marked for life, I am like when they mark a cow and seal it there, on its back.” With this comparison she relates her experience to the voice of america a woman originally from Latin America and a victim of sex trafficking on her journey to the United States.
Practicing prostitution was the price she had to pay for emigrating. However, his nightmare continued on American soil. “I lived all of that… wanting to run away from a place and not being able to,” explains this victim, who asked not to be identified.
“Knowing that right now, at this moment, in this second, there may be women in prison, forced to have sex with one, with two, or whatever. Pregnant women, raped women, ”she concludes. “I identify with these women.”
The story of this woman is not an isolated case. The US government points out that around 27 million people around the world are victims of trafficking, a phenomenon that “disproportionately impacts marginalized communities; undermines stability and the rule of law; weakens economies and fuels other crimes and violent conflicts”, according to a recent statement by the Secretary of State, Antony Blinken.
What is human trafficking?
Often, that term is often confused with human trafficking, an activity that “violates the laws of the State that is entered irregularly,” according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). This body emphasizes that trafficking, on the other hand, “attempts against the human rights of a person.”
US law identifies two primary forms of human trafficking: forced labor and sexual exploitation.
According to the Department of State, forced labor, also called “labor trafficking” includes “activities carried out when a person uses force, fraud, or coercion to exploit the labor or services of another person.”
Sex trafficking, for its part, covers the range of “activities that include force, fraud, or coercion to force a person to participate in a commercial sexual act,” including minors.
A common practice in the US
In the United States, human trafficking is common, especially in large cities that receive immigrants and with relatively easy access to places such as airports and interstate highways. The cases of Atlanta, Washington, New York, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles stand out.
And although experts point out that anyone can be a victim of trafficking, regardless of their race, origin, age or nationality, migrants are one of the groups most exposed to the phenomenon.
“We are talking about people who do not have a passport, who do not have a family, who often do not know the language or the territory, and are in a highly vulnerable situation,” he explained to the VOA Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, professor of politics and government at George Washington University.
Polaris, an organization that fights for the rights of victims and for the eradication of trafficking, highlights that in recent years there have been situations of trafficking or labor exploitation in immigrants who came to the United States under temporary work visas.
“Initially, it was thought that only undocumented people could end up being victims of trafficking or exploitation and that it was somehow their fault for being outside the law, for coming illegally,” he told the VOA Andrea Rojas, director of strategic initiatives at Polaris, who also points out that in temporary work visa contexts, there is a “totally obscure recruitment regime in which there is really no transparency.”
Analysts explain that it is difficult to know the exact number of victims of trafficking, since it is “a crime that operates in the dark.” However, they acknowledge that cases increased during the pandemic. Those affected were, above all, people who were engaged in jobs classified as “essential” and who have few legal protections.
The Department of Homeland Security notes in its latest report on the subject that in fiscal year 2022 arrests related to human trafficking increased more than 50% compared to the same period in 2020. Indictments also increased from 891 in 2021. to 1,045 in 2022.
In an increasingly globalized world, social networks play an increasingly important role in the recruitment of victims. Above all, because through them, traffickers can keep their anonymity.
“There are pages that supposedly offer jobs, for example to people who are in other parts, on other continents, who are offered a job and finally end up in a country that is not theirs. Sometimes their passports are taken away and they end up exercising a profession or doing an activity so that someone else keeps the resources, and these people cannot leave there,” Correa-Cabrera mentions.
One of the resources to support victims is the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a number run by Polaris and funded by the government. It is a number available throughout the United States and through which you can contact by call or text message.
“The other crucial benefit is that the people who answer are not line operators who do volunteer work, they are professionals who have received training and they have training to be able to have a victim-centered approach and understand the trauma that people in situations of trafficking experience,” says Andrea Rojas. “The first thing they do when they receive a call from a survivor or victim of trafficking is to check the security situation and develop a plan according to the needs of the person who is calling”.
At the local level, organizations like Reston, Virginia-based Reset 180 fight to support victims of trafficking, who are referred to the scene through local authorities or essential services.
Its director, Kim Luckabaugh, tells the VOA that most of the victims work in illicit massage places and come from Asian countries.
He explains that they have a technology called “signal of freedom” through which they can track web portals of people who sell themselves online for commercial sex.
“We can go to a certain area within our location and send them a message saying ‘Hello, we are from Reset 180 and we help those who are victims of sex and exploitation, how can we help you, how can we provide you with resources?’ Yes, sometimes they insult us, yes…. But other people say are you serious? I really need help,” Luckabaugh says.
Luckabaugh also explains that they are in charge of “interrupting the lawsuit.” “We go to these illicit massage places and talk to those who come by: ‘Do you realize what’s going on here?’ We do not confront them, we are not aggressive. We want them to see and understand what is happening in that place, that these women are not there voluntarily, they are trapped.”
At the federal level, the Biden Administration created a National Plan Against Human Trafficking. A working group made up of various agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security or Transportation, is in charge of monitoring and combating the phenomenon with actions such as collaborations with non-profit organizations or campaigns to educate the population and dismantle the networks.
In addition, in the last twenty years, Congress has passed several laws that seek to identify and combat human trafficking.