University Student Insights on Human Trafficking Information
Human trafficking in the United States affects thousands of people each year and there is not one city that is not affected including Columbia, MO.
“It happens in our neighborhoods, there’s not one city that’s not affected by it,” said Kat Rohrer, the director of the documentary “Fatal Promises.”
Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor, which includes agriculture, domestic service, and construction work, and sweat shops.
The prevalence of human trafficking in in Missouri is difficult to estimate because the trafficker maintains firm control over the victim, which makes it difficult to see who is involved, and prosecute them.
“Numbers are really hard to come by,” said Anti-Trafficking Community Coordinator Rosie Lang. “Part of that is because it’s so challenging to identify the members of this crime and part of it is the techniques the traffickers will use to keep the individuals under control.”
Hundreds of thousands of people are affected by human trafficking each year in the United States. The numbers are increasing due to desperate economic situations and increased awareness, which leads to more prosecutions of traffickers.
“However, the most conservative estimates given in the United States by almost every organization that works in this field is between 150 to 300 thousand people who are directly affected every year in the United States by human trafficking whether its domestic or international,” said MANNA Worldwide member Shawn Sullivan.
A common misconception is that human trafficking only involves young girls. But in fact young boys from the ages of 11 to 13 years are targeted and become victims of trafficking.
“It turns out that almost 50 percent of children that are used as a product of domestic minor sex trafficking are young boys,” Sullivan said.
Victims of human trafficking generally, but not always, show signs of physical injury, abuse, malnutrition, and fatigue. They might be reluctant to talk to others, are not able to speak for themselves, come and go as they please, and feel as if someone is watching them.
“There’s not anything that will say for sure, it’s usually something that law enforcement has to investigate pretty thoroughly to know for sure that it’s human trafficking,” said Deb Hume, a member of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. “If it’s a teenager for example that is being trafficked in commercial sex, exploited into commercial sex, and that child is still going to school there may be a change in their behavior, their friendship networks, their grades, that indicate something’s going wrong.”
Prosecuting those who partake in the trafficking of humans is a complicated process. Punishment differs based upon the person’s involvement in the crime, whether they used violence to control the victim, and whether or not the victim was a minor.
Hume said there are different roles in which a person can be involved in human trafficking. She said that there is the primary person who holds the person against their will and others involved such as people who transport the victims. She said that the federal law and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act determined penalties.
According to the Missouri Revised Statutes 566.209, “The crime of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a felony punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not less than five years and not more than twenty years and a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars. If a violation of this section was effected by force, abduction, or coercion, the crime of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a felony punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not less than ten years or life and a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars.”
Victims usually do not want to come forth with their stories because they are ashamed of what has happened and feel as if they had done something wrong. Also in some cases, victims of human trafficking are the ones being prosecuted.
“But less than 1 percent of perpetrators are ever prosecuted,” Sullivan said. “What happens is the ones prosecuted are the people being victimized, they are actually being criminalized, in other words they’ll arrest them and put them in jail for one night or two nights.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas City, Mo. has prosecuted cases of human trafficking.
“As of approximately a year ago they had prosecuted 41 cases with over, with I think over 125 or so individuals who had been victims of trafficking or provided services through the U.S. attorney’s office as a result of those cases,” Hume said.
The best way to prevent human trafficking from ever happening is to raise awareness. There are many organizations at a national and local level that work to raise awareness in communities.
“I think we need start to actually immerse, to get to talking, travelling to campuses and trying to engage in conversation with students,” said Rohrer.
One way to raise awareness is to teach children in schools about human trafficking. Children need to learn the signs of trafficking and how to avoid being victimized.
“And one way we do this is by visiting public schools and high schools all across the country,” Sullivan said. “My partner and I and some of our other people that work with us conduct awareness seminars and cooperate with other partner organizations to help people be able to realize that it is much bigger, it is much closer, than we once believed.”
Educating citizens and law enforcement about human trafficking can help prevent the crime from ever happening.
“The prevention is an important issue because it would be a lot better if we were preventing this crime rather than having to respond to this crime,” said Hume. “Trying to raise awareness in the public, trying to make sure that people are like – child advocacy centers and shelter providers and social service providers and law enforcement are aware and able to identify potential trafficking problems early on, which it doesn’t prevent it initially, but prevents it from going further.”
For victims already being trafficked, there are organizations both locally and nationally that deal with intervention and reentry programs. Organizations such as the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition (CMSHTC) helps train law enforcement, social services, and people in health care to help victims of human trafficking. They assist victims of human trafficking in paying their rent, utilities, transportation, and clothes for job interviews. National organizations such as MANNA Worldwide raise awareness in the United States and work in other countries by intervening and bringing victims out of human trafficking. Organizations like Veronica’s Voice in Kansas City, Mo. is a place where victims can shower, receive counseling, clothing and food.
“To start off, Veronica’s Voice deals with sex trafficking, not forced labor,” said Jennifer Tung, volunteer coordinator for Veronica’s Voice. “Our expertise is in domestic sex trafficking in the United States, not international.”
The national hotline for human trafficking allows citizens to report a tip, connect with anti-trafficking services in your area, request training and technical assistance, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources.
“1-888-3737-888 is the national hotline run through the Polaris Project which is based in Washington D.C.,” said Lang.
People can do their part by being aware of where consumer goods come from and how they are made – making sure the goods you buy aren’t using forced labor, Hume said. By looking online or looking for the Fair Trade label, you can determine whether a company or product was made in an exploitive manner, she said.
“Other things people could do are really thinking about their purchasing and the types of products they’re purchasing,” Lang said. “Thinking about buying local can be a good idea or looking into where the companies you’re buying from get their materials, get their labor, could be another thing.”
Helping victims of human trafficking is easier than expected, said Sullivan. A person could save a victim’s life by informing others of human trafficking or becoming part of an organization that deals with human trafficking, he said.