by Kate Vandeveld

Recently, human trafficking has received increased public focus. Why? Human trafficking is the illegal movement of people for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation. It’s a devastating social issue, and it’s happening both internationally and here in the United States. 

 Photo by Maranie Rae (http://www.maranierae.com/)

Photo by Maranie Rae (http://www.maranierae.com/)

As a multi-billion dollar industry, the International Labor Organization estimated that in 2014, there were 21 million victims of human trafficking, 5.5 million of whom were children. Recently, Pope Francis called out human trafficking as being the most pressing issue of 2015, saying that each of us “is called to combat modern forms of enslavement,” and that people from all cultures and religions must join forces in the fight against it. In 2012, President Obama committed to increase the U.S.’s efforts to combat human trafficking at the Clinton Global Initiative; and in 2014, the White House released its Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, a five year plan that lays out the steps that the U.S. will take on the federal level to identify trafficking victims and give them access to the services they need to start over.

This month, in support of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness month, we're providing you with a few key ways you can join this fight.

 

Inform Yourself

The first step to joining the anti-trafficking movement is to inform yourself of the issue. While most are aware of trafficking in a general sense, many do not know that it’s happening right here in the United States, likely even in your own city or town.

In 2014, Polaris Project rated each state’s human trafficking laws based on 10 categories that make up the legal framework for combatting human trafficking, punishing traffickers, and supporting victims. As of July 2014, 39 states were ranked as Tier 1, meaning that they passed significant laws to combat human trafficking. Nine others and Washington, D.C. were ranked as Tier 2, and two others as Tier 3. Find out how your state ranked here.

While these rankings do demonstrate the strides the United States has made in terms of human trafficking litigation, we still have a ways to go, both domestically and abroad.  The U.S. State Department’s anti-trafficking office is currently without leadership after Luis CdeBaca, the Ambassador-At-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP), stepped down last November. And while there has been some litigation on the international level, much of that was pushed by the United States. If human trafficking takes a back seat here, the movement may lose momentum elsewhere.

The information we’ve included above is just the beginning. If you’re looking for in-depth information and statistics, check out the State Department’s official Trafficking in Person’s Report or UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons.

 

Join the Conversation & Stay Involved

After you do your research, the next step is to join the conversation. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Sign petitions and speak with your local and state government representatives: Petitions like this one urge congress to pass legislation to fight human trafficking in 2015. If you’re concerned about human trafficking on the more local level, get in touch with your local or state representatives, or start a petition of your own using a resource like change.org.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper: Raise community awareness by writing a letter to the editor of your local paper. Provide information about human trafficking, urge others to be aware of the signs, and give potential victims the information that they need to seek help

When you’re talking about human trafficking, place a significant focus on sensitivity. Victims have often experienced a great deal of trauma, and their experiences are varied and nuanced. Be careful not to sensationalize the issue, or to indicate that all victims have had the same experience. If you aren’t a thoughtful advocate, your words could hurt rather than help.

 

Recognize the Signs & Speak Up

Human trafficking could be happening right in front of you, though victims are often unable to speak up. It’s crucial that we recognize the red flags and indicators and then get victims the help that they need. Polaris Project has developed a list of these potential signs based on their extensive experience in working with victims of human trafficking. The State Department also provides a list of indicators, along with the follow-up questions you should ask potential victims, if or when given the opportunity.

If you think you’ve identified a trafficking victim, the next step is to speak up:

If you think someone may be in immediate danger, call 911. In non-emergency cases, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-3737-888, or text “INFO” or “HELP” to BeFree (233733). The hotline operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

As much as it might seem like the right thing to do, do not attempt to rescue a victim yourself – it may be unsafe for you as well as for the victim. It can also be difficult to gauge how the trafficker or the victim will react, and there may be more to the story than you are able to discern. Once you make the call to report what you know, trained professionals will take it from there.

 

Be a Conscientious Consumer

Every time you make a purchase, you can help reduce demand for forced labor, child labor, and exploitative labor practices. According to the ILO, of the 21 million reported trafficking victims worldwide, 14.2 million are victims of labor exploitation. This means that unless you take steps to inform yourself and adjust your purchasing behavior, you may be supporting unfair or forced working conditions by making a simple purchase.

Start with the U.S. Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. The list covers a range of goods produced by countries all over the world, indicating whether or not they are typically produced using child labor or forced labor. You can also find out your own consumption of goods produced by forced labor with this Slavery Footprint survey. Then, just be conscientious and do your research. Shop locally rather than supporting big corporations, and ask questions about the products you’re purchasing. 

 

Contribute to an Anti-Trafficking Organization

Many of the organizations that work tirelessly to combat trafficking are currently underfunded and understaffed. They need funds to generate awareness around human trafficking, to expand their programs, and to provide hands-on support to victims. Consider making a direct donation or fundraising in support of a anti-trafficking organization. If you're not sure where to start, consult the list above for ideas.

And if you’re committed to combatting human trafficking in the long-term, think about volunteering for an organization in your area. These organizations’ small teams are often largely (or even entirely) comprised of passionate volunteers who could greatly benefit from your skills and your time. Lastly, stay involved – what the anti-trafficking movement needs most is long-term advocates.

 

Right now is a critical time to take action against human trafficking; and if you have other ideas or initiatives, we will help you to spread the word.

Do you know of an anti-trafficking group that’s making a big difference in your area? Let us know by commenting below, or reaching out on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram

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