From 2008 to 2012, the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) received 9,928 calls about potential human trafficking cases. North American society generally tends to believe that human trafficking does not occur within the continent’s confines, but the sad fact is that the NHTRC received a 259 per cent jump in call volume since 2007. It is quite likely that many do not even realize just how extensive the market is for those who are trading in persons. It is truly a growing plague in the US.
Many reports seem to indicate that statistics on the issue are rather limited, but the International Labor Organization estimates some 20 million men, women and children are “victimized” by labor or sex trafficking worldwide, including in the US. The State Department estimated as many as 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked per year, according to a 2004 TIP report, while the Justice Department estimated that up to 293,000 minors could potentially be at risk of sexual exploitation in a 2004 US Attorneys Bulletin.
In late June, the FBI recovered some 168 children who had been forced into prostitution, and frighteningly, this operation took place right on US soil in a sweep of truck stops, casinos and the internet. Dubbed Operation Cross Country, this was the largest recovery of children in human trafficking in years. 281 pimps were arrested during the operation as well, and this was not the first time Operation Cross Country had taken place; this was the eighth such operation over the years for the FBI.
To combat the growing human trafficking plague, the FBI has established 70 Child Exploitation Task Forces in order to offer those victims wanting to free themselves from their situations some support. Workers with these task forces have seen that those who are escaping situations of human trafficking are not coming from the best situations to start with, and so, many questions are asked of the recovered victims, including what sort of relationship they have with their parents or whether their home environments are truly safe. There are significant trust issues when the exploitation worker and the victim meet, though; too often, the victim is totally dependent on their pimp, and will lose what little they do have should they choose to leave.
It is all too easy for those in society who come from happy home lives and are well-adjusted to say that the victims should just leave those who are exploiting them. However, it is easy to prescribe solutions when we cannot empathize with the victim; there has been shattered trust that makes the victims wary of those who are trying to help, and this can result in a huge obstacle for the exploitation worker to overcome with the victim. However, awareness in society of this silent epidemic needs to rise in order to have more of society prepared to help.
Pennsylvania has recently signed into law SB 75, a bill sponsored by Senator Stewart Greenleaf. The bill beefs up the current definition of human trafficking, as old definitions limited the crime to a second degree felony, unless the victim was under the age of 18, which then made the crime a first degree felony. It was hoped that increasing the seriousness of the definition would build awareness and empower law enforcement officials to be able to do more abut the crime.
There are success stories coming from recovering victims of human trafficking, though. When Nicole was so severely beaten that she landed in hospital, Victim Specialist Dani Geissinger-Rodarte worked tirelessly to help her escape the grip of her pimp. At the time, Nicole was in her teens, but is now away from her pimp, Juan Vianez, who is serving a 20-year jail term for his crimes. She admits to having been afraid of leaving him, but now that she has, she has worked hard and become an honors psychology student with a job, a drivers’ license, a good credit rating and a car. Nicole is a definite success, given her past involvement as a victim of human trafficking, and hopefully there will be more to come as awareness grows of this painful, tragic plague.
By Christina St-Jean