Career: International Researcher/Founder | Accretive Talent for Japan/SASSIP Group | Bangkok, Thailand
Human Trafficking: Looking Beneath the Surface
Does human trafficking in Missouri exist? Do we have to be concerned about this issue?
Perhaps because people tend to associate human trafficking with crossing international borders, states like Missouri, located in the middle of the country, might seem immune. The reality is otherwise.
Statistics from the United States Department of Justice have shown that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Missouri has prosecuted more trafficking cases than any other district in the United States. Human trafficking can happen anywhere and to anyone. It is time to look beneath the surface of this hidden crime and understand how best to help law enforcement and related organizations in their fight against this travesty. For after all, human trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery. It is one of the worst forms of oppression in the world and can come in the form of either sex trafficking, labor trafficking or both.
You might have heard or read about trafficking occurring in other countries with little awareness of its existence locally. However, there is increasing evidence of the presence of this crime right in our own backyard. The common characteristic of trafficking cases is the use of force, fraud or coercion to exploit a person for profit. According to the U.S. State Department, each year an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders. These individuals are forced into prostitution, to work in sweatshops or farms, or to labor as domestic workers, just to name a few of their destinations. An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 of these individuals are brought or lured into the United States annually by promises of legitimate jobs and better life, only to find themselves trapped in sexual slavery or other forms of involuntary servitude. It should be noted that these numbers are only approximations, as this activity is for the most part a jealously guarded secret.
According to the Mid-Western Regional Anti-trafficking Task Force report in 2011, there were about 90 cases of human trafficking in the Midwestern region during that year. These trafficking activities caused hardship to victims’ physical, psychological and financial condition. While the budget used against trafficking is estimated at around $361 million a year worldwide, fewer than 17 percent of victims have access to any of this money.
Since the enactment of Trafficking Victim Protection Act in 2000, there have been many initiatives created to combat human trafficking in the United States and abroad. One of the most successful initiatives is the Rescue and Restore Campaign. It was launched in several cities in 2004 and 2005 to form coalitions to address the issue locally. The campaign helps raise awareness of human trafficking around the country. St. Louis is one of the cities that has one of the stronger Rescue and Restore coalitions. I was fortunate to be part of the coalition and had the opportunity not only to promote awareness but also to actively participate in the rescue of hidden victims from their captivity.
Even though there are several campaigns and projects dealing with issues of human trafficking, raising awareness is still an important strategy to combat this problem. Efforts to train law-enforcement, social service and health-care professionals in Missouri and surrounding states have been established with the goals of increasing victim identification, providing better services to survivors and punishing perpetrators. Creative ways such as art exhibitions and movie nights are also useful to increase awareness of how severe the problem of human trafficking is.
Trafficking exists here in this country, and until we are willing to increase our vigilance and call people and businesses out for their unethical actions, it will persist or even get worse. Taking down this sordid global business and helping in the fight for people’s basic human rights is not only worth the effort but a moral imperative. It is time to learn more about human trafficking and spread the word of this terrible crime so that we, as a community, can help prevent individuals from falling into this vicious skein of oppression.