As many of you know, I do quite a bit of traveling up to Pennsylvania. It is a long, long drive. Because of this I have a routine. I drive a certain route. I play a certain radio station. I have certain places I stop at. It’s how I gauge how much further I have to go. I know all of these rest stops like the back of my hand. While traversing thru Maryland, I stop at this one particular rest stop. This time, the restroom had fliers up. The fliers were on Human Trafficking. I have never seen anything like that before.
Did you know that January 11th is Human Trafficking Awareness Day in the United States? Human trafficking occurs in every part of the world. The United Nations estimates that 2.5 million people are victims at any one time. It is felt that this number may be low due to underreporting of this crime. This crime generates tens of billions in dollars every year. And those billions of dollars line the pockets of organized crime or street gangs.
Imagine if you will, having to work long hours for little or no pay. Initially, you were told that the job and hours was one thing, but the actual job and hours are something entirely different. You cannot walk away or quit that job. There is high security around you restricting your movements on the job and off. You have been told that you have considerable debt and you must work to pay it off before you can even get your wage. Your identification was taken from you and you cannot get it back. You cannot come and go from your job or home freely. You are poorly fed and clothed. You may be beaten for not performing your task quickly or well. You are not allowed to communicate with friends or family.
The United Nations reports that sexual exploitation and forced labor are the most common forms of human trafficking. A disproportionate number of victims are women and children. Force, deception, coercion, abuse of power and position of vulnerability are just some of the ways women become victims of trafficking. To escape their own victimization, many women go on to become offenders themselves by making other women victims. Most trafficking is carried out by offenders whose nationality is the same as their victims. Victim intimidation tactics by traffickers whether it is in their own country or in a destination country (a country to which they migrated) includes fear of punishment, fear of prosecution, deportation, imprisonment, and re-victimization by law enforcement to name a few.
In the past and still today, human trafficking is not an easy thing to identify. The United Nations calls it hiding in plain sight. It wasn’t until 2000 that the United Nations submitted the Trafficking Protocol or an actual definition of human trafficking. It also required those nations who ratified the protocol to criminalize the practice. This was entered into force in December of 2003. There is still considerable training required of our police, social services, and criminal courts to identify cases of human trafficking. Because it is not easy to identify, many traffickers take advantage of this. Prosecution of these crimes does not always result in significant fines or jail time especially if it is not recognized as human trafficking. So, many in organized crime and street gangs gravitate to this lucrative form of crime.
Human trafficking does occur in the United States. If you want to know more, Virginia .Gov has a great website about human trafficking. The Polaris Project web site also has great information especially on how to identify possible victims of human trafficking. If you know or suspect victims of human trafficking, you can call a toll free hotline 1-888-3737-888. This number can also be found in the bathroom of Maryland’s rest stops.
Cynthia Wilkes MD
Stafford Womens Health Associates