Many of us think of sex trafficking as a problem in developing countries. The fact of the matter is, it is a growing menace in the United States and is often overlooked.
Last year alone, more than 3,500 sex trafficking cases were reported to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in the US. According to US federal law, those under 18 years of age induced into commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking. It doesn’t matter whether the trafficker uses fraud, coercion or force.
But large numbers of sex-trafficking victims go largely undetected or unreported. Victims of sex trafficking are usually fearful of going to law enforcement and being charged with a crime. In many cases, those who have been exploited believe that they are offenders. They fear the law because technically they’re committing a crime (prostitution).
This makes human trafficking cases extremely difficult to identify and prosecute. In addition to this, most people view trafficked women as prostitutes, and as criminals, not victims. Even more so in cities, where trafficking is rampant, and people don’t react as much to most sorts of crime.
Even local authorities do not consider this a problem within their community, states a 2012 study by the Urban Institute. No wonder that the human trafficking is a lucrative industry that rakes in $150 billion around the globe. The study also estimated that the illegal sex industry in Atlanta alone generates around $290 million a year – based on research findings from 2007.
Every year, close to 20,000 people are brought from other countries to the US to be trafficked. As many people see this country as some kind of dreamland, many are enticed to adopt unlawful means to gain entry which is all the more convenient for the well-entrenched trafficking network.
It is not always about immigrants either. Increasingly young kids from schools and good family backgrounds are enticed into the trade, often by traffickers in the guise of friendship. After a gradual initiation, they are further sucked into the web and handed over from network to network in different cities.
Last October, the Operation Cross Country X sting conducted by the FBI rescued 82 underage victims of prostitution and arrested 239 pimps and other individuals across the country. The international operation, the largest of its kind is in its tenth year includes other countries like Cambodia, Canada, Philippines, and Thailand as part of the sting.
Authorities in the US have the option to grant leniency if a girl is willing to go to a safe home. But surprisingly most don’t want to. That’s where self-help organizations can make a huge difference. Appropriate guidance and counseling can wean the victims with low self-esteem on the path to recovery and healing.
Apart from providing the much-needed guidance and support, they also contribute to raising general awareness and advocating reform. Some organizations go to the extent of supplying participants with much-needed help in education and employment. Their effort goes a long way, but much more is required to tackle the growing menace of this inhuman practice of slavery and trafficking.