Human trafficking is a modern day form of global slavery.  It’s the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, a nine billion dollar industry.

161 out of 192 nations have reported human trafficking problems.  Approximately 27 million people are enslaved around the world.

Like an unchecked virus, it’s spreading in the U.S., one of the largest three locations for trafficked victims.   Law enforcement agents have noted trafficking-related activities in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C.

14,500 to 17,500 persons are trafficked into the U.S. each year.  70% of the victims are women, 50% are children.

And the annual profits, according to the United Nations, gleaned from the exploitation of forced labor is approximately 32 billion dollars.

Acknowledging this growing problem, the Department of Homeland Security recently launched the “Blue Campaign” – a campaign to fight human trafficking through a four pronged approach: prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership.

Modern Day Slavery And The Debasement Of Human Beings

Officially, human trafficking is defined as the process by which a person is recruited to be controlled and held captive for the purpose of exploitation.

It involves the use of abduction, coercion, deception, fraud, or force.  It subjects men, women, and children to forced labor or sexual exploitation for economic profit.

It differs from migrant smuggling because the victims have not given their consent, or if they have, they have been deceived about the purpose of their journey.

Victims are placed in jobs like making clothes, growing food for export, assembling toys, cleaning homes, and providing childcare for their slaveholders.

Women and young girls, starting at ages 12-14, are often forced into prostitution.

In the United States, victims are trapped in an underground world of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of legal residents and citizens.

Recent newspaper headlines tell the story all too clearly.

  • Charges are filed against a manpower leasing company in Kansas City, Missouri for labor trafficking.  The workers, mainly from Jamaica, the Philippines, and the Dominican Republic, provided services for hotels, resorts, casinos, and construction companies.
  • A restaurant owner in Woodstock, Georgia is apprehended for operating a prostitution ring, comprised of women from Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador out of his place of business during non-restaurant hours.
  • Five brothers from Ukraine are arrested for running a human bondage center from their cleaning business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, shuttling victims to New Jersey, New York, Maryland, and Washington, D.C.
  • A shoot-out occurs at a Houston, Texas house serving as a smuggling center, where  Honduran nationals are beaten, wrapped in trash bags, and raped daily, while the smugglers extort money from the victims’ families to obtain their release.

Yet, to a large extent, trafficking operates under the public radar in the U.S.

The Psychological Dimensions Of Captivity

As an immigration attorney in San Diego, Riverside, and San Bernardino, I’ve encountered individuals whose hardships can barely be imaged by most Americans.

Ethnic genocide. Gender mutilation. Religious persecution.

Victims of human trafficking – hidden in the shadows of American – are often the hardest to assist.

Even when the opportunity arises, many are too frightened to escape.

On the one hand, they fear their oppressors, who have threatened to come after them or their family if they leave.  Victims are told immigration authorities will be called and they be put in jail and deported.  Deportation means retaliation by the traffickers’ web of connections in their home countries.

On the other, they fear being alone in the U.S.  Even if they escape, most have limited language skills, familiarity with local areas, financial resources, and lack valid documents to live here.

The combination leads to hopelessness – and hopelessness keeps them obedient to their abusers.

The Blue Campaign Needs All Of Us

In launching the Blue Campaign, the Department of Homeland Security committed its resources to developing enhanced public awareness, victim assistance programs, and law enforcement training to the fight against human trafficking.

However, trafficking of persons is not just a local or national problem.  It’s a global problem perpetuated by well-organized, mafia-like networks, with tentacles reaching far and wide across national boundaries.

Likewise, the solution must be global in scope.

As part of its initiative, the DHS plans to coordinate local, state, national, and international alliances.

The battle against human trafficking is a shared responsibility,” notes DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, ” involving the Department’s federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement partners, non-profit and non-governmental organizations, governments around the world and communities across the nation.”

At the local level, all of us are needed.

The lives of trafficking victims are always close enough to touch almost each and every one of us.

In most instances, the clues are there.

Unexplained absences from school.  References to frequent travel to other cities.  Physical bruises and withdrawn behavior.  Malnourishment, hunger, and worn out clothing.

But due to our unfamiliarity with the indicators, victims remain invisible to us.

To help citizens learn to identify and report human trafficking, the Blue Campaign will soon begin its public awareness outreach, using both traditional and social media tools, in 18 different languages.

To the extent we learn to spot the tell-tale signs, we can slam the door shut on human slavery.

The war against human trafficking cannot succeed without my contributions.

Nor without yours.

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