By Patrina Mosley, FRC's Director of Life, Culture, and Women's Advocacy
For the 11th straight year, January has been declared National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Through a presidential proclamation issued on December 31, President Trump intends to raise awareness about the estimated 24.9 million adults and children who "are trapped in a form of modern slavery around the world, including in the United States," and to prevent the future trafficking of many more people who may be vulnerable. As we enter January 2020, National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month is an opportunity for Americans to learn about the human rights violations happening all around them -- even in plain sight.
As President Trump declared in his official proclamation, "Human trafficking erodes personal dignity and destroys the moral fabric of society. It is an affront to humanity that tragically reaches all parts of the world, including communities across our nation."
Human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry, according to the International Labour Organization and is the second-most profitable form of transnational crime after drug trafficking, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has found. As discussed in my previous blog post, "What Most People Don't Know About Sex Trafficking," human trafficking can take several forms. But it most frequently takes the form of labor and sex trafficking, and women and girls are the most frequent victims.
Notably, "[T]his year marks nearly 20 years since our nation took decisive steps in the global fight against human trafficking by enacting the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA)." The TVPA has structured U.S. law to recognize human trafficking. Polaris Project summarizes the law's definition of human trafficking "as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will. The one exception involves minors and commercial sex. Inducing a minor into commercial sex is considered human trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud or coercion."
Sex trafficking is happening all around us, even out in the open. See here for the most recent press releases from the Department of Justice of the documented sex trafficking incidents being investigated or prosecuted.
It's a true saying that "Human trafficking is often a hidden crime that knows no boundaries." Modern-day sex slavery is largely facilitated through the internet, which is why the passage and signing of the FOSTA-SESTA -- Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) -- was so critical. FOSTA-SESTA makes it easier for individuals to take legal action against those who use websites to facilitate sex trafficking, while also helping victims fight back against websites that profit from their exploitation.
There is an inseparable link between prostitution and sex trafficking. Both are sophisticatedly operated through chat rooms, social media sites, advertisement sites, and the dark web. Today, recruitment and transactions largely take place online through social media accounts, the dark web, and ad listings sites such as Craigslist and Backpage. Before the FBI seizure of Backpage, it was the most popular site for traffickers and pimps to trade off their victims. The average age of recruitment for prostitutes is 14 and the average age of pimps and traffickers are between the ages of 18-34. We have become a generation that are exploiting ourselves.
This May in D.C., as efforts to decriminalize prostitution began to wane, local police made arrests in a major human trafficking case involving teenagers. Terrell Armstead had an Instagram hashtag "#TeamSupreme" for his prostitution business, according to court documents. He used it to advertise a commercial sex business, posting videos and images of money and luxury goods with the caption "Who wants to join TeamSupreme?"
Detectives believe he would direct message teenage girls, telling them they could make $1,000 a day working in strip clubs and arranging sex dates with customers inside...Among the evidence is a text from one of the young women to Armstead saying, "I only made 200 so far." He replied, "It's only 9pm, I got faith that you'll get 800 more at least."
Around the time of FOSTA-SESTA's passage, "the FBI seized Backpage.com, the largest child-sex trafficking website in the United States. Nearly three-quarters of the cases submitted to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children relate to ads posted on Backpage.com." DHS continues "to identify technology that can be quickly deployed and to develop technology that can disrupt human trafficking on a large-scale – ensuring we use modern means to remain ahead of an ever changing criminal landscape."
They have even put forth their Blue Campaign that is dedicated to educating the public on the signs and dangers of human trafficking. Make yourself aware of the signs and key indicators of human trafficking. This is the first step in identifying victims and getting them help.
Always contact your local police authorities if you see that someone may be in immediate danger. To request help or report suspected human trafficking, you can also call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to BeFree (233733).
As we mark National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month in 2020, let's commit to stopping all forms of modern-day slavery.