Human Trafficking Awareness Month
Human trafficking is a form of modern day slavery and occurs throughout the United States and globally and is widely regarded as one the most pressing social issues of the times. Thousands of women, children and even men are trafficked annually–lured through social media, bars, the internet or their own neighborhoods and coerced by threat, fear, exploitation and/or physical violence.
It’s a booming industry, built on the principle of supply and demand, with sex trafficking being the most prevalent form. Adults or children are coerced into prostitution, pornography or other sex acts in exchange for money, drugs, shelter or other items of value.
Labor trafficking is the second most common form, where traffickers promise high wages, travel opportunities or expense-paid education to lure people into appalling working conditions. Employers control their laborers with threats, physical and psychological control and debt bondage. Common types of labor trafficking include domestic service, farm and outdoor work, restaurants and it has even been reported in some door to door sales teams.
According to data collected from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center for 2015, all 50 states had occurrences of trafficking. Additionally, more than 1,600 survivors of human trafficking reached out for help in 2015-a 24 percent increase over 2014.
The top venue for sex trafficking was commercial front brothels, and the top industry for labor trafficking was domestic work.
The most common age for a child to enter into sex trafficking is between 14 and 16 years old, before the children really realize what is happening. Trafficking often leads to drug and alcohol abuse and due to negative social stigmas or misinformation, most teens don’t reach out for help.
According to a group called Shared Hope, West Virginia received a D rating on its report card for 2016 regarding human trafficking. West Virginia’s human trafficking law includes sex trafficking of minors without regard to force, fraud, or coercion, but requires that two or more persons be trafficked in one year. The analysis went on to say that West Virginia has limited options to prosecute and lacks laws designed to protect minor victims, who potentially face a punitive response for crimes committed as a result of their victimization.
Shared Hope is one organization trying to end trafficking with a three-pronged approach: prevent, restore, and bring justice. They collaborate with other agencies to provide training and raise awareness of this global issue. One of the areas they track is state laws on trafficking.
According to Chief Jesse Jones at the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, there have not been any reported cases of trafficking or suspected trafficking in Jefferson County.
A representative from the West Virginia State Police also said there were no reported cases in Jefferson County. Both agencies have members who receive some hours of in-service training regarding trafficking, although neither could provide specifics on what training entails.
U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), has hosted trafficking seminars to help raise awareness and put an end to trafficking in West Virginia, stating that she was appalled at the amount of trafficking taking place in United States, and even in West Virginia.
According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 16 trafficking calls received from West Virginia. The majority of the calls (13) were sex trafficking, 2 were labor trafficking, and 1 was unspecified. The venues for the reported sex trafficking were hotel/motel based, truck stop based, commercial-front brothel based and other unknown venues.
Polaris is another global group fighting to end trafficking. Their website provides a list of common behaviors or signs that someone might be in slavery, such as, not being able to come and go as they please, working very long hours with little break, is fearful, depressed, overly submissive, appears to lack healthcare or malnourished, is vague about their address and other signs.
There are four events happening this month to raise community awareness. Jan 11 is the “Blue Campaign” for trafficking awareness. Department of Homeland Security spearheads this campaign of wearing blue to bring to light the horrors of modern day slavery show solidarity for victims and survivors of trafficking.
On Jan 24, Charles Town Baptist, 211 E. Congress Street will hold an internet safety seminar from 6-8 p.m. featuring speakers from Bethany Christian Services and local law enforcement. Topics covered will be cyberbullying, online predators, revealing personal information, etc.
On Jan. 25, there will be human trafficking teach-in at Shepherd University in the Robert C. Byrd Center from 12-2 p.m. featuring speakers from Shepherd and other universities, local law enforcement, and local community. Topics will include law enforcement response, legislative response, community response, and health care worker’s response.
Lastly, there will be a Pray for Freedom simulcast at Shepherd University’s Reynolds Hall on Jan 28, from 6-8 p.m. All are welcome regardless of denomination or faith.
Rita Nieman, one of the organizers for the Shepherd University events said, “This is a hidden crime-it stays in the shadows. I didn’t see it before. I didn’t want to believe it. I thought that people just made bad choices, bad decisions, but now I know that’s not always the case. People are trapped and enslaved in these situations. It happens in every zip code in the country.”
To report suspected trafficking or for more information, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or visit them online, humantraffickinghotline.org.