Nightmare on Any Street: America’s Human trafficking Dilemma


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Modern-day slavery is real, and the number two criminal operation in the United States. Image courtesy of the Blue Campaign

Modern-day slavery is real, and the number two criminal operation in the United States. Image courtesy of the Blue Campaign

The unfortunate situation of the 276 Nigerian school girls kidnapped by the Boka Haram, and their bold proclamation that they’ll be selling the girls into slavery, made for disturbing news across the international community.

It brought to light the ongoing seriousness of human trafficking, not just in Nigeria, but across the globe and right here in the United States where it has become a growing trend.

In the United States, human trafficking is the second largest criminal organization on the land, buying and selling people falls just behind drugs as a source of black-market income.

What is Human Trafficking?

The United Nations of Drugs and Crime describe Human Trafficking as the acquisition of people by improper means, such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them. The victims are subjected to forced labor, slavery, sexual exploitation, servitude and forced organ donation – crimes which rake in an estimated $32 billion dollars a year.

These crimes affect every country in the world. Actual statistics are often unavailable due to high levels of under-reporting. According to the Polaris Project on Human Trafficking Statistics, there is a reluctance to share data, coupled with a lack of funding.

How Many People are in Slavery in the U.S.?

Unfortunately, though many may believe that slavery ended in the 1800s, the practice of selling and trading people has never ended. In modern times, the new slave trade is called human trafficking.

America has been known as the land of opportunity for foreigners and many travel to the USA for a better life. Some will give their last dollar to get a piece of the American dream, and hand their life savings to traffickers, who then exploit them.

The U.S. State department estimated that 14,500 to 17, 500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States from at least 35 countries and enslaved every year,” According to Kevin Bale, author of The Slave Next Door, “The old Slave ship of the 1800s has been replaced by the Jumbo Jet.

The numbers, instead of going down as we advance, are going up. National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) maintains one of the most extensive data sets on human trafficking in the United States. They reported a 259% increase in calls between 2008 and 2012. In 5 years they received 9,298 unique cases of human trafficking.

Who Are the Victims?

Victims are sold to work on farmlands, be domestic helpers, factory workers, construction workers, gardeners and for sexual exploitation. Many are beaten and starved, and forced to live in despicable conditions.

Many of the little luxuries that we enjoy, such as coffee, hot chocolate, rugs, clothing and even cell phones (to name a few), were probably made by a person who is being exploited.

Women were referenced as victims in 85% of sex trafficking cases and men in 40% of labor trafficking cases. The three most common forms of sex traffic and ordered eddling rings and sales crews.

One common example is a Diplomat’s use of exploited individuals for domestic help – they bring people from their own country and keep them as slaves in their homes. These workers are often given little or no money, and not permitted to speak or socialize with neighbors. Their travel documents are confiscated upon arrival, and they may speak little or no English making it hard for them to escape.

According to Benjamin Wiser of the New York Times, there have been numerous domestic trafficking lawsuits filed against Diplomats and other Foreign Officials in the United States, but the problem continues.

For example, Sangeeta Richard is a domestic worker who accused her employer of mistreatment, which led to the arrest of India’s Deputy Council General in New York. Another example is Foreign Ambassador to the United States, Somduth Soborun, who obtained a visa for his Filipino domestic worker to come to the U.S. – but refused to pay her the minimum wage.

He was fined $5000 by the courts and ordered to pay $24, 000 in restitution.

Lawsuits show employers making the domestic workers work long hours, with little or no pay, shouting at them, having them sleep on the floor, threatening violence to the worker, as well threatening to harm family members in their home country.  Many of the workers are lured into the U.S. by their employers under the pretense of a better life and fair pay, but do not provide these benefits.

Kids are At Risk For Exploitation

According to the FBI, there are approximately 300,000 youth currently at risk of becoming victims of commercial and sexual exploitation. Other organizations have reported the number as high as 800,000. Unfortunately, there is not a definitive number for child prostitution – but understand that a child can be led into prostitution within 48 hours after leaving home.

There are no current studies that specifically address juvenile prostitution. There is a problem with accurately quantifying the existing problem of victimized children versus at risk kids. This is because when the children are exploited through prostitution they end up being charged by law enforcement for other offenses such as drugs or theft – therefore the true data on the exploitation is masked.

The National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children (NISMART II), noted that 1.6 million children are estimated to have run away from home each year.  Many are not reported as missing to law enforcement. Unfortunately, sex trafficking of children continues to move heavily underground. Due to the increasing use of smart phones and computers, the victims are much less visible today than they were in previous years.

As explained by the FBI, the average age of a child first used in prostitution is 11 to 14 but some are as young as 9 years old. The children are both male and female from all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Through historic and current intelligence regarding criminal enterprises, the children are trafficked for prostitution in major metropolitan areas and smaller communities as well.

They are transported to lucrative venues including cities hosting major sports or public events. These criminal enterprises have a large support system with approximately 55% of street gangs having some involvement in prostitution.

Atlanta, Georgia is an area with a booming human trafficking business. Image by DMedina

Atlanta, Georgia is an area with a booming human trafficking business. Image by DMedina

Pimps Profit in the Big City

The FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited children have identified 14 cities with the highest incidence of child prostitution:

Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Diego, San Francisco, St Louis, Tampa, and Washington DC are the top child-prostitution cities.

According to Deb Belt of the Buckhead Patch, Atlanta is the number one spot for sex trafficking. That city brought in $290 million on sex trafficking alone, which is more than Atlanta metro illegal drug and gun trade combined. Denver was worth $40 million, San Diego $97 million and Dallas $99 million. One pimp disclosed to the local Atlanta television station WSBTV, that he made an average of $33,000 a week.

The Junior League of Atlanta, a group dedicated to protect the youths of Atlanta, noted that over 350 young girls are sexually exploited in Georgia every month. 100-115 underage girls are represented on Craigslist ads every month, as many as 129 girls are prostituted on a typical week-end night. More adolescent girls in Georgia are harmed by prostitution each month than are killed in car accidents each year.

How Kids Get Caught By Modern-Day Slavers

Many of the children become victims of crime through kidnappings, violent attacks, sexual abuse or online predators. Currently, more incidents of child exploitation involve a connection to online activity. Between 1998 – 2007 the number of cases the FBI opened increased from 100 to more than 2000. From 2007 to date, the numbers have risen steadily.

In December 2013 there were more than 7000 pending investigations involving child exploitation which includes sex trafficking of minors and child pornography. Often many are faced with poverty, homelessness – and exposure to violence and abuse may cause the victim to not reach out for help because they don’t know who to trust.

Donate time or money to help the organizations who are working to save the exploited and enslaved. Your help makes a difference. Image by Decoded Science

Sexting/Texting on False Promises

Dr. Archer of Psychology Today explained that a classic case in the US starts when young girls are contacted by men online with promises of a future in modeling, or becoming a nanny for a wealthy family. The girls and women are targeted because of their vulnerability. They are promised work with a lot of money but once a meeting is set up, they are abducted and transported to a large city where they don’t know anyone. From there, they are given drugs and forced into prostitution with horrible living conditions and physical abuse for any non-compliance.

According to Misty Wesley from the Examiner, sex traffickers usually target people with a history of abuse, and use violence, threats, lies, false promises, debt bondage, and other forms of control and manipulation to keep the victims involved in the sex industry.

What Can The U.S. Do About Modern Slavery?

People within the United States, and around the world, are being bought, sold and smuggled like modern-day slaves. They become trapped in a life of misery with sometimes no way out but death. Human Trafficking also facilitates illegal movement of immigrants across the borders and provides a ready source of income for organized crime groups and terrorists.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is responsible for investigating human trafficking, arresting traffickers and protecting victims. They initiate hundreds of investigators and make numerous arrests. The DHS also offers help to the victims of human trafficking and other designated crime for those who need immigration relief. There is expanded collaboration naming domestic and international government, law enforcement agencies, governmental organizations and the private sector as well, to help the victims from being trafficked within the US and around the world.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, Polaris Project, Not For Sale, Project to End Human Trafficking, Innocence Lost Project, Protected Innocence, and many others are all working to put an end to modern-day slavery.

The FBI employs a multifaceted approach to combat child sex trafficking.

In 2013, there were 793 Legislative bills relating to domestic minor sex trafficking introduced in 48 states.

Human trafficking, in some states is a first degree felony, or life felony punishable by up to life imprisonment.

What Can You Do?

Many times people will turn a blind eye or be in denial when it comes to issues as these, but your actions can save many lives. Be educated on what to look for, be aware so you can be a part of the solution, and help where you can. Knowledge gives you power.

If you suspect human trafficking, you may call or send a text to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) at 1-888-373-7888, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) hotline at 1-800-THE-LOST or online at They are available 24/7, 7 days a week. You can also submit a confidential tip online on their website.

What if you just want to make a difference? The State Department has compiled a list of 20 ways you can fight human trafficking.

Why does it matter? Decoded Science spoke to a woman who works in rescue, saving victims of human trafficking. We’re calling her, “Savannah”, but of course that’s not her real name. Savannah tells us, “When you see the look of hope on a face that had given up on such a thing, and to know that this person now has a chance to be a person and not a product,  even if it is the only one out of millions, she or he is all that matters.

Today is a good day to make a difference.


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