This Is How You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking

You can help fight human trafficking. Yes, you.

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Almost 21 million people. It’s a shocking number, even more so when you realize it represents how many victims of human trafficking there are in the world today. At least a quarter of those are children, innocent kids forced into modern-day slavery. In a nutshell? People are trapped, forced to work or have sex (or both) against their will, and often have no means of escape. This is their life every day. Across the globe and right here in America, human trafficking statistics are on the rise. From 2015 to 2016 alone, there was a 35 percent jump in reported cases.   But for all the bad news, there’s a light in the dark. You don’t have to go back to college, take criminal justice courses, or join the local police department’s special victims unit to help.

Be a savvy buyer.

You already focus on buying healthy fruits and veggies and reading food labels. But do you know if the blueberries in your morning smoothie were picked by a child who’s being refused the right to attend school and have a normal childhood? If they’re coming from Argentina, they might be! Check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s list of goods produced by child and forced labor in countries around the world before you hit the store. Refusing to buy those products takes money out of the pockets of traffickers and makes it less lucrative for them to enslave people.

Ask questions.

Those semi-weekly massages may be a crucial (and let’s face it, amazing) part of your complete wellness routine, but have you checked with your massage therapist to make sure she’s digging into your tight glutes because she wants to…not because she has to? Just this past November, massage parlors outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, made headlines for illegal trafficking busts. And it’s no coincidence: Massage parlors, farms, and sweatshop-type factories are highest on the list of place where you’re likely to find someone being trafficked. Another hot spot is airports, as victimized people are often shuttled back and forth by their traffickers via airplanes, moved from their homes to far-flung places where they’re forced to work. Your to-do: Pay attention and ask questions…during your massage or while you’re waiting for your flight. Not sure what to look for? The U.S. State Department offers these potential red flags that someone is being exploited:

  • Living with employer
  • Poor living conditions
  • Multiple people in cramped space
  • Inability to speak to individual alone
  • Answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed
  • Employer is holding identity documents
  • Signs of physical abuse
  • Submissive or fearful
  • Unpaid or paid very little
  • Under 18 and in prostitution

If something’s not right, follow the adage “if you see something, say something.” You can call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888. The latter is toll-free and open 24 hours, with people available to speak a number of languages to help answer questions.

Get on board.

Write a check. Call your local member of Congress and ask them to vote on important trafficking issues. Or roll up your sleeves and lend a hand. There are hundreds of non-profits across the country doing work to cut down on human trafficking, be it through work with kids or adults. Some organizations, such as Annie Cannons, address the aftermath for rescued victims, providing job training and a soft landing as they try to re-enter everyday life. Other groups don’t even have trafficking as a focus but work to prevent it nonetheless. Because statistics show that one out of six endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children were likely child sex-trafficking victims, work with kids is especially vital in fighting traffickers in America. Organizations that work with at-risk teens, for example, can encourage them to stay in school and provide them healthy alternatives to risky behavior, which may keep them from ending up in a trafficker’s eyeline. Every little bit makes a difference.  

Jeanne Sager
Jeanne Sager is a writer and photographer from upstate New York. She has strung words together for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and more.

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