Human (Sex) Trafficking and What You Need to Know

Recently, it seems as though every day there is an article in the news, on Facebook, or on television about a human trafficking operation and its victims. Most of us, well removed from the situation, simply glance at the media piece, thank God it’s not our children and move on never giving the issue a second thought. Unfortunately, this dark and discreet industry has become a part of our culture, a part of our country, and is much more flagrant and widespread than we may think.

Before it is too late, we need to get informed, get educated, and get involved. From placing a hotline call about a suspicious circumstance to joining your local Junior League HT Initiative, there are a myriad of opportunities to help fight this modern epidemic before it is too late.

In the United States, there were 1,057 reported cases of labor trafficking in 2016 and 5,551 reported cases of sex trafficking. And these are only the reported cases. The operational infrastructure of this underground industry does not allow for very accurate reporting of this dark and scary trade.

For many of us, when we hear the words “human trafficking” we automatically think of Taken and dismiss the possibility that these practices really occur here in our own backyards. However, human trafficking takes many forms here in the United States with the most common being Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking. And not all of its victims are from overseas; many are young children, both boys and girls, who are U.S. citizens, bribed, coerced, forced, or trapped in a dangerous industry they cannot escape.

Although keeping statistical data on this issue is rather new, since 2007, California, Texas, Florida, and New York have the highest numbers of reported cases in both categories every year. Monetarily this low-risk, high-reward industry is estimated to generate between $39.9 million dollars a year in Denver, Colorado to $290 million dollars a year in Atlanta, Georgia making this an obviously widespread and lucrative business.

The fight against the Human Trafficking epidemic is one we need to take on to protect ourselves and our children. It is here and now and affects us all, so here are some things you should know about HT before you get involved:

What is Human Trafficking?


Human Trafficking is a form of modern day slavery where individuals are controlled by traffickers using force, fraud, or coercion to engage in either sex acts or labor services. Sex trafficking makes up the largest part of this industry in the U.S. and involves everything from strip clubs and brothels, to massage parlors, escort services, and street and Internet based prostitution. Street prostitution is actually decreasing while the online market is thriving. Websites such as Craigslist.com and Backpage.com make it easier for sex services to be sold, but also allow for a broader business base.

For many of our young victims, social media websites are where the girls and boys are being found, tracked, and recruited into this trade. The victims are then being “befriended” by either a male or female who eventually becomes their pimp or recruiter.

The exploitation of these victims is key because they are victimized at the hands of their trafficker and also the hands of the john paying for the services. Both young males and females are victims, with females making up a larger known percentage at this time.

How does Human Trafficking Happen to Our Kids?


Many of these young teen/young adult victims fall prey to this industry because of difficult home lives, unstable parents, and substance abuse. Although our nation’s foster children make up a large number of those victimized, that is not always the case. Teens who get involved with drugs, struggle with self-esteem issues, and succumb to peer pressure oftentimes find themselves in an untenable situation where they become victims unknowingly and are then afraid to tell before it is too late.

Traffickers often target these young individuals, and bribe them with alcohol or marijuana with the intent to ply them with stronger drugs. Unfortunately even teens from higher socioeconomic status households are at-risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking due to the level of mental manipulation frequently utilized by traffickers.

Oftentimes young girls are “recruited” by their peers online, at parties, at the mall, and even in our schools. Traffickers will “promote” the experienced girls within their organization to befriend and bring in other girls under false pretenses. These young victims are then drugged, raped, held against their will, and threatened to force continued participation in this illegal industry.

What we have to realize is that this atrocity does not just happen to nameless, faceless children. It happens to our own young children who find themselves victimized, afraid to tell, and forced to continue this practice through the use of threats, coercion, and force, even when living amongst us.

How do We Keep Our Children Safe?


Whether we like it or not our children are growing up in a technological age of social media with information about literally everything at their fingertips. For most of us just the thought of discussing this dark, disgusting, blight of an industry with our children is revolting, but that feeling must be weighed against their safety.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, traffickers have been known to prey on victims as young as age nine.

Not that we want to pile more on our already overburdened children, but the more our children are aware the better. Our children need to know there are bad people out there, and although as a parent you may not feel it is appropriate to go into detail about HT with your nine year old, find a way to convey enough of a message that she knows to tell if a stranger ever approaches her in anyway.

Make sure to listen to the funny stories he wants to tell you about what someone said or did at school or on a field trip, because there may be some bit of information in there that was insignificant to your child, but would raise a red flag to you the adult.

Most importantly, foster an open relationship with your child! An open line of communication now is key to one later. Do everything you can to ensure your child is NEVER afraid to tell you something. As your child becomes a tween and a teen, rather than veiled threats to never drink or do drugs, acknowledge that there is a very high probability those things will happen and work out a system to keep them safe. Do not force your child to end up in a scary situation because they were scared of you, scared to talk to you, or scared to call you for help.

Even though each and every one of us struggles as a parent with the balance between parent and friend, be the parent your child can trust and rely on NO MATTER WHAT. So frequently, stories from the teen years of HT victims are those of the opposition and angst between a struggling teen and a strict parent.

How do we stop Human Trafficking?


Human trafficking happens in every city, in every state, and in every country. It is a worldwide epidemic that is going to require all of us to make it stop. It is a billion dollar, underground industry that is considered to be low-risk and high-profit. In large cities, at sporting events, and near vacation hotspots there are always operations in effect. Criminal Prosecutions are difficult and victims are numerous, but guarded and scared into submission and silence. The best you can do individually is simply to watch for it, report it, and encourage others to educate themselves. There are task forces throughout the nation, churches, and non-profits with programs in place for victims and survivors, and a plethora of information on-line of warning signs if you want to find a local group to join in the fight against Human Trafficking.


Bringing up our babies is a scary thing these days as we parents struggle to protect those most precious to us. Our children are too exposed, too vulnerable, and too tech-savvy, but this is the era we are living in so we must take precautions. We must educate ourselves about topics our parents did not worry about, we must educate our children about what’s really out there, and we must get involved in their lives now so they will trust us as they age. As much as most of us wish we could keep our kiddos safe and locked away from the realities of our harsh world, we can’t. So we need to stand up and speak up to protect our children and do our part in helping end this epidemic plaguing our nation and our world, the Human Trafficking industry.

For suggestions on keeping your little ones safe from strangers, check out Teaching Your Child About Stranger Danger to find some great pointers on beginning this conversation.

Sources: Urban Institute, National Human Trafficking Hotline, FBI.gov, U.S. Department of Education

Photo Credits: Pixabay

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Kristin Depaula

Kristin is a native Floridian who loves warm weather and sunshine but owns too many scarves and boots. She lives at the World's Most Famous Beach with her husband, 3 boys and enough animals both warm and cold blooded to make up a zoo. She is a practicing attorney who spends her days working with at-risk and delinquent youth and her nights being a Montessori Mama to her independent, strong willed little humans. On the weekends you can find her at soccer games, chasing her boys at the Beach or cooking for her husband who suffers from Crohn's disease but is healing with a healthy diet. In her free time, Kristin loves reading and laying by the pool.

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