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USA: Activism to Stop Human Trafficking

Human trafficking in the United States is an often undetected problem because the victims are usually hidden from the public view. The victims are enslaved into illegal jobs often in the sweatshop labor or clandestine sex services. Frequently the victims are minors brought into the United States by organized crime cartels.

The organization Stop Child Trafficking Now estimates that over 2.5 million children—most of them girls—are sold into the sex trade every year. Victims can be as young as 4 or 5 years of age, who often are abducted from their homes never to be heard from again. Human rights groups and individuals are working towards educating the local community about this issue as well as making efforts to combat human trafficking in the U.S. and helping victims caught up in the human trafficking networks.

Photo of solidarity protest in Los Angeles by aclu.socal and used under a Creative Commons license.

Photo of solidarity protest in Los Angeles by aclu.socal and used under a Creative Commons license.

In her recent blog post titled “Who’s Stealing Little Black Girls?” blogger and human trafficking activist, Amanda Kloer, writes about the problem with child abduction within the African-American community in the United States:

Across America, about 800,000 children are reported missing each year, 33% of which are African-American. In New York City last year, half of reported missing children were black and 60% were female. And these aren't 17-and-a-half-year-olds; most of the girls were between 13 and 15. Other urban areas like Atlanta, Washington DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles with large African-American populations also have high instances of young black girls being kidnapped or “running away”. But what's happening to these girls? Surely they don't vanish into thin air?

They vanish, in fact, into pimps’ pockets; these girls end up as trafficking victims in the commercial sex industry. Some meet pimps on the street and are deceived or coerced into street prostitution. Others are forced into strip clubs or filmed for pornography. Still others are advertised on Craigslist, escort agency websites, and other corners of the Internet. They are just as much human trafficking victims as the Vietnamese women enslaved in brothels in Thailand or the Guatemalan girl held in a home in El Paso.

The U.S. Department of State Ambassador Luis C deBaca who heads the blog from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons writes about the dangers facing youth in the United States. He recently conducted a training aimed at professionals who work with children, such as school teachers.

All who work with young people should be aware of the dangers that threaten their students. Technology increasingly has become a trafficking tool, with internet fora used not just to exchange apartments or furniture, but to make prostitution assignations. Offenders use chat rooms, message boards, and specialized websites to obtain information about where vulnerable young victims can be found. The most vulnerable girls are those considered “throw-away” or runaway youth from dysfunctional families. They are at risk of becoming prey to pimps who lure them with the promise of love and security, only to expose them to a world of cruelty and violence.

deBaca also mentions in his blog a list of international offices where one can report human trafficking abuses or suspected incidents of human trafficking to the designated global NGO and governmental partners.

To raise awareness, some individuals are taking action through the legislative process, such as documentary filmmaker Tara Hurley, who is heavily involved in the state of Rhode Island. In her blog, she adds her opinion on what can be added to make laws much more effective:

I testified in favor for the bill. I hope that Senator Perry’s bill is the one that gets the support with the full house and senate vote. I think that the most important thing in the Trafficking bill is the training. How do we expect the police to identify the victims if they have not been properly trained? We need to set standards for how we will deal with the victims. We need to deal with the victims as victims and not criminals.

She also disagrees with some media and how they do not use certain terms to describe the situation, and points to a recent story about a 16-year-old victim:

What I can’t understand is why do they (the media) never use the word human trafficking now? For years they media has been hounding on how they need to change the prostitution law because of human trafficking in the Asian massage parlors. Now when they actually find a human trafficking victim they don’t refer to her a human trafficking victim but as a runaway?!?!

In addition, there are many community and grassroots groups across the country such as previously mentioned Stop Child Trafficking Now that are utilizing citizen media to spread the word about efforts to raise awareness about the issue. Organizers for the DC Stop Child Trafficking Now Walk say this will be the largest anti-human trafficking event in the city’s history. The Austin-based Child Trafficking Now Walk is using Twitter to invite people to join their 5K walk.

From a more personal perspective, Tina Frundt, a human trafficking activist in the Washington, DC area shares her personal story as a former trafficking victim. Her experiences have motivated her to run her own grassroots organization: Courtney’s House where she assists youth rescued from the human trafficking networks.

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