Written By Miracle Hawkins, Contributing Writer
January is known as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. In 2007, human trafficking became recognized as a huge international crisis. During that time, the U.S. Congress agreed to create a bill that designated January 11th as the National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness. However, “Between 2008 and 2010 there was an increase in trafficking cases within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and a one-day awareness event was not enough.” In 2010, President Obama issued a proclamation on January 4th which designated January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month (Lazarro, 2019).
According to the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is “modern-day slavery.” Human trafficking involves exploiting someone through force, fraud, or coercion. The three types of human trafficking include sex trafficking, forced labor, and domestic servitude. In the United States, thousands of human trafficking cases are reported every year (Department of Homeland Security, 2020). This does include the many other cases that go unnoticed or that are not reported due to lack of training of law enforcement personnel or because victims are living in fear of their lives. In some instances, victims may not even be aware that their experiences constitute human trafficking.
Human trafficking has always been a highly complex issue. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has truly made things even worse. Human trafficking vulnerability has increased and identification of trafficking victims has become more difficult than before. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes states that COVID-19 restrictions have caused human traffickers to drive further underground. “Criminals are adjusting their business models to the ‘new normal’ created by the pandemic, especially through the abuse of modern communications technologies” (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, 2020).
Back in 2018, The University of Toledo Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute conducted a study that looked at the link between social media and human trafficking. In their study, researchers found multiple ways of how traffickers connect to vulnerable youth online, groom children, avoid detection, and move connections from online to in-person. They found that traffickers educated themselves by studying posts on sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and dating apps (University of Toledo, 2018). With this new virtual “norm” we live in, and more people feeling isolated and disconnected, human traffickers have more access to finding vulnerable individuals.
Human trafficking can happen to anyone, no matter the race, national origin, age, gender, sexuality, mental ability, or geographical location. Human trafficking is a hidden crime and the pandemic has unfortunately made more space for human traffickers to continue exploiting their victims. Also, lockdowns and confinement have created isolation of victims, making it difficult for them to be identified and removed from exploitative situations. In order to help combat these issues, we as a community must educate ourselves and understand the indicators of human trafficking. This is especially true in understanding how human traffickers communicate and recruit online.
Department of Homeland Security. (2020). What is human trafficking. https://www.dhs.gov/blue-campaign/what-human-trafficking
Lazzaro, S. (2019). Human trafficking prevention month in the United States. https://www.redeemingloveca.com/new-blog/2019/1/28/a-history-of-human-trafficking-prevention-month-in-the-united-states
University of Toledo. (2018). Study details link between social media and trafficking. https://phys.org/news/2018-10-link-social-media-sex-trafficking.html
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes. (2020). Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on trafficking in persons: Preliminary findings and messaging based on rapid stocktaking. https://www.un.org/ruleoflaw/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Thematic-Brief-on-COVID-19-EN-ver.21.pdf