• December 6, 2019

CATES: Watch out for human trafficking - Odessa American: Opinions

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CATES: Watch out for human trafficking

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Posted: Monday, July 15, 2019 12:30 am

One of my dearest friends in the world was raised by her great-grandmother. Her great-grandmother’s mother was a slave. She was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation during the Civil War.

My dear friend has a very interesting perspective on racism and equality in this country because she was raised by the child of a slave. We have had many discussions on those subjects over the years, but one thing we had not discussed until recently was that slavery still exists in this country.

Being a slave is not something that is 4 generations back, it is the daily reality for far too many people in the world today. We call it by a different name these days: Human Trafficking. But, the vocabulary doesn’t change what the reality is for those people — they are slaves. The chances are very good that there is someone in Odessa today who is either a victim of or a participant in human trafficking.

We have laws to stop these crimes, but they continue because most people have no idea that it is happening here in the US and have no idea how to recognize it or what to do to stop it if they suspect human trafficking.

The statistics on human trafficking are frightening. I’m sure you understand most of these statistics are estimates because the statistics rely largely on estimates from reports of trafficking survivors and arrests and convictions for trafficking.

According to DoSomething.org — a worldwide organization dedicated to eradicating human trafficking, 20-30 million people are enslaved in the world today. The US State Department estimates between 600,000 and 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, 80% of those people are women, and over half are children. About 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked in the US annually. It is estimated that 1 in 7 of the children on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children list are victims of human trafficking. The most frightening statistic I found is that human trafficking is increasing at an alarming rate. This horrific crime has increased by 13% since 2016.

California leads the nation in trafficking, followed by Texas. Florida, Ohio, and New York round out the top 5 states. One thing that Texans should be very proud of, is that while we are second in trafficking volume, we are good at recognizing and reporting trafficking. The National Human Trafficking Hotline received more calls from Texas than any other state, 15% of the Texas calls are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The US Department of Justice categorizes human trafficking into two categories: Sex Trafficking and Labor Trafficking. I think most people think about Sex Trafficking when they think about human trafficking, but labor trafficking is a significant issue as well. The US Department of Labor has actually identified 148 goods from 75 countries that were made by forced labor of adults and children. Please remember victims are not always women and girls. While women and girls are the majority, approximately 9.5 million human trafficking victims are men and boys.

There are several things we can all do to recognize and stop human trafficking. Teachers and school administrators need to watch for children with long strings of unexplained absences or sudden behavioral shifts, which can include dressing in expensive, provocative clothing, showing off expensive gifts, and talking about much older “boyfriends”.

In hotels, traffickers won’t have luggage, will decline to have housekeepers clean rooms, will pay in cash, and tend to ask for rooms near exits. I am so aware of trafficking, because hospitals are one of the places that traffickers are most often discovered, and it is health issues that lead to those discoveries. Victims often suffer from violent abuse, have poorly maintained health including malnutrition and hygiene issues, and have a lack of prenatal care and family support during childbirth.

Human trafficking victims are often tattooed by their captors with mottos, symbols or barcodes. Traffic hubs like bus stops, train stations and airports are also places you may encounter human trafficking victims. Trafficked individuals generally behave in the same manner. They are fearful, avoidant, and overly reliant on someone who is far older and very defensive of them.

If you suspect human trafficking, please call the National Human trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888, you can send the text HELP to BEFREE (233733), or you can email help@humantraffickinghotline.org.

Slavery was banned in this country nearly 150 years ago. Reporting human trafficking is the way we make sure that ban is real for every person in our community.

Odessa, TX

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