Humans have been bought, sold, captured, kidnapped, and exploited as slaves for centuries. Men and women, young and old snatched and coerced for labor, prostitution, slavery and sexual exploitation. To many Americans human trafficking seems like an issue that happens “over there,” and “not in America.” There is such a social and political climate that believes human trafficking is merely a “third world problem”. In this country, little is being done to address the issue in America. Many people think that human trafficking and the sex trade industry is limited to isolated incidents in the news every few years – women found in basements, male prostitutes at rest stops, child pornography.
This minor perception is wrong. Human trafficking (modern-day slavery) is booming: estimated at a $32 billion industry preying on 27 million worldwide. Of those, an estimated 244,000 American children are at risk of being trafficked for sexual exploitation each year. Trafficking happens in every country, every state, and in our own communities. Montana, a state with fewer people than most, had 34 ‘tips’ on human trafficking in 2012, a number accounting only for what was seen or suspected. Attorney General, Tim Fox, who recently launched a campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking said, “Many of our neighbors may view human trafficking as a problem that happens elsewhere. The fact of the matter is, human trafficking happens right here in Montana.” In addition, the booming economy of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and eastern Montana have raised suspicions about trafficking across the country, with victims sold as sex slaves in rural communities and “man camps.” These slaves are often perceived as willing prostitutes, further exacerbating the belief that human trafficking is not a real issue in the U.S.
These men, women, and children are trafficked unwillingly. For example, prostitutes working under a pimp are often found guilty of ‘choosing’ such a profession and are accused of selling themselves and acting on their own accord. In actuality they are victims of human trafficking. Within its definition of human trafficking, The United Nations states that abuse can be, “the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation,” i.e. paying a pimp. These men and women do not choose lives of abuse; they are often coerced and manipulated into believing they are attaining safety, comfort, and protection from the oftentimes rough life they had been living. A woman interviewed for Truckers Against Trafficking, a non-profit designed to educate and inform truck drivers about human trafficking, says she was trafficked as a young woman by an older man. “I was fifteen, I had no life skills, no skills at all, and it was very easy to exploit me.” Speaking from her own experiences she knows that prostitution is rarely, if ever, a choice: “It is not a victimless crime. [The prostitute] is a victim.”
Everyone can help end human trafficking by speaking out about this major human rights issue and recognizing the signs. Signs of a trafficked victim may include someone unable to come and go as she/he pleases, is paid very little or just in tips, is nervous and fearful, has no control of personal finances, is a minor with an older significant other.
Call 1-888-373-7888 to report an incident or visit the Polaris Project below for more information. This could be a neighbor, a family friend, or a stranger at the park. We cannot afford to ignore it.
Get Educated! Get Involved!
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:
Check out the local Montana Human Trafficking Task Force on Facebook