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Invisible crime?

  • Published
  • By Col. Patrick Williams
  • 6th Medical Operations Squadron
Just over two years ago, I was at Maxwell AFB, Ala., in the home stretch of Air War College, seeing the light of graduation at the end of the tunnel. I had just returned from a regional studies trip to several countries in Central Asia and one of the few things that stood between me and graduation was a research paper. My assigned topic was "Human Trafficking in Central Asia." My conclusions at the time, were that human trafficking was mostly a regional problem involving mainly Asia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia and to an extent Africa; there was a significant disparity in data reported from official government sources and non-government organizations; and economically depressed nations were more active in trafficking humans than economically viable countries.

Today, as we fast-forward the tape from two plus years ago, we see human trafficking has indeed grown into a global problem where neither undeveloped, developing, or developed states enjoy immunity. In fact, the United States was ranked for the first time in the 10th Annual Trafficking in Persons Report documenting human trafficking and modern slavery. The report found in America, men, women and children were subject to trafficking for "forced labor, debt bondage and forced prostitution." Locally, an internet search for Florida human trafficking yielded countless hits of crime reports, task force arrests, and mug shots clearly demonstrate human trafficking is happening right in our own back yard.

Without question, identifying victims of human trafficking is difficult. Even with a legal definition of the crime and its victims, applying this definition and identifying victims is not without challenges. The hidden nature of the crime, the lack of awareness and understanding of human trafficking among the general public and organizations coming in contact with victims, misperceptions of who is a victim and limited resources to devote to the investigation and identification of these cases all work against efforts to rescue and restore victims. But the efforts of law enforcement and service providers across the country have resulted in several promising strategies and practices to address these challenges and increase the number of victims identified and helped.

In writing this article, there are really two messages I would like to deliver. The first is trafficking can and does involve school-age children, particularly those not living with their parents, who are vulnerable to coerced labor exploitation, domestic servitude, or commercial sexual exploitation. Traffickers target children because of their vulnerability and gullibility, as well as, the market demand for young victims. Those who recruit minors into prostitution violate federal anti-trafficking laws, even if there is no coercion or movement across state lines. The children at risk are not just high school students; studies demonstrate traffickers prey on victims as young as 12. Traffickers have been reported targeting their minor victims through telephone chat-lines, clubs, on the street, through friends and at malls, as well as, using girls to recruit other girls at schools and after-school programs.‪ The second is that awareness and education are the keys to overcoming this problem. As a parent or student, I would ask you to educate yourself on the topic of human trafficking. Learn who is a target and who is at risk. Have a dialogue on this topic with your children. Learn how to identify a potential victim. Learn how to identify if trafficking is taking place in your neighborhood and what to do if you suspect that it is. Also, government employees, remember to take your Human Relations training in ADLS.

I have listed some informative websites below that will unfortunately, tell you more than you ever wanted to know about human trafficking and they will get you started in the right direction. In the meantime, there are many local, state, federal, and international organizations dedicated to combating trafficking in persons and any or all of them could use your help.