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What Is Human Trafficking and Why Is It Such an Important Issue?

Posted on Mar 15, 2021

Human trafficking is using force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. But in more simplistic terms, trafficking is modern day slavery where individuals are forced to work in the commercial sex industry, factories, private homes, agriculture, restaurants/bars, nail salons and massage parlors and other various industries.

In 2019, there were 11,500 cases in the United States, and 2,582 victims were minors. Florida ranks third highest in reported human trafficking cases behind California and Texas. A total of 896 cases were identified in 2019, with 172 victims being minors. This is an updated trend from 2017 where there were 767 cases with 149 identified as minors. The average age when teens are recruited into this life is between 12-14.

On this week’s On Call for All Kids, Lacy Chavis, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist, and Rebekah Diaz, LCSW, a clinical social worker with Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, tell parents how to look for signs of human trafficking.

Who are the victims, who is at risk and what is the most common recruitment method?

Contrary to what the media portrays, people of all races, genders, nationalities, ages and socio-economic backgrounds are recruited and victims of human trafficking. Traffickers do prey on certain populations, which include: undocumented migrants, runaway teenagers, and those who have low self-esteem and are looking for affection.

Traffickers most often recruit people after they, for lack of better words, “courted” the victims.  Victims are promised a safe home, love, exciting jobs and educational opportunities, etc. Traffickers most often reach out via social media outlets and in-person at local teen hang out spots like the mall and skate parks. It is very rare that victims forcibly are kidnapped.

What are some common red flags that someone is being groomed/trafficked?

Sometimes it could be when you notice a major change in your child’s friend group. Or there may be increased absences from school and other changes in daily routines, including an increased amount of time out of the home, especially during odd hours or episodes of running away. Other signs to watch for:

  • A romantic relationship with a large age gap
  • Possession of material goods they cannot afford and that a caregiver did not purchase. Examples are cell phones, clothes, accessories
  • Having hair and nails done that they can’t afford and caregiver didn’t coordinate appointment
  • Having unexplained amounts of cash
  • New tattoos
  • Multiple social media accounts, especially if they include sexually explicit material
  • Fake IDs

What can parents do to stay vigilant and keep their kids safe?

  • Monitor social media accounts. Apps and games that seem innocent often have chat features that traffickers may use to contact your child.
  • Have frequent/honest discussions about the dangers of trafficking and how children and teens are commonly recruited.
  • Be insistent on meeting your child’s friends/acquaintances in person.
  • When dropping your child/teen off at extracurricular activities where you can’t attend, identify a safe adult that can provide guidance and support.
  • Cover all desktop cameras and laptop cameras when not in use.
  • Get your child involved in positive extracurricular activities.

What are some resources available in the community?

  • Call 911 if you suspect someone has been trafficked or is in immediate danger. Local law enforcement can connect you to the human trafficking task force.
  • Contact your pediatrician and local emergency department for treatment and evaluation.
  • Contact the national human trafficking tip-line: 1-888-373-7888.
  • Selah Freedom and The Florida Dream Center are local organizations that can help with resources, rehabilitation, therapy and more.

On Call for All Kids is a weekly series featuring Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital medical experts. Visit each Monday for the latest report.

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