“It was something like a movie you would see that you didn’t think was real, but that was her life and that of so many others who haven’t come to our office.” These are the words of a Catholic Charities caseworker, Rosa Alamo, regarding her newfound friend, Flor Turcio, a human trafficking survivor who lived through two decades of abuse, two kidnappings, one escape and almost getting killed. According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, since 2007, more than 49,000 cases of human trafficking in the United States have been reported, which receives an average of 150 calls per day. Each year, an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women, and children are trafficked across international borders, and the trade is growing (US Department of Justice, 2004). In society today, with human trafficking happening so much, and to such a wide range of people, it is important to realize what is being done, how to help, how to be aware, and how to prevent yourself or someone close to you from getting into these situations. The media and the news outlets are just a couple of places that people around the world can go to look at so they can view different topics of the news. These outlets ensure that people are aware of what is going on in the world, their own country, their own state, and their own surrounding communities, including awareness about human trafficking. The importance of immense reliability and factual information that the media portrays is important when discussing serious topics including human trafficking. What is concerning is the lack of media coverage when it comes to human trafficking. There’s an outstanding amount of cases of human trafficking in the United States but the thing is, not all of them are reported, which makes it hard for there to be accurately recorded data from the previous years. In addition to the lack of data, human trafficking is a very dark topic to talk about in general and the media hesitates to make some stories public because of the general rights of the victims. The amount of cases reported on the media does not compare at all to the actual number of cases that happen each day. Information is important and increased education about an issue such as human trafficking will eventually help promote awareness.
There are three common areas of human trafficking which include: sex trafficking, forced labor, and debt bondage. Although these are different, they are all linked to each other in some way or another. Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry that is sustained by power and money, is facilitated through sex and cheap labor, and is popularly constructed as a romanticized spectacle and scandal, rather than as a human rights issue (Feder, 2015). In 2018, over half (51.6%) of the criminal human trafficking cases active in the United States were sex trafficking cases involving only children (White, 2019). Reports have indicated that a large number of child sex trafficking survivors in the United States were at one time in the foster care system. Women and children are typically used for sexual exploitation, while when are more likely to be used for forced labor (Forbed, 2017). Forced labor is closely related to the term slavery. These individuals are trafficked and forced to provide labor and services. Debt bondage is closely related to forced labor. However, the services that are being done are to repay a debt that they may have. Debt bondage labor may consist of whatever the debt holder decides and however long the debt holder decides. It does not matter who you are, what your age is, what your gender is, what your race is, it could happen to anyone and it does happen to a wide variety of people. During trafficking, the traffickers take full control of their victims, including multiple types of abuse, horrendous threats, and complete isolation.
Sex trafficking is on the rise in the 21st century due to the slow process of governments creating, signing, and then enforcing laws again (Martinelli, 2012). Human trafficking often gets put on the back burner due to many reasons. While there’s a limited understanding of trafficking, in-part, due to misrepresentations and assumptions of the intersection of race and ethnicity, socioeconomic status and gender within a global context, can ultimately hinder how services provide resources to those who have been trafficked (Hodge, 2008; Lange, 2010; Lee, 2013; Wilson & Dalton, 2008). The United States has a system that is used for reporting trafficking that is designed to collect all accessible information regarding human trafficking cases in the United States. It is called the Human Trafficking Reporting System (HTRS). To be confirmed as human trafficking, the case must have led to an arrest and been subsequently confirmed by law enforcement, or the victims in the case must 1) have had a “continuing presence” requested on their behalf, or 2) have received an endorsement for a T or U visa application (Banks & Kyckelhahm, 2011). There are many ways that the United States government could work to prevent human trafficking and to better our security. Some ways include: using sanctions to apply a travel ban and assets freeze on human traffickers; pursue charges against Islamic State affiliates of sexual slavery and other forms of human trafficking; encourage troop-contributing countries to hold accountable peacekeepers who perpetrate sexual exploitation; collect intelligence on human trafficking in locations where it already tracks drugs and arms trafficking; and lead by example by ensuring that its politics on migration and asylum disincentivize trafficking and support its victims (Bigio & Vogelstein, 2019). Other ways that the United States could potentially help this cause and slow down human trafficking would be focusing on anti-trafficking measures, prevention, anti-terrorism, anti-crime, and peacebuilding efforts while also making sure it is prioritized to check the identification of armed groups and also have awareness of certain groups that promote trafficking in general.
When linking together human trafficking and the media, it is important to realize how many people use news outlets such as newspapers, radio, and television but also social media. When someone is missing and there is an amber alert that goes out, the word travels fast through social media. This is where people see reports of people missing, they share it in hopes that someone will spot that person and they will be found but despite the growing awareness about this crime, human trafficking continues to go underreported because of its’ covert nature, misconceptions about its definition, and a lack of awareness about its’ indicators. The current information is published to the public does not compare to the number of cases there really are. According to the Pew Research Center, today around seven-in-ten Americans use social media to connect with one another, engage with news content, share information and entertain themselves (Pew Research Center, June 2019). Human traffickers use social media as a way to recruit their targets of human trafficking. Popular examples of this would be older men and women preying on younger adults or children over social media so that they are, in other words, blind-sided and they are unaware of what they’re dealing with. In addition to that, social media makes it very easy to disguise age and pose as a completely different person than you really are. Human trafficking includes the recruitment, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection towards involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery (Department of State, US, June 2019). The general public does not have a real awareness of the magnitude of the problem. Whether it’s labor trafficking or sex trafficking, the number of victims is staggering, yet many of them remain hidden in plain sight (Koch, 2017). In May of 2005, statistics state that only 5% of the United States Population of adults use at least one social media site in comparison to February of 2019 when statistics have changed to show us a wide increase to 72% of the United States population of adults uses at least one form of social media. Breaking it down by age groups that use one form of social media shows that 90% of 18-29-year-old’s, 82% of 30-49 year old’s, 69% of 50-64 year old’s and 40% of 65 years and older use one form of social media or another (Pew Research Center, June 2019).
In 2016, the United Nations detected close to twenty-five thousand victims of human trafficking, though this figure hides many unreported cases (Bigio & Vogelstein, 2019). The media has the ability to shape the general public’s awareness and understanding of human trafficking, so it is crucial that journalism on the topic is well executed. Unfortunately, many news outlets prioritize sensationalist stories over nuanced coverage of trafficking (Paglia, 2017). Just as any other topic, the media informs people of a topic and provides an understanding for them. With this, there is usually always something that is left out. According to the UNODC, journalists often leave out some details about modern slavery simply failing to show the reality of the problem along with the public’s complicity of the particular issue as well. In addition to the lack of details in a report, another problem is the lack of data. Because of the numerous amount of human trafficking cases that are not documented each year, journalists run into a problem when trying to cover stories. Another reason why the media shows little attention towards trafficking is because they take into consideration the rights of the women, children, and other individuals who are victims. Furthermore, academic research, capital funding, NGOs and nonprofit efforts, and media awareness all have to come together to work collectively and educate the public (Forbes, 2017).
In 2018, the Polaris Project was involved in approximately 10,949 human trafficking cases in the United States that were specifically reported to the Polaris-operated United States National Human Trafficking Hotline. Of these cases, involved were 23,078 human trafficking survivors, around 5,860 traffickers, and almost 2,000 trafficking businesses. Although these are outstanding numbers, they are only a numbered portion of the actual cases of human trafficking in the United States (Polaris, 2020). While the news outlets lack to publish information about human trafficking cases or awareness, there are many outlets that are always available for information including the National Human Trafficking Hotline, the Polaris Project, Slavery Footprint, the Human Trafficking Foundation, Truckers Against Trafficking, Safe Horizon and many, many more. It is our job as civilians to do our part and report malicious activity if it’s suspected by any means. According to the United Nations, human trafficking affects every country in the world, but it’s not talked about enough. We need to start talking about it. Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Trafficking happens 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in every zip code (Forbes, 2017).