A common misconception among Americans is that human trafficking (modern-day slavery) only happens in third-world countries. It’s a problem overseas, not in the States. While working on my master’s, a woman asked the all-too-often-asked question, “What do you hope to do with your degree?” When I answered, “Work with victims of sex trafficking,” she was immediately intrigued. All smiles, she asked, “Where do you think you’ll go?” I replied, “For now, I am thinking the United States.” Immediately, the smile vanished and she had a sort of vacant expression as she said, in a disinterested tone, “Oh.”
I killed that conversation. The real irony is that she was American.
The United States has been at the top of my list for two reasons: 1) enslaved people in each State are estimated to be (at least) 100,000 and 2) few people seem to realize. Multiply just 100,000 by 50 and the United States could easily claim 5,000,000 slaves. The general estimate of new trafficking victims brought into the States annually is as high as 20,000 people. That’s a lot of ground to cover when working with a population who is generally ignorant of what goes on in their own neighborhoods! Note, it is nearly impossible to have a truly accurate idea of how many enslaved people live in the world today as so most of them disappear from the rest of the world as soon as they are trafficked. People have been neighbors to slave owners and not known it.
All that to say, I am just as heartbroken over the slavery that occurs in any other country; action toward abolition will be needed regardless of where I finally settle. Honestly, whenever I hear a story of slavery and abuse, I’m ready to hop on a plane and fly to wherever that person lives. Geography is, to a point, irrelevant.
I will leave my personal opinions about why a nation so large and powerful generally seems to ignore the fact that domestic slavery is a serious reality. Regardless of what I think, and regardless of where we live, raising awareness about the multi-billion dollar industry that is human trafficking will not only benefit our own countries but the rest of the world.
Polaris Project is centered in Washington, D.C. and works to end national and international slavery. They’ve provided a fact sheet on trafficking in the United States, including information on fake massage parlors, truck stops, internet trafficking, escort services, etc. While the numbers specifically apply to the U.S., the general information can be beneficial to anyone, anywhere. Polaris offers great tips on how any person can identify trafficking and find help.