Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It's a shame we have a day for this. It's a shame it takes a "day" designation to make people pay attention to this problem in the first place. Hundreds of people posted their bra color for strangers on Facebook this week in an attempt to raise awareness for breast cancer (which has to be one of the least effective awareness raising efforts I've seen in a while) but when, in the last year and a half, hundreds have been busted for trafficking, both here in the US and abroad, and the problem gets worse every year, it's a shame so few people ever talk about sex trafficking with any real sense of awareness. So in case you missed it:
* 120 women were rescued when a trafficking operation was busted in Houston in late 2005, a case we're still getting details about. This was 40-60 women more than even the experts working the case were expecting.
* In June 2009, 74 people were arrested across Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and the United States for smuggling young Chinese girls into the US for trafficking purposes.
* 2009 also saw the end of a two-year international investigation resulting in the arrest of 12 Israelis along with over 20 suspects in several other countries. This ring was suspected of smuggling thousands of women from former Soviet Bloc countries into Israel, Cyprus, Belgium and England for forced prostitution.
* Child sex slavery is a growing problem in the U.S. Every year, nearly 300,000 children are at risk to sexual exploitation in the U.S. and an estimated 500,000 incidents are not reported. This has made the U.S. the number one destination for child sex trafficking in the world.
So what can you do? Be aware of the problem. Be vigilant in your community. Be what, in older days, would be considered a "busy body." If you see a kid, particularly a young girl, in your community who seems neglected, call someone. Report it. Don't ignore it. Even if the child isn't a victim of sex abuse or human trafficking, they may be a child victim of domestic violence and criminal neglect, and you may be the person who finally gets help to them.
What do you look for? Well the U.S. Department of Education has created a handy dandy website and fact sheet on what signs might indicate that a child is in need of your help. There is also information on how to report, so if you know of someone who might need help and you don't know who to call, this may help. And when in doubt, call your local police department. I recognize that law enforcement isn't perfect and that lots of people have had bad experiences that discourage traditional reporting avenues, but reporting to an imperfect responder is better than not reporting at all. Take it from me. I informed lots of mandatory reporters of the domestic violence going on in my house, and no one ever helped us. Don't presume someone else will respond to the call for help. When everyone presumes some other reporter will do their due diligence, no one ever makes the call and those cries for help go unanswered. And we know, from high profile victims like Jaycee Dugard, it may take years before reports are finally responded to. So whether you are the first call or the hundredth call, if you feel uneasy, please call.
Because no one, I mean no one, deserves to grow up in the kind of hell these poor children experience.