January is Human Trafficking Awareness month. Only in recent years has the evil of human trafficking gained the exposure it has now. That is, while many may consider slavery a thing of the past, we now know that, though it takes different and less obvious forms, slavery and trafficking are just as pervasive today. There is much work to do to eradicate it altogether.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines human trafficking as "a modern-day form of slavery." It affects individuals, families, and communities, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, culture, or economic status. Some populations, however, are more vulnerable than others, including abused or homeless youth, those in the foster or juvenile justice system, migrant workers and undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, disabled individuals or those with a low income, and racial minorities.
What is so alarming about human trafficking is that it happens right under our noses—not just in a dark alley in the bad part of town. While trafficking does occur in illicit markets, it also occurs in legal industries like hospitality, construction, or domestic services. Not only that, traffickers' victims are not always strangers. Victims may be family members, friends, or peers.
Human trafficking often takes two forms: 1) labor trafficking, in which individuals are compelled to work or provide services by force, fraud or coercion; or 2) sex trafficking, in which adults are compelled to engage in commercial sex by force, fraud, or coercion and minors are compelled to perform a commercial sex act regardless of the presence of force, fraud, or coercion (US Department of Health & Human Services).
Human trafficking is a global problem—but it's not just a global problem. While we may be inclined to believe that trafficking is a problem that happens "over there," it is happening nationally, statewide, and in our own city. Human trafficking is notoriously under-reported, but consider these estimated statistics:
Human trafficking is an estimated $150 billion industry.
75% of victims are women and girls.
Children account for almost one-third of trafficking victims worldwide. Breaking it down by region, children account for almost two-thirds of victims in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central American/Caribbean.
In 2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline received reports of 7,800 labor trafficking cases and 34,700 sex trafficking cases inside the United States.
Natural disasters—such as Hurricane Katrina, Irma, and Harvey—increase susceptibility to human trafficking as traffickers exploit vulnerabilities such as homelessness in the aftermath. Disaster response efforts should consider how to respond to potential human trafficking during these times.
Houston is a port city, located close to an international border, accesses major highways which run through multiple states, and has an international airport, making the city a major hub for human traffickers.
What Can I Do?
These statistics are overwhelming, and one could spend hours researching human trafficking and its effects. The question, though, should be: "What can I do?"
The best thing to do is to just start. Fortunately, many organizations are working to fight and end human trafficking globally, nationally, and locally. Each of the organizations listed below provides resources on human trafficking and how to identify it, recommends action steps, and provides tools and opportunities for you and your church to get involved in the fight against human trafficking. Note that this is not an exhaustive list, as there are countless organizations dedicated to ending human trafficking. This list should simply help get you started.
Freedom Church Alliance connects with churches in Houston to end human trafficking. Purchase a GoBox—a toolkit that provides resources to guide users through education, prayer, awareness, prevention, volunteering, and activism against human trafficking.
Free the Captives works with local law enforcement to rescue and restore teenage victims of sex trafficking, providing rescued victims with support groups, mentoring, jobs, and material assistance.
Elijah Rising promotes human trafficking awareness through its Museum of Modern-Day Slavery, which it opened in a former brothel. Additionally, the organization runs a residential program at Kendleton Farms that provides housing, trauma-informed counseling, and a caring community of support for survivors of sex trafficking.
Rescue Houston is a 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, 365 days/year hotline that deploys rescue teams and trains advocates for victims of sex trafficking and exploitation.
A 2nd Cup is a 501(c)(3) coffee shop in the Heights that uses profits to raise awareness of and fight human trafficking in Houston.
National and Global Organizations
Baptist Global Response (BGR) focuses on disaster relief and community development through a variety of projects, including fighting human trafficking. BGR helps to provide safe homes, nutritious food, education opportunities, medical treatment and skills training for several women, young girls and boys who have been exploited.
International Justice Mission (IJM) works globally with local law enforcement to rescue modern-day slaves and arrest suspected slave owners. They also work to make sure laws against slavery are enforced, making it legally and financially impossible for slave owners to remain in business.
Not For Sale works to end exploitation and human trafficking by creating viable economic opportunities to communities that are vulnerable to trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Love146 works to end child trafficking, serving children in Asia, the United Kingdom, and the United States through prevention education, safe homes, and survivor care.