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Ever Wonder Where Human Trafficking Takes Place? It’s Not Just Someone Else’s Country Anymore…

New Jersey

By: Dr. Phyllis Bivins-Hudson

July and August are generally reserved for winding down, just to get pumped for that long-awaited fun in the sun, vacations, staycations, summer reading, concerts in the park, etc., etc.

As much as I too look forward to this time of the year, I cannot forget that crime does not take a holiday. Therefore, in between my new digs, which is my husband and my first month in California as a newly established bi-coastal couple, I will still be on the job.

Yes, we will be back and forth. But that won’t stop me from continuing with this important work.

One great benefit of Covid19 is that it has forced us to reimagine how we work. Hence, my work can be done anywhere because it has all become virtual.

To that point, this month, through September, I will be engaging in a mini-series, featuring my guest, Mrs. Wincey Terry-Bryant, a leading advocate in human trafficking. She uses her platform to provide professionally-produced live performances for arts education programs, which include among other topics, human trafficking.

We’d love to have you join us for this mini-series, which will include information about human trafficking discussed in this blog, an interview with Wincey, and a round-table. We will be sharing important information that could save your life or the life of someone you love. 

Stay tuned and plan to join us on Instagram @drpgbhudson and another platform, compliments of RLS Media. Details to come later.

Now to the business at hand. Human trafficking has been defined as the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Human trafficking is a major concern in the United States and abroad. In fact, every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide. 

My Instagram show, Flying on Broken Wings, Thursday Sidebar will take a serious look at this social ill and crime against humanity, which is more prevalent than you might imagine.

The mini-series will shed light on some of the examples of human trafficking. The best-known form of it is for the purpose of sexual exploitation. However, there are literally hundreds of thousands of victims who are trafficked for the purposes of forced labor, domestic servitude, child begging, or the illegal harvesting of organs.

I’ve stated in a previous post some of the statistics on human trafficking, however, it is worth mentioning again. While human trafficking occurs in every state in the United States, the top three states with the highest human trafficking statistics include California, Texas, and Florida.

But make no mistake, those states are followed by New York, which is too close to our own backyards. And New Jersey isn’t at all exempt. According to the most recent statistics, California tops the list of missing people due to human trafficking with 1,334 reported cases and 2,122 victims. This number is followed by Texas with 917 cases and 1,702 victims, and Florida with 781 cases and 1,253 victims.

While these numbers may appear to be small, when we look at the 2022 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report, there were more than 27.6 million reported global human trafficking cases in 2021. And this number is growing every day.

To make the number 27 million more transparent, think of the countries of Madagascar, Cameroon, North Korea, Niger, Taiwan, or other countries whose total population is 27 million people or less. This would mean every person in those countries would be missing.

Human trafficking is a serious business. And believe it or not, the numbers presented are not accurate because we have to also consider the number of victims who don’t report or those who are misclassified as run-a-ways or taken by non-custodial parents, or those who are victims but don’t know they are victims.

There are basically three common types of human trafficking, the sex trade, forced labor, and domestic servitude. These types bring huge profits to the economic sectors of agriculture, restaurants, manufacturing, domestic work, entertainment, hospitality, and the commercial sex industry.

Many people think of human trafficking as an act that happens to someone else. Something that occurs in other states or other countries, but not ours. Yet, that idea could not be further from the truth. Human trafficking can happen in any community to anyone and any age, race, gender, or nationality. And the traffickers use specific methods to lure victims into trafficking situations.

These ruthless criminals will use violence, manipulation, false promises of well-paying jobs, and romantic relationships. To add to the problem, many victims have language barriers or are illegals, or fear law enforcement for a variety of reasons. These factors keep victims from seeking the help they need, which in turn, makes human trafficking a hidden crime.

Traffickers are shrewd. They study their victims and look for people who appear to be easy targets. An easy target might be people who are psychologically or emotionally vulnerable, or people experiencing economic hardships, or those who have no social safety net, or who are already victims of natural disasters, or who may be politically unstable.

Human trafficking is so serious and so traumatizing that sometimes victims may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help even when they find themselves in public settings.

Aside from all else that human trafficking is, there are many myths and misconceptions about it. Although professionals are needed to assist these victims, as lay people, we too need to know as much as we can about recognizing some of these myths and misconceptions.

Some of the myths and misconceptions include the following:

  • MYTH: Human trafficking does not occur in the United States. It only happens in other countries.
  • MYTH: Human trafficking victims are only foreign-born individuals and those who are poor.
  • MYTH: Human trafficking is only sex trafficking.
  • MYTH: Individuals must be forced or coerced into commercial sex acts to be victims of human trafficking.
  • MYTH: Human trafficking and human smuggling are the same.
  • MYTH: Human trafficking victims will attempt to seek help when in public.

There are also indicators of human trafficking. These have been stated before, but because of the severity of human trafficking, I felt it was worth mentioning again. Recognizing these indicators is the first step in identifying victims, which may save a life. Some of the indicators include the following:

  • Does the person appear disconnected from family, friends, community organizations, or houses of worship?
  • Has a child stopped attending school?
  • Has the person had a sudden or dramatic change in behavior?
  • Is the juvenile engaged in commercial sex acts?
  • Is the person disoriented or confused or showing signs of mental or physical abuse?
  • Does the person have bruises in various stages of healing?
  • Is the person fearful, timid, or submissive?
  • Does the person show signs of having been denied food, water, sleep, or medical care?
  • Is the person often in the company of someone to whom he or she defers? Or someone who seems to be in control of the situation. e.g. where they go or to whom they talk.
  • Does the person appear to be coached on what to say?
  • Is the person living in unsuitable conditions?
  • Does the person lack personal possessions and appear not to have a stable living situation?
  • Does the person have freedom of movement?
  • Can the person freely leave where they live? Are there unreasonable security measures?

It is important to note that not all indicators listed are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators does not necessarily prove human trafficking.

Having this information may make the difference in saving a life or losing one.

If you suspect a person or persons may be victims of human trafficking, it’s important that you not attempt to confront the suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions. That is the job of law enforcement who should investigate suspected cases of human trafficking.

There is a 24-hour, 7 days-a-week human trafficking hotline, which is 888-373-7888. Or the information may be texted to 233733. If you or someone you know are in need of this information, please use it or pass it on.

Finally, I was invited by Ms. Wincey to attend a showing of the movie, Sound of Freedom. The goal of the movie is to bring awareness to the general public about human trafficking. Another goal was to get at least 2 million viewers to represent the 2 million people caught up in human trafficking. The movie was very informative and I am pleased to say that as of today, the 2 million views have been surpassed.

My call to action to you: Run, don’t walk, to your nearest AMC Theatres showing the movie to see it and show support for those victims.

Until next time, keep flying on your own wings.