When I was a child, I remember playing and not having a care in the world. I had my childhood and I am so thankful for that.
In these modern times, there are too many children robbed of their childhood and freedom. They are victims of human trafficking.
In the United States, the number of American children who were estimated to be at risk of child sexual exploitation in 2000 was 244,000, according to The Polaris Project. This includes commercial sexual exploitation.
One million children are exploited by the global commercial sex trade every year worldwide.
Children are not the only victims exploited. Across the world, there are 27 million people enslaved in some sort of modern day slavery known as human trafficking. This includes sex trafficking and labor trafficking, the two forms of human trafficking.
Since human trafficking is largely underground and many victims are afraid to come forth, exact numbers are hard to calculate.
However, whether the estimated statistics say that one million or 100 victims are enslaved to trafficking monsters, the fact is that these are people, not numbers.
Every single person is important.
These children, young ladies, young men — the targeted age bracket — do not deserve to be treated like caged animals waiting for the next hungry predator to come along and destroy their bodies and minds.
If you have not heard of human trafficking, it’s important to first and foremost learn what it is. Awareness is essential to helping stop this crime.
Essentially, human trafficking is illegally trading human beings for either sex exploitation or forced labor. It is the world’s fasted growing criminal industry and affects every nation. Force or fraud or coercion must be involved to be considered trafficking.
Trafficking is modern day slavery and unlike the past, this form affects more than one ethnicity. It affects anyone.
Human trafficking was first associated with other countries. Then, there were cases in the United States. South Carolina is not exempt either.
In fact, from 1997 to 2010, there have been 12 sex trafficking cases and out of those 12 cases there were 20 women who were victims of this crime.
In January 2013, South Carolina was one of four states being federally investigated for sex trafficking. The incident involved women from Mexico and Nicaragua, among other countries.
In July 2013 a 16-year-old runaway in the Two Notch Road area in Columbia who was found to be a victim of sex trafficking. As with this case and others, the website is a tool to lure in predators.
The Internet is a modern approach to the trafficking problem, which is why parents need to monitor their child’s use of the Internet. Aside from the Internet, traffickers utilize hotels, strip clubs, street prostitution, truck stops, restaurants, and anywhere pornography is used.
Traffickers do target runaways and homeless youth because they are already vulnerable and desperate for acceptance. Their esteem is already low and the heartless traffickers take advantage of this. Traffickers also target illegal immigrants because of their vulnerability.
Trafficking cuts across socioeconomic boundaries and targets anyone though.
Before you ask why don’t the victims just leave, it’s important to understand these people are threatened and treated like criminals.
Sometimes the victims don’t see themselves as victims and believe that their trafficker actually cares about them. After all, they may have never felt love before and don’t understand what love looks like. The trafficker may be the first person to take notice of them and now they are under their spell.
It’s important for people to know about human trafficking but also know what to look for. It is not obvious.
Red signs include lack of freedom and controlling environments, few to little personal possessions, frequently moving, inconsistencies in stories, no control of documents, not knowing about their trafficker, signs of physical abuse, owing debt that cannot be paid off or has a quota, relationships with an older man or constant communication with men for sex trafficking, tattoo or branding mark as property, working during school hours, working excessive hours, working without proper supervision or monitored excessively or engaged in begging, peddling or the illicit economy.
If human trafficking is suspected, it’s important to report it to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center through the hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text BeFree (233722). People may also submit tips online through www.polarisproject.org and go to Report a Tip. These lines are always open.
If anyone wishes to go beyond saying how awful human trafficking is and wishes to actually help out, there are many non-profit organizations to volunteer through or even join or start a task force.
Organizations include www.polarisproject.com, www.doorstofreedom.com, www.thea21campaign.org or www.love146.org. These websites have information regarding human trafficking, how to help out and also how to help victims who have been rescued.
Don’t wait for another statistic to happen because it’s happening right now.
Natalie Netzel is a staff writer for The Newberry Observer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.