Human Trafficking is abroad and at home

Examining the problem of human trafficking and its presence in the Kansas City area

The definition of human trafficking is “the illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation,” but these words do not even come close to encompassing the emotional, mental, physical, financial, political and social subjugation that the industry causes.

And yes, it is an industry.

It consists of hierarchies and money-for-product trading. People are sold like commodities exchanged for money or goods in any other business system. 

Human trafficking is an international problem, for it has significant influence in every nation across the globe. A new person becomes a victim of this modern day slavery every 30 seconds, and it is the fastest growing and third largest international criminal industry behind drug and arm trafficking. It globally produces an estimated $32 million annually. In fact, there are more people in captivity right now than there have been at any point in human history. 80 percent of those in bondage are forced to face some sort of sexual exploitation, while the remaining 20 percent are exploited for some form of labor. The estimated number of men, women and children being unwillingly held for sex or forced labor is estimated to be 27 million. The average age of human trafficking victims is 12 years old. Approximately two percent of these victims will ever be saved from slavery.

Human trafficking is a domestic problem as well. Victims of slavery within the United States are both immigrants and citizens. The majority of those in bondage in the country, though, come from the United States rather than from outside its borders. In the summer of 2013, South Dakota was least successful state in the fight against human trafficking.

This domestic industry generates about nine and a half million dollars annually. The average age of U.S. victims specifically is 13 years old, and an estimated 300,000 children become victims every year. Our nation’s participation in the industry is not unusual for a developed nation; in fact, almost half of the money generated by human trafficking is made in industrialized countries.

This human rights issue is close to our own campus as well.

Due to the intersection of east-west and north-south interstate highways in Kansas City, the surrounding area is a hub for national human trafficking. The highway connection has played a part in making the city the second largest site of domestic minor sex trafficking in the United States.

However, there are numerous nonprofit organizations and legal professionals in the area dedicated to eradicating the practice in Kansas City and throughout the world. For example, attorney Cynthia Cordes runs a pro-bono legal clinic for victims in the KC area. She has prosecuted more human trafficking cases than any other assistant U.S. attorney.

Additionally, there are organizations such as Veronica’s Voice, a shelter that offers counseling, urgent care and places to stay for women and girls who have been forced into sex work. The shelter also provides education on and awareness of sex trafficking through speakers and presentations across the Kansas City Metro. 

The United States is also part of the international human trafficking industry; an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 people cross into the country in bondage every year. The immigration policy of the United States contributes to this in that exploited migrant labor borders on forced labor.

Laws have been put in place to combat this unacceptably common human rights violation in the United States. The cornerstone of this legislation is the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000. It makes human trafficking and related offenses federal crimes, making the penalties much more severe than they would be otherwise. Through this act, trafficking victims and their families have the option of becoming temporary U.S. residents thus having more access to protection and legal action. The TVPA was reauthorized four more times. Each of these instances provided further protection and legal opportunities for victims and increased federal prevention measures.

There are numerous organizations, both federal and international, with the goal of ending modern day slavery. The A21 Campaign focuses on the importance of international awareness in order to stimulate prevention. It also facilitates restoration programs for rescued victims and helps with prosecuting those who participate in the industry. At a grassroots level, the group partners with volunteer organizations to fundraise for those education and restoration programs. The Polaris Projectadvocates domestic legal action and the importance of gathering data in order to find and disrupt areas of high human trafficking action. In this way, the organization makes the existence of their 24/7 hotline known. It also provides urgent care, counseling services, empowerment workshops, and personalized case managers for past victims. Human trafficking is currently a reality, but it is not an inevitability.

Erin Melton

Erin Melton is a senior Literature and Theory major and French and Religious Studies minor. She is the chief copy editor and loves camels.

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