For most Americans, human and sex trafficking is a practice that evokes far-away lands of underdevelopment and need. But according to recent studies, it is a matter that is creeping in through the cracks of broken homes across the country and also through the porous Mexican border.
In an effort to curb the spread of this affliction, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Mexico Attorney General Marisela Morales Ibáñez signed an accord last week to expand prosecutions of criminals –typically members of transnational gangs- who engage in the trafficking of human beings.
Most of the women trafficked into the U.S. are undocumented, recruited with false promises of marriage or a legitimate job. Data from the Polaris Project, a non-profit that runs the national human trafficking hotline, indicates that, especially if the woman has an initial smuggling debt or some other form of debt, they often face debt bondage and the revenues made from commercial sex acts are applied to pay off their debt.
Although it’s hard to establish a solid number of victims, or even define them –child victims of sexual trafficking usually don’t readily self-identify as victims, due to psychological abuses inflicted by their trafficker- the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that at least 100,000 children across the country are at risk of being sexually exploited each year. The average age of entry into the commercial sex industry is between 12 and 14 years old.
Polaris says that since December 2007 it received 58,911 calls to the hotline by self-identifying victims of human trafficking. The disturbing part is that they report a 61 percent increase of calls over 2010.
The hotline received calls from all 50 states, but the states where potential human trafficking was most frequently reported were California, Texas, Florida and New York.
The issue drew the attention of President Obama last week, when at an event Clinton Global Initiative he said that the estimated 20 million victims of human trafficking would become a major focus of his Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
“When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family, or girls my daughters' ages run away from home and are lured -- that's slavery," Obama said. "It's barbaric, it's evil, and it has no place in a civilized world."
Human trafficking is estimated to be a $32 billion global industry and the world’s third most profitable criminal enterprise behind drugs and arms trafficking. The United States Department of State estimates that between 14,000 and 17,500 individuals are trafficked into the country each year. According to Polaris Project, in 2011 foreign nationals made up for 36 percent of the calls to its hotline.
Some of the signs teachers, social workers, counselors look in a possible victim are multiple unexplained absences from school, a repeated tendency to run away from home, older boyfriends or girlfriends and a sudden ability to have expensive items.