Human trafficking: America’s secret epidemic

Colleen Hammond | Opinions Editor

With all the seemingly insurmountable issues plaguing the world, it becomes incredibly easy to sweep the less visible problems under the rug. One of the most overlooked and undiscussed problems facing the world is slavery.

For the majority of Americans, the word “slavery” conjures up images of overt racism from centuries past, but unfortunately, the institution of slavery is alive and well within the borders of the U. S.

Modern slavery takes many forms, with the most common being human trafficking.This practice includes the kidnapping, smuggling, transporting and selling of human beings for sex and/or labor.

Thousands of men, women and children are bought and sold every year on the black market. Many are forced into prostitution or pornography with no possible escape.

The barbaric and gruesome nature of this practice makes it seem impossible for it to occur in a nation as wealthy as the U.S, but all 50 states have incidents and rings of sex trafficking.

Even the city of Pittsburgh faces the problem of human trafficking. Just this past August, state authorities and FBI agents raided a number of facilities in association with an interstate sex trafficking ring. Some of the raided locations included massage parlors in Carnegie, Turtle Creek, Jeannette, McKees Rocks, Bridgeville and Erie.

This problem is not isolated to darkened alleyways or third world countries. The horrors of human trafficking are present in the Pittsburgh community.

Just because human trafficking is not as regularly visible as homelessness, hunger or poverty does not mean it can be ignored. Out of sight, out of mind cannot apply here.

These problems are also ignored by the public because it can be difficult to spot the signs and measure the true impact of human trafficking. The United Nations estimates that over 40 million people are trapped in the trafficking system worldwide. However, this number may be an underestimate because most cases of human trafficking go unreported.

Most Americans are trained to recognize slavery in association with archaic agricultural institutions, but modern slavery looks quite different.

Human trafficking affects all races, ages and genders, and civilians need to be trained to recognize this. Enslaved individuals today don’t often appear shackled or exclusively people of minorities. Instead, victims of human trafficking can be spotted by their behavior and encounters with their captor.

The signs of modern slavery frequently mirror those of domestic abuse. Victims will likely be entirely dependent on their captor and look to them for all decision making. They may appear malnourished or dehydrated. This is because many traffickers use highly addictive drugs to control their prisoners. The victim’s dependency on the drugs makes them extremely susceptible to persuasion by their abusers and captors.

While these are subtle signals, they could be vital to saving someone from a life of slavery and abuse. The most common locations for human trafficking are airports, bus stations and train stations. Although it may feel awkward, it is important to alert a flight attendant or security after noticing these signs.

An increase in public awareness and human trafficking training will pave the way for an era where the signs of trafficking are as apparent as those of homelessness.

Unfortunately, in addition to the current lack of public interest in the modern slavery epidemic, survivors of human trafficking are offered little to no resources after escaping their captors.

Although the Pittsburgh community has resources like The Asservo Project for those reentering society after time in captivity, most survivors cannot sustain their lives on the sole support of one organization.

The young people and children who survive America’s slave trade are not given the opportunities to reintegrate into society. Their education is not prioritized and often find themselves in similar situations as those that led to their captivity.

Human trafficking cannot be ignored any longer. This is not an issue Americans can overlook. The effects of human trafficking touch every community and need to be addressed though education and outreach.