By Mary Lee A. Kiernan
Modern slavery is here — in our community and in our state — in the form of forced labor and commercial sex. Just last week it was reported that Greenwich police, working with the Connecticut Human Trafficking Task Force, discovered and liberated two under-aged girls who were being coerced into the sex trade in Greenwich through a controversial website that advertises sexual services. One need only remember the arrests last month at Greenwich Health Massage of two women from Queens suspected of prostitution to understand the presence of modern slavery in our midst. The Greenwich Police Department referred the case to a regional task force on trafficking for further investigation.
According to a 2017 report of the International Labour Organization, there are 40.3 million estimated victims of human trafficking globally – 62% are forced into various forms of labor; one quarter of the victims are children; 99% of the victims in the commercial sex industry are women and girls; and women and girls comprise 71% of all victims of trafficking. Human trafficking is an estimated $150 billion industry worldwide, with commercial sex generating two-thirds of the profit. The Internet, including the Dark Web, has made access to victims much easier. Websites freely sell sex, including with children. When one site closes down, another is ready, using tactics that thinly veil its purpose.
In the United States, reports of human trafficking are on the rise. In 2016, the Polaris Project identified 8,042 cases of human trafficking, a 35 percent jump over 2015. Labor trafficking soared by 47 percent, but all trafficking is still widely underreported. Polaris estimates that the total number of victims nationally reaches into the hundreds of thousands, when estimates of both adults and minors in labor and sex trafficking are aggregated. Between 2007 and 2017, 594 cases of human trafficking in the State of Connecticut were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
What is the busiest day of the year for sex trafficking in the United States? Super Bowl Sunday, when women and children are sex trafficked at Super Bowl parties.
Children are particularly vulnerable to modern slavery. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that one out of six endangered runaways in the United States are likely child sex trafficking victims, and of those, 86% were in the care of social services or foster care when they ran. NCMEC reports that children who are particularly vulnerable include those who have a history of sexual abuse, have a tendency to run away, have limited education, have a gender bias, have experienced sexual orientation discrimination or live in poverty.
Connecticut strengthened child trafficking laws last year by creating a new crime, “commercial sex abuse of a minor,” which is a Class A felony if the minor is under 15 years of age. The new law also requires training for state public safety, legal, health care, and public school employees for identifying and reporting human trafficking. The Connecticut Trafficking in Persons Council, originally established within the recently abolished state agency, the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, continues to explore whether enforcement of state trafficking laws can be improved, resulting in more prosecutions on the demand side of trafficking.
What can ordinary citizens do to help stop modern day slavery in our midst? According to the U.S. Department of State, you can:
Learn the indicators of human trafficking so you can help identify a potential trafficking victim. These include living with an employer or in cramped living conditions, signs of physical abuse, inability to speak alone, and submissive or fearful behavior, among others.
If you believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, contact law enforcement by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline line at 1-888-373-7888. Trafficking victims, including undocumented individuals, are eligible for services and immigration assistance.
Be a conscientious and informed consumer. Check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor.
Work with a local community organization to help stop trafficking by supporting a victim service provider or spreading awareness of human trafficking.
On January 11, YWCA Greenwich and thirty local sponsors hosted a panel discussion about human trafficking, including special initiatives within the State of Connecticut and the Department of Children and Families, Department of Justice and other federal initiatives, the Grace Farms Unchain movement and the iconic legal case against a trafficking website.
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Learn more about human trafficking and how you can get involved in preventing this crime by going to the Department of Homeland Security’s website at dhs.gov/bluecampaign
Mary Lee A. Kiernan is president and CEO of the Greenwich YWCA.