Each year, more than 40 million people — a quarter of them children — become victims of sex and labor trafficking around the world, hundreds of thousands of them right here in the United States. The numbers are appalling.
Stopping human trafficking is a priority in Maryland, where 72 cases were reported last year, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. That's why this summer, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a series of initiatives to combat it, including $5 million in funding for anti-human trafficking efforts; legislation to categorize felony human trafficking as a violent crime, and the creation of the position I now fill: anti-human trafficking director.
In this office, within the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, I am responsible for coordinating support services for victims, as well as enforcement activities relating to human trafficking.
It isn't always what we may think, and is often confused with human smuggling and illegal border crossing. It's true that trafficking can involve moving or transporting a person across state or national borders, but movement is not required. Victims — who include U.S.-born citizens, legal immigrants and undocumented foreign nationals — can be recruited and trafficked in their own home towns, even inside their own homes.
At its core, human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion to get another person to provide labor — the most common form — or commercial sex.
When we think of human trafficking, most people imagine violent acts used to force victims into complying: threatening with harm or abduction. In reality, most human traffickers use psychological means to trap their victims, however — tricking or manipulating them into exploitative situations in all kinds of settings. Trafficking cases have been reported in restaurants, cleaning operations, construction outfits and other otherwise legal industries. It is not just a part of illegal or underground industries.
Human trafficking victims are sometimes able to leave but do not because they lack basic necessities to escape — like transportation or a safe place to go. Others stay because they are afraid for their safety or have been so severely manipulated that they don't identify as being under the control of another person.
They also may know their trafficker — well. One of the most surprising facts about human trafficking is that many survivors have been trafficked by romantic partners (including spouses) and by family members, including parents.
One of the most effective ways to fight human trafficking is by getting educated, and educating others, on the signs of trafficking. Among the key indicators, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (humantraffickinghotline.org) are:
- Not being free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes;
- Working excessively long and/or unusual hours;
- Being recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of the work;
- Exhibiting unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement;
- Signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture; :
- Having few or no personal possessions;
- Not being in control of his/her own money or identification documents;
- Not being allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating);
- Inconsistencies in his/her story
Knowing how to report what you know is also critical. The National Human Trafficking Hotline runs a 24/7 confidential hotline (1-888-373-7888; TTY: 711) to report suspicions; you can also text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE). More information is also available online at the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention website: goccp.maryland.gov.
This crime does not discriminate by neighborhood, border or gender. And it will take all of us, working together to put an end to it. We must be vigilant.
Laurie E. Culkin (email@example.com) is the anti-human trafficking director for Maryland.