Ending January recognizing Human Trafficking Prevention Month

While January is coming to a close, it is a month that spreads awareness and educates others on human trafficking prevention.

Human trafficking is defined as the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or commercial sex.

It’s a crime that affects millions of men, women and children worldwide and one that is hardly discussed on a local level.

Jackson County Sheriff Rick Meyer recently shared his thoughts in a news release on this serious crime in regard to spreading awareness throughout January.

“Human trafficking is a crime that is not on the radar of most people in our community,” he said. “While it is difficult to identify and stop, those factors also make it a prevalent issue all across the United States. Human trafficking can occur in any community, and victims can be any age, race, gender or nationality.”

The International Labor Organization estimates human trafficking is an illicit industry generating $150 billion annually with about $99 billion coming from commercial sex exploitation.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, traffickers often use violence, manipulation, romantic relationships and false promises of well-paying jobs as methods to lure victims.

There are two primary forms of trafficking in people recognized in the United States: Forced labor and sex trafficking.

Traffickers target their victims looking for those who would be easy to manipulate. Some of the factors traffickers look for are those who have a psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters and political instability.

When victims are lured by false promises, they become trapped in a situation from which they cannot escape. They are typically isolated and controlled by these traffickers.

Human trafficking affects all populations, including adults, children, men, women, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens, and crosses all economic classes. However, women and children suffer disproportionately from trafficking, representing an estimated 80% of victims worldwide.

According to Hope for Justice, an organization that investigates human trafficking and works to raise awareness of the issue, there are signs that indicate someone could be a victim. Human trafficking victims often do not identify as victims and may not realize they are being controlled.

“Human trafficking is a problem that isn’t getting better with time. In fact, crimes involving human trafficking are increasing,” Meyer said. “I urge residents to educate themselves about this crime and to alert authorities if you suspect someone may be a victim.”

Christina Thompson, nonresidential services manager for Turning Point Domestic Violence Services, gave insight on the importance of educating others on the dangers of human trafficking and providing emotional support for victims.

Turning Point assist survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and human trafficking in Bartholomew, Brown, Jackson, Johnson, Shelby and Decatur counties. Services offered to survivors are emergency residential shelter, safety planning, domestic violence and sexual assault education, case management (such as finding housing and employment), legal advocacy and representation, guidance through the immigration process and emotional support.

“Sharing these resources and teaching the community about what human trafficking really is and how it can look different in real life versus the movies is important,” Thompson said.

The Indiana Trafficking Victim Assistance Program and the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking are statewide programs that assist survivors along with providing training and outreach to agencies and communities. These programs spread the word about what human trafficking is and what people can do to help.

Thompson said while these are great programs, there are still plenty of people not aware of what human trafficking is or that it is probably happening in their own community.

“I think a big part of spreading awareness is keeping communication going, whether through social media, the press, professional trainings, education in schools and in general conversations, and by spreading awareness, facts and resources, maybe one day, together, we can end human trafficking,” Thompson said.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 911. The National Human Trafficking Hotline is available 24/7 by call at 888-373-7888, text 233733 or chat via humantraffickinghotline.org.

Turning Point also offers a 24-hour helpline for anyone who needs help. Just call 800-221-6311.