January is National Human Trafficking Awareness

by KC Buchanan of Interact of Wake

January is National Human Trafficking Awareness Month in the United States. According to Compassion International (2019), every country in the world is affected by human trafficking, most trafficking occurs either regionally or nationally, and sex trafficking is the most commonly reported form of human trafficking. Exploitation is always the purpose of human trafficking, and the three key markers of trafficking are force, fraud, and coercion. In order to raise awareness of the issue of human trafficking in all its forms, it is important to understand the uniquely impacted populations that may be especially susceptible and at risk for becoming victims of the various forms of trafficking. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (2019), from December 2007 to June 2018, there have been a total of 4,465 calls referencing North Carolina trafficking cases. Of these, there have been 1,108 total cases opened in North Carolina, which includes 2,949 high-risk victims of trafficking (National Human Trafficking Hotline, 2019). In the first six months of 2018, alone, there were 297 calls referencing trafficking in North Carolina, and 128 cases (National Human Trafficking Hotline, 2019).

While people of all demographics are affected by trafficking, individuals with systemically oppressed identities and backgrounds, those who face situational and/or chronic financial hardship, who lack strong support networks, and who have experienced various forms of violence in their past are at higher risk. LGBTQ+ youth, and particularly LGBTQ+ youth of color, are among the highest at risk for sex trafficking as they continue to face significant discrimination, hostile school climates and home environments, societal misconceptions, physical and emotional abuse from peers and family, and marginalization within their communities. These experiences often lead to homelessness for LGBTQ+ youth, with up to 40% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ+. Of these 40%, 46% ran away due to family rejection; they are 7.4x more likely than their heterosexual peers to experience sexual violence; and they are 3-7x more likely to engage in survival sex to meet their basic needs, including shelter, money, toiletries, clothes, food, drugs, and more. (Polaris Project, 2019)

LGBTQ+ youth face a higher risk of entering the street economy as a result of their lack of access to financial and social/emotional supports, and this often leads to engagement in commercial sex work in order to meet basic needs. Traffickers and others exploiters may then seek to exploit the vulnerabilities of these youth in order to coerce them into commercial sex work by offering basic needs in return. As a result of the traumatic toll that exploitation brings, it can be difficult for those who have been trafficked to reach out for assistance; but this is especially true for LGBTQ+ youth who fear mistreatment, discrimination, further violence, and rejection of service due to their gender identity and/or sexual orientation. As a result of prostitution-related offenses, LGBTQ+ youth are also overrepresented in detention systems, and they report higher levels of mistreatment from police than their cisgender and heterosexual peers. (Polaris Project, 2019)

It is important to habitualize the mindset of harm-reduction over saviorism when working with victims of trafficking, and especially young victims, victims who are LGBTQ+, and victims of color. The cycle of entering a trafficking situation can repeat easily if youth are thrust back into abusive, unsafe, and/or unstable home environments with no additional, extended interventions with the whole family system. For more information on intervention and prevention strategies, visit the NCCASA Anti-Trafficking  resource page for service providers and/or contact the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault at 919-871-1015.

If you think you might be working with a young person who may be a victim of trafficking, please reach out to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) for advice and referrals to local anti-trafficking services. The hotline is available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24/7, in over 200 languages. The NHTRC and the Polaris BeFree Textline are confidential, non-judgmental places to seek assistance. Call 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733 to talk to a specially trained Hotline Advocate to get help, connect to local services, and/or get more information about human trafficking. For more information about these helplines, visit www.polarisproject.org/get-assistance.

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