Human trafficking is as prevalent today as it has ever been, and a justice advocate said these victims come from all social backgrounds.
“Human trafficking has been around forever,” said Sr. Jeanne Christensen, RSM, the justice advocate for human trafficking representing the Sisters of Mercy Hermanas de la Misericordia West Midwest Community out of Kansas City, Mo. “Violence is the key in human trafficking and that’s how they control their victims.”
Sr. Jeanne was the guest speaker last Thursday night at the Warde Academic Center at St. Xavier University in Chicago. She spoke on the topic of “Human Trafficking = Modern Say Slavery” before a crowd of just over 150 people.
The majority of the victims of women are between the ages 18 and 24, according to Sr. Jeanne. She pointed out that there are two forms of human trafficking: sex trafficking, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion; or labor trafficking, in which a person is forced into labor against their will.
According to Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, human trafficking is the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, debt bondage or slavery.
Sr. Jeanne said cases of human trafficking can occur at social gatherings and sporting events throughout the country. She mentioned there had even been some incidents at the annual College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where often a group of young women are checked into hotels and stay there for a couple of days.
“Some men feel free to do what they want on the road,” Sr. Jeanne said. “If girls are registered in hotels with don’t disturb signs that could be a sign of human trafficking.”
Sr. Jeanne said these young women are in danger but are often not in a position to seek help.
“If a victim is at the hospital with a predator, she is not going to tell you the truth,” Sr. Jeanne said. “You need to separate the victims from these predators.”
Sr. Jeanne said the number of trafficking victims in the U.S. is largely unknown. However, thousands of U.S. citizens, including minors are estimated to be at risk of human trafficking. While the number of trafficking U.S. victims may be unknown, 100,000 U.S. children are commercially exploited every year in the U.S. The number may be as high as 300,000, according to recent statistics on human trafficking.
Ninety-eight percent of human trafficking victims are girls and women. Ninety-five percent of victims experienced physical or sexual violence due to human trafficking, according to statistics.
“Fair trade helps cut down on human trafficking,” Sr. Jeanne said. “Victims are of all backgrounds and are not just minorities or the poor. Runaways ages 13 or 14 could become victims of human trafficking. Don’t go to the streets and be very careful about social media.”
Predators often find girls of low self-esteem by talking to them at bars, restaurants, malls, rest areas, bus depots and train stations. Traffickers can be individual pimps (men or women), small families or businesses, loose-knit criminal networks, gang members, and national or international organized criminal syndicates.
Sr. Jeanne said that when authorities are able to crack down on human trafficking, some of these predators just change how they do business. She mentioned these predators use websites to lure girls and women. Sr. Jeanne said these predators have used the Backpage website to solicit customers.
“Reducing the demand is what we’re working on,” said Sr. Jeanne. “If you think something is suspicious, report it. Call law enforcement. If you are in the mall and see something you don’t like, report it.”
The U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking is a faith-based national network that offers education, supports access to survivor services, and engages in advocacy in an effort to eradicate modern day slavery.
Sr. Jeanne presented a 20-minute film on two victims of human trafficking who have since turned their lives around and now assist victims.
“We just had a 20-year-old woman in our town who has disappeared and could be a victim of human trafficking,” Sr. Jeanne said. “She worked in a strip club. Some of these girls in strip clubs are trying to make more money. But it is not a good situation.”
This is why volunteers need to reach out these women and men, many of whom have been traumatized by what they have gone through.
“Be a voice and share with others,” Sr. Jeanne said. “Talk to men about showing respect for women. If we respect women, you won’t treat them like a commodity.”
Anyone who has information about a possible victim can call 911 or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.