Over the past several years, human trafficking has been a hot topic in the United States. While this crime has long existed, it has drawn more attention, particularly on social media. If you log onto Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or another site, you may find yourself reading stories of attempted abductions or warnings about schemes to traffic people in your community.
These stories are seldom true. While they may seem credible, the reality is human trafficking rarely involves something like abducting a stranger from the parking lot of a big box store. When we share stories like these, we may believe that we are helping to bring awareness to human trafficking — but what we are really doing is perpetuating myths.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month — a time for us to learn and share information about this crime so that we can better address it. This month is the perfect time to learn more about what human trafficking really is (and is not), so that we are better able to help victims and survivors.
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel or induce another person to provide labor or commercial sex. While we commonly associate human trafficking with commercial sex, it is important to acknowledge that throughout the world — including in the United States — millions of women, children and men are trafficked for the purposes of forced labor. This can occur in almost any industry, including:
Salons and spas
Understanding that human trafficking can occur in otherwise legal industries is critical, as it may help us spot it as we go about our daily lives. Many of us may not typically encounter people engaged in commercial sex — but we may interact with people who have been trafficked for labor. There are a number of signs of human trafficking that you may see, such as a person appearing to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting with others, or someone working in dangerous conditions without proper safety measures.
Contrary to popular belief, human trafficking rarely involves kidnapping or otherwise physically forcing someone into labor or commercial sex. More commonly, traffickers use psychological means to manipulate their victims. For example, a teenage girl might meet an older man online, and start what she believes is a romantic relationship with him. Over time, he may coerce her into commercial sex. This type of situation happens much more often than a person being abducted and forced into commercial sex or labor. In fact, many survivors have been trafficked by someone that they know, including romantic partners, spouses, and family members.
There is also a common misconception that human trafficking happens someplace else — in other countries, big cities, or along foreign borders. In reality, human trafficking can and does happen anywhere, including here in Westmoreland County. In many situations, survivors are recruited and trafficked in their own towns.
If you believe that you are a victim of human trafficking, or that you have encountered someone who may have been trafficked, you can reach out to us at 1-888-832-2272 at any time. If you believe that you or another person are in immediate danger, call 911.
At Blackburn Center, we are committed to raising awareness about human trafficking and supporting victims and survivors of this crime and other types of violence and abuse. If you need help, our hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-832-2272, and is free and confidential.