Ending modern day slavery in the U.S.
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 00:01
Slavery still exists. It exists in Africa, India, Europe, the United States, Mississippi and Hattiesburg. There are more slaves today than in any other time period. There are 27 million enslaved humans in the world.
Human trafficking, or modern-day slavery, by definition, is profiting from the control and exploitation of others. The term “trafficking” can be misleading because it insinuates that movement is involved, but that is not always the case. A human can be trafficked without ever leaving his or her home. It is also misleading because we have grown to know it as what happened on “Taken.” The reality is that human trafficking is slavery, and it happens right here in our country, state and city, and many Americans have no idea.
Next to drug trafficking, human trafficking is the largest organized crime in the United States. It is a $9.5 billion industry. A pimp with four to six girls can make up to $2 million a year. Many drug trafficking groups are turning to human trafficking for profit because unlike drugs, humans are non disposable and cheap. In today’s value, a slave in the 1800s would have cost $40,000 at minimum. The average cost of a slave today is around $90.
Human trafficking is broken down into sex and labor trafficking. There are as many as 300,000 women and children being trafficked for sex in the United States right now. The average age of entry into sex trafficking is 12 to 14 years. The victims are often vulnerable girls with low self-esteem who are tricked into trafficking by an older man, a pimp or a recruiter who “loves and understands” them. Soon after, they are expected to service somewhere around 20 clients a night and bring in $1,000 minimum. Within 48 hours from running away from home, one in three girls will be picked up by a trafficker. In the United States, it is not uncommon for a child to be sold into human trafficking by parents.
Labor trafficking in the United States primarily exists in a form of indentured servitude, or debt bondage. Foreign workers are lured with false promises of money and a green card. They often cannot afford to pay for the visa and travel arrangements, so they essentially sign over a blank check to a recruiter for an American corporation. They work for next to nothing, never receiving any money because of their debt, which has now accumulated to pay for housing and food as well.
These victims cannot leave because they are the property of someone else. Pimps often brand or tattoo their names or another identifier on their girls to show ownership. They are threatened, beaten and faced with death if they try to run away or speak out. Many pimps addict their girls to drugs to keep them from trying to leave. Labor trafficking victims are often foreign and without identification, so they have no idea of where to go.
Human trafficking is affecting south Mississippi, too. The Gulf Coast is becoming a major hub for trafficking in the United States. Interstate-10 is the most heavily traveled road by human traffickers. Girls are prostituted at truck stops all over the state. One of the largest labor trafficking cases in the country was in Pascagoula, Miss. In 2009, trafficked Filipino laborers were found in the Pine Belt area. Advocates for Freedom, a faith-based anti-trafficking organization in Biloxi, has rescued 92 victims in south Mississippi over the past two years, the majority of them children and victims of sex trafficking. Casinos, nightlife, port access, an international airport and military bases perpetuate trafficking in south Mississippi.
The leniency of the law allows human trafficking to thrive in Mississippi, which is a tier 3 state out of 4 (4 being the lowest) in terms of combating human trafficking. Compared to other states, the punishment for human trafficking in Mississippi is very mild. A large problem is that Mississippi has no safe harbor laws, which allow minors convicted of prostitution to be prosecuted as victims instead of criminals. Safe harbor laws also advocate for the creation of human trafficking task forces, increasing penalties against traffickers and developing safe houses or rehabilitation centers specifically for human trafficking victims. There are only 11 safe houses in the United States with a combined total of 100 beds.
Often, law enforcement sees a prostitute instead of a troubled young girl. The girl is likely to chose to return to her pimp because she has been taught to fear the police. She is let go with a fine for prostitution, which is pocket change for the pimp. The pimps are rarely indicted, and if they are, it is often for things other than human trafficking, such as drugs.
This weekend, up to 10,000 additional women and girls will be brought to New Orleans for sex trafficking, and many of them will pass through Hattiesburg. Large events such as the Super Bowl are hotspots for trafficking. The money, alcohol and influx of men all attract traffickers to the area. Trafficking is expected to remain at a high for two weeks because of Mardi Gras.
Even though human trafficking is such a large-scale problem, there are many things individuals can do to end modern slavery, especially in the coming weeks.
Some red flags for identifying human trafficking are signs of abuse or restraint; fear and anxiousness, especially at the mention of law enforcement; carrying few or no possessions; lost sense of time, avoidance of eye contact; never appearing in public alone; visible bruises and no concept of physical location.