If you thought that slavery in the United States stopped being a problem in 1865 when the 13th amendment was passed and ratified, you might be surprised and dismayed to learn that this insidious and vile act is still a problem. In fact, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it is a global problem. At any point in time, around 2.5 million people throughout the world are being trafficked in some manner. The United States Department of Health and Human Services noted that it’s the fastest-growing criminal venture in the world, and is tied with arms dealing as the second largest sector of illegal activity. Only drug dealing is growing faster.
Gender and age don’t matter when it comes to human trafficking, as all ages and genders fall prey to it. However, their placement in the industry varies. Sadly, children -both boys and girls- usually end up in the sex trade. Women are most commonly trafficked for placement within the sex trade or as domestic workers, while men are typically forced to work as manual laborers under brutal conditions.
The United States sees between 14,500 and 17,500 people brought to the country each year against their will, according to data released by the State Department. However, there is also a growing network within the country that moves individuals that have been kidnapped. The vast majority of these people trafficked through this network are women and girls, though there is some demand for boys as well.
Diane (not her real name) might be considered a typical case of human trafficking, if you want to try to categorize it. Like many teens, Diane had a bumpy period in her life as she navigated the transition between being a little girl and becoming a teen. It didn’t help that her parent’s marriage started crumbling as Diane was planning for her high school graduation and her college years. As the youngest of five, it quickly became apparent to Diane that the children were all that was holding the marriage together. Her home life became particularly volatile as her parents’ marriage spiraled out of control.
Given how close the family lives to New York City, Diane and her group of friends frequently took the train into the city. There, the group would shop, eat and flirt before coming home in the early evening. Diane and her best friend, Gina (also not her real name) started spending more time in New York City, often skipping school to do so. Diane’s parents, caught up in their own turmoil, didn’t notice that their daughter was having troubles of her own. During one particularly memorable day in the city that was supposed to involve watching movies and eating banana splits at their favorite ice cream shop, Diane and Gina were propositioned by a friendly and handsome man named Joe. Of course, they turned down Joe’s offer of quick money and a place to stay in exchange for letting some nice men enjoy their bodies. They did, however, accept his card.
Diane used that card one evening when she took the train into the city. Her parents had a particularly violent fight that resulted in Diane fleeing her house with only a few belongings. She contacted Joe using the number listed on his card. He took her out for a quick meal at one of the pizza joints that were still opened nearby and let Diane crash at his place. She remembers the good feelings that this experience gave her; Joe was nice and that this running away thing wasn’t so bad. She does remember him making several references to sex and other men, but she ignored them and turned the talk to other things.
The next morning, Diane had a rude awakening when Joe forced her to have sex with him and threatened to hurt her if she didn’t agree to let other men have sex with her. Joe provided the hotel room and the clients, while taking the money from her sexual acts. He spent some of that money on food for Diane, as well as self-care products and lingerie. Most of it, though, went into his own pocket to fund his burgeoning drug business.
Diane is one of the lucky ones. Joe was already on the radar of local law enforcement officials for his drug dealings. One of the men that he set her up to have sex with was actually an undercover police officer. With his help, Diane was able to get away from Joe and his threats. And with her testimony, the police charged Joe with numerous counts, including running a sex trafficking scheme. This involved many girls, some as young as early teens. Diane didn’t even know that Joe had other girls working for him. Her involvement in his case resulted in dozens of girls being set free from a life of sexual, physical and emotional abuse.
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