They Won’t Be Home for the Holidays: Human Trafficking Awareness

Aidan Altmirano

24.9 million. It’s a large number. In terms of governmental debt, it’s not large at all. But how about the number of people currently enslaved on this planet? Surely humanity has evolved enough to have left this evil behind. Unfortunately,  no.

According to Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s 2019 human trafficking report, this is the official number of people enslaved worldwide. According to a similar report by the International Labor Organization, 4.8 million are exploited for sex, while 16 million are in forced labor, and 4 million are in labor imposed by state authorities.

Such large numbers fail to capture the humanity behind these atrocities. Here are some of the 24.9 million victims of human trafficking. The charity organization Polaris Project lists several typical examples (They have changed names and identifying details to protect the victims). Let us begin with Fernando, a victim of forced labor. He was desperate to escape his home country. A smuggler offered to bring him to America for $5,000. When he got there, he was sold to a restaurant owner in Texas. Even though he has washed dishes for several years, he has not seen a paycheck.

Another one is Jasmine, a victim of sexual exploitation. She was an 18-year-old girl in Missouri, and she fell in love with a guy. He offered to help her run away. But then he asked her to do something. After all, he said, they’d need money in order to live together. Thus began a journey from truck stop to truck stop on the interstate, where Jasmine was forced to go door to door, offering herself for the night. Luckily, she only had to endure this for two weeks before someone noticed her, and she was rescued.

Last year, the Los Angeles police rescued a sixteen-year-old from traffickers. Three years ago, in our very own Arizona the police busted a prostitution ring in Arizona Mills. More recently, prominent financier Jeffrey Epstein was charged with human trafficking.

Such is the problem. But what can we do about it? There are a few ways we can help that, although minute, can have lasting impact. One is to donate. The Polaris Project, rated four stars by the Charity Navigator, exists exclusively to bring down the industry. Other nonprofits include Phoenix Dream Center and ALWAYS, Arizona Legal Woman and Youth Services. You may also volunteer at this latter organization as an intern and translator.

Another way is to simply keep a close eye out. A flight attendant in California prevented a girl from being trafficked because she noticed something odd about her and her companion. She left the girl a note in the airplane restroom. The girl responded by writing on the note, “I need help.” The attendant then called the police, and when they landed, the man was taken into custody. Just being aware can go a long way in stopping a lot of these unfortunate happenings.

There is also a chance that you yourself may feel targeted. Unfortunately, it is likely. Phoenix Dream Center estimates that 1 in 4 Arizona women are in danger of being trafficked. In many cases, the perpetrator is someone who appears nice and interested in a romantic relationship. Or maybe it’s someone who attempts to introduce you to drugs to make you pliable to their commands. Either way, the best thing is to be careful and aware of who’s in your life that may not have the best intentions.

If you notice any activity like this, or perhaps you yourself feel threatened, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Perhaps we can ensure that at least one more person is home for the holidays.