From media and TV references to news stories, awareness of human trafficking has become the center of public attention, particularly in the past year. Undoubtedly, this is an issue that has touched every community across the world. According to the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, human trafficking is the “recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.” The U.S. State Department currently estimates that there are approximately 24.9 million victims worldwide.
With human trafficking, or modern-day slavery, becoming more prevalent today, here are some things one should—and should not—do when advocating for victims of human trafficking.
How to Properly Support Victims of Human Trafficking
To properly support victims of human trafficking, one must familiarize themselves with the signs of human trafficking. Information and knowledge are essential tools in combating this profoundly complicated issue. The more one understands human trafficking schemes, the better one can identify trafficking acts and dispel many of the common myths surrounding human trafficking.
It is also important to advocate for policies that invest in local community building. Research suggests that the prevention of human trafficking is most successful when it focuses on creating cohesive communities and minimizing individuals’ vulnerability. Lack of access to essentials such as housing, food and emotional needs are significant indicators of vulnerability. The best way to prevent preemptive conditions for human trafficking is to support and advocate for policies that invest in the community through crime prevention, healthcare, urban development and improved education.
Moreover, reporting a tip to the proper authorities if one believes someone may be a victim of modern slavery is critical to stemming human trafficking schemes. It is better to be overly cautious than to fail to report active trafficking. If you are in the U.S. and suspect someone may be a victim, call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or report an emergency to law enforcement by calling 911. You can also text HELP to BEFREE (233733), or email [email protected].
What to Avoid When Advocating for Victims of Human Trafficking
Do not be an uninformed consumer. Unfortunately, many of the products that you may use every day, from groceries to clothing, may have been produced from coerced labor. Check out these resources from the Office on Trafficking in Persons to calculate your “slavery footprint” and determine which goods are produced by slave labor.
Furthermore, awareness campaigns should be paced to avoid social media crazes. While it may seem like a good idea to utilize social media platforms to raise awareness and spread information, it may inspire fearmongering and misinformation. In July 2020, a major conspiracy theory swept over social media platforms, alleging that famous furniture company Wayfair was involved in human trafficking due to suspicious product names and unusually high prices. The sudden interest overwhelmed the national trafficking hotline and stretched their resources thin, without any particular evidence. Not only did this overwhelm the hotline, but it also prevented authorities from properly investigating the situation as social media attention often alerts traffickers to move their operations elsewhere.
It is important to remember that trafficking is a deeply integrated issue in societies that stems from various causes. Despite its complexity, prevention and reduction are very much in reach, especially if individuals become more aware of trafficking practices and how to combat them safely. For more information and resources, see the U.S. State Department’s website.
– Angie Bittar