Americans lack awareness on human trafficking

Human trafficking is known as the “modern-day slavery,” and every year, hundreds of thousands of adults and children as young as 13 years old are coerced or tricked and sold into sex slavery right here in the United States. But unfortunately, some victims find themselves further victimized by the very legal system that is supposed to protect them.

Preceding the Super Bowl, I expected to hear discussions about the weather, commercials and finances, but I didn’t anticipate conversations concerning human trafficking. Large events such as the Super Bowl attract human traffickers because of the increased population and easily disguised online advertising.

Law enforcement lined the streets, not only for crowd control but also to stay vigilant, searching for signs indicating the crime. While efforts like these are often made to locate and protect the victims of human trafficking, some victims are arrested, convicted and treated like criminals. As a result of the conviction, some are unable to find jobs, be approved for loans or continue their education.  

In 2010, a 13-year-old girl was indicted and convicted of Class B prostitution for offering sex services to an undercover cop. The claim was that she had “knowingly agreed to engage in sex  … for a fee.”

It’s the law, but that’s ridiculous. She was 13. Children have much more impressionable minds. They are easily manipulated, which is a method predators use to convince victims to join them. The Texas State Supreme Court overturned the decision, but it should have never even made it to trial in the first place.

There needs to be more legislation in U.S. law safeguarding victims and allowing them to acquire the help they need. Lately, there has been comprehensive legislation in several states to prevent this from happening, but there is still work to be done. It’s imperative for citizens as well as legislators and law enforcement to realize that this is a multifaceted problem.

Victims of human trafficking work on the streets, in strip clubs, in brothels and escort services. But many people write them off and refuse to have compassion for them because they believe the victims have consented to that lifestyle.

In reality, most of them have been severely threatened and told to behave like willing participant. If they make the “clients” uncomfortable or scare them off, they may face brutal or inhumane punishment.  

One survivor recalled that during the Super Bowl events the offenders would give her a quota of at least 25 men to sleep with, and if she didn’t, there would be serious consequences. She was kidnapped and repeatedly raped since she was 12. The men controlling the ring would inject her, among other young girls, with heroine and keep them handcuffed to beds.

Now, imagine this same girl, who is now a woman, after going through all of this, getting arrested and convicted for prostitution. Image her not being able to find a job, receive loans or continue her education because of the conviction of a crime she was forced to commit.

If we don’t educate ourselves on these situations, we won’t see them as victims and certainly not as a priority when voting time rolls around. If we, as citizens and the constituents of our legislators, don’t make this issue known to our elected officials, then laws won’t be implemented to help these people. We need to become informed and be aware of the red flags that could indicate a victim of human trafficking. If we think there is a crime in place, we shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to one of the hotlines.

Human trafficking is one of the most heinous and disgusting crimes. We need to ensure that victims are protected and able to acquire the help they need and the perpetrators are convicted and receive the punishment they deserve. This country operates as a democracy. It moves to the will of the people. So, will you speak up?