Human Trafficking Awareness Month: What is Human Trafficking and Why Does it Matter? By: Rachel Jeffries, RN

Rachel is pictured on the left

January is human trafficking awareness month, but many of us may be thinking, “What is Human Trafficking?” Human Trafficking, also known as modern day slavery, is a large problem that affects many areas throughout the world. Did you know that there are more slaves throughout the world right now, than the total amount enslaved during the combined years of the transatlantic slave trade? That’s right, currently the 2014 Global Slavery Index reports that there are nearly 36 million slaves worldwide. This slavery takes many different forms, however, the two most common are labor slavery and sex trafficking.

You may have heard about human trafficking internationally, but many people are unaware that this problem exists on a large scale within the United States as well.  Human Trafficking is defined by the US Department of State as “the recruiting, harboring, transportation, providing, or obtaining of a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through force, fraud or coercion.” There are many forms that human trafficking takes within the United States. This can be domestic labor workers, door to door sales workers, but the most common is sex trafficking.

Even more than this being an issue within the United States, this is a large problem in Minnesota. As of 2013, the FBI ranked Minnesota as having the 13th highest incidence of sex trafficking within the United States. This can occur in any setting within Minnesota, it occurs in the cities, the suburbs and rural areas. More adolescent girls are commercially sexually exploited in one month in Minnesota than girls who die by suicide, homicide, accidents and domestic violence combined in one year.  The average age of entry into prostitution in the United States in 12-14 years old. Recently, Minnesota incorporated Safe Harbor legislation, which decriminalized prostitution for youth under 18 and created a victim-centered response called “No Wrong Door.” This change now treats these girls as victims of sex trafficking instead of criminals.

Traffickers target vulnerable people. This is a reason why it matters to us at PrairieCare. Many youth and adults with mental illness are vulnerable to be exploited by traffickers. Many traffickers target people who are homeless. Minnesota studies have found that 14-20% of homeless youth have engaged in survival sex (providing sex in exchange for food, shelter, money, etc). The average length of time before a runaway youth will be approached by a pimp, trafficker, or perpetrator looking to exploit them is 36-48 hours. Almost all victims of human/sex trafficking have PTSD from their experience and many suffer from anxiety and depression even after they are no longer being exploited.

Identifying a victim might be easier than you think. Everyone has the possibility to discover a human trafficking situation. Many victims are hidden right in front of our eyes at construction sites, restaurants, elder care centers, nail salons, massage salons, and hotels. According to the United States Department of State, some red flags to look out for are: living with employer, poor living conditions, multiple people in cramped space, inability to speak to individual alone, answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed, employer is holding identity documents, signs of physical abuse, submissive or fearful, unpaid or paid very little, and victims of prostitution. These red flags do not automatically point to human trafficking, but they are some indications. If you think that you have identified a trafficking situation, notify law enforcement or the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (1-888-373-7888) 24 hours a day to report a tip and connect with services in your area.

As a community, we can learn more about trafficking, learn to identify red flags, speak out to local law enforcement, advocate with local and federal law enforcement or volunteer with a one of the many different organizations that work to combat human trafficking in the Twin Cities (Annex, Breaking Free, The Link, the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force, etc) As a community, we can fight for freedom and fight to get human trafficking out of our state.

Rachel is a nurse on the PrairieCare Brooklyn Park inpatient unit.  She has been with PrairieCare for over 4 years.  In her spare time Rachel volunteers with the Minnesota International Justice Mission as a State Advocacy Leader.

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