Human trafficking steals the freedom of approximately 27 million people across the globe annually and is the second largest underground economy in San Diego according to the San Diego District Attorney’s Office. It makes me sick to my stomach every time I think about the way victims are assaulted, threatened or manipulated into providing commercial sex or slave labor. I’ve tried to imagine what it would be like if that was me. Yet, no matter how hard I try to picture it, I know I will never come close to understanding the suffering human trafficking victims go through. That’s what scares me the most.
At first, I assumed human trafficking only occurred in states far away from me or in foreign countries like Europe. Naturally my mind clung to the idea that such dehumanizing crimes were uncommon in most areas in the United States, especially in Southern California. That’s where I was wrong. Alongside cities like New York and Chicago, the FBI has listed San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco among the top 13 destinations for human trafficking in America. In fact, there are at least 8,000 victims in San Diego alone, according to the San Diego District Attorney’s Office.
To me, it seemed like fighting against human trafficking was like fighting for a helpless cause. With every small achievement in combating this industry, hundreds of new problems popped up. The problem seemed ultimately uncontrollable.
Overwhelmed by the shocking relevance of this problem, I was immediately convinced of two things. The first was obvious: that the globally criminal enterprise of modern slavery needed to be defeated. But I was also misguided in my second opinion that everyday Americans have a limited role in bringing down what the International Labor Organization has reported as a $150-billion-dollar industry.
After more in depth research, I realized that I shouldn’t feel overwhelmed or powerless because there are things that we, the everyday Americans, can do to combat human trafficking. Currently, there are many organizations dedicated to combating human trafficking from governmental agencies to nonprofit organizations. However, being such a widespread industry with millions of victims, it is important to get as many people as possible involved in the fight. Below are a few ways I believe we all can help.
The first step is awareness. An understanding of what human trafficking is, what it looks like, and how to act responsibly is key. For example, being able to recognize the signs of human trafficking and knowing how to respond appropriately is knowledge that can change someone’s life.
According to the US Embassy and Consulates in Turkey, an Uber driver in San Francisco overheard a conversation between a teenage girl and a man who turned out to be her pimp. He was able to call the police and get the man arrested. The Embassy also reported that a man at a Chicago restaurant recognized two identical burns on the foreheads of the employees there. After the man at the restaurant questioned the employees and encouraged them to call the police, their landlord was arrested and charged with forced labor.
It was everyday people who completely changed lives. We have the power to do the same and maybe one day, we will find ourselves in a situation where awareness about human trafficking can save someone from years of suffering. I highly suggest learning the indicators of human trafficking and how to respond appropriately by visiting the U.S. Department of State’s Human Trafficking Indicators page.
As easy as it is to believe that we are not a part of the problem as long as we don’t contribute to it directly, our consumer habits suggest otherwise. The sad reality is that a good portion of the food we eat, the clothes we wear and electronics we use were likely produced through slave labor. According to the Department of Labor, rice, coffee, garments and cocoa are among the top 10 most likely products to be made by forced labor.
One of the best ways to combat slavery in your everyday life is by supporting ethical companies and products. For guidance on how to make informed purchasing decisions, you can seek out resources such as The Buycott, Better World Shopper and The Good Trade (just search them in your internet browser). It’s definitely difficult to consistently keep track of where the products we buy come from, and I’m not saying to completely change everything we buy. However, purchasing ethical products even every once in a while does help and together we can make a collaborative difference.
Donate and fundraise
There are many nonprofit organizations that tirelessly strive to combat human trafficking and help victims recover. Some great ones include The Polaris Project, Love146 and Stop the Traffik. The most significant obstacle for many of these nonprofits is a lack of funding as they struggle to make investments in ending modern slavery and pay their staff a livable wage. Whether it is by hiring a local trauma counselor or starting a skills training program, nonprofits play a pivotal role in supporting survivors and preventing human trafficking. Donating funds, whether it be now or into our adult lives, can be one of the best ways to make a preventive and supportive impact in the human trafficking industry. As a teen, I’m sure many of you are like me and don’t have a lot of money to give out right now. However, as we head into our adult lives, it is great to be aware of how we can support human trafficking victims by donating, fundraising or supporting someone else’s fundraiser.