On October 18, 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released the outcome of the eleventh iteration of its human trafficking sting, Operation Cross County, netting the capture of 120 traffickers and rescue of 84 juveniles ranging in age from three months to fifteen years old. There are several factors to consider just from this statement alone. For starters, it is commendable that law enforcement agencies—federal, local, and international—united under the noble cause of preventing the exploitation and abuse of children. According to the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report), the United States joins one of thirty-six countries in the world in the highest of four tiers in the prevention, identification, and prosecution of human trafficking. In fiscal year 2015, the United States successfully prosecuted 297 traffickers representing a 161% increase from the previous fiscal year. Furthermore, the United States ranks in the top three of all countries of origin for trafficking victims (US Department of State, 2016).
According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 36 human trafficking—28 sex trafficking cases—were reported in 2017 in Alabama–down from 49 cases in 2016. Hotels and motels are the most common venue in AL. In July 2017, national and local law enforcement arrested 33 men in connection with a prostitution sting at a Best Western Hotel in Tuscaloosa, AL. Two men were arrested attempting to engage in sexual acts with a child (Dunigan, 2017). Combatting human trafficking requires understanding the scope and context of how this enterprise persists despite increased awareness and enforcement. The presence of the I-20 highway from Texas to South Carolina has earned the moniker as the sex trafficking superhighway as traffickers have more access to customers and businesses where prostitution is common (The WellHouse, n.d.). The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) 2015 Alabama report breaks down calls and cases of human trafficking in Alabama and details the locations around the state where the incidents occurred.
According to the FBI, there were over 300,000 children under 18 reported to the National Crime Information Center in 2014. An overwhelming majority of these children were coded as runaways. The TIP Report identifies homeless and runaway youth as well as juveniles in the child welfare or juvenile justice system as particularly vulnerable populations in the United States. In 2016, The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) estimates that one in six runaway youths are child sex trafficking victims (Polaris, n.d.). Recognizing connection between runaway youth and the child welfare system to human trafficking, the federal government enacted the “Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act” on September 29, 2014 requiring states to identify, track, and understand the experiences of at-risk youth and enhance services and incentives for families involved with the child welfare system. The Polaris Project (n.d.) notes modern day slavery exists within and across businesses including forestry and logging, pornography, carnivals, bars, begging, landscaping, construction, health services and online interaction.
NCMEC (n.d.) analyzed almost 13,000 reported incidents of abductions and attempted abductions. They concluded that victims are most likely to be females between the ages of 10-14 who are approached while going to or from school-related activities by a suspect in a vehicle. The three most common protective factors in preventing these attempted abductions include the child fleeing the encounter with no physical contact, attracting attention via fighting or yelling, and the intervention of parents and bystanders. While this research is promising in educating children how to react to an encounter, NCMEC also identified a variety of lures used by abductors including offering a ride, candy, or money; asking the child questions; and use of an animal.
NCMEC offers a variety of resources for businesses, parents, and children to recognize the signs of human trafficking via KidSmartz, NetSmartz411, NetSmartz, and Code Adam. Parents should invest themselves in the social lives of their children. Just as social connections are a valuable protective factor in any family. The most valuable connection in any child’s life remains the bond between parent and child. Parents should create a trusting environment where a parent can assess the appropriateness their child’s social connections. Parents should educate and role play scenarios in a safe setting. Additionally, Common Sense Media offers reviews of phone applications and websites with risks for children and educates parents how to evaluate the appropriateness of these apps.
If you suspect a child is a trafficking victim, you can contact the Polaris BeFree Textline by texting “BeFree” to 233733 or contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888. Also, please visit the Polaris Project (https://polarisproject.org) and NCMEC (http://www.missingkids.com/home) for more information and resources for you and your family. Additionally, the Children’s Aid Society (205-251-7148) and The WellHouse (1-800-991-9937) are two resources for victims of human trafficking to locate support and escape modern slavery.
Common Sense Media (n.d.). Retreived from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/blog
Dunigan, J.S. (2017, August 2.). Tuscaloosa police arrest 33 men during nationwide prostitution sting. Retrieved from http://www.al.com/news/tuscaloosa/index.ssf/2017/08/tuscaloosa_police_arrest_33_me.html
Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Crime Information Center. (n.d.). NCIC missing person and unidentified person statistics for 2014. Retrieved from https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/about-us/cjis/ncic/ncic-missing-person-and-unidentified-person-statistics-for-2014
National Center For Missing and Exploited Children. (n.d.). A 10-year analysis of attempted abductions and related incidents. [PDF document]. Retrieved from http://www.missingkids.com/theissues/attemptedabductions
National Human Trafficking Resource Center. (n.d.) 2015 Alabama state report. [PDF document]. Retrieved from https://humantraffickinghotline.org/sites/default/files/NHTRC%202015%20Alabama%20State%20Report%20-%20AL%20-%2001.01.15%20-%2012.31.15_OTIP_Edited_06-08-16.pdf
Polaris Project. (n.d.). The typology of modern slavery. Retrieved January 11, 2018, from https://polarisproject.org/typology
Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act, Pub. L. 113-83, 128 Stat. 1919, codified as amended 42 U.S.C. §1305. Retrieved from https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/4980/text
The WellHouse (n.d.). The I-20 story. Retrieved from http://www.the-wellhouse.org/the-i-20-story/
US Department of State, Office of the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. (2016, June). Trafficking in Persons Report. [PDF document]. Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/258876.pdf