The week's dominating headline, despite your source: CNN, Fox, NPR, The Guardian, etc., included a variation of: "Atlanta’s finest made over 40 arrests on sex trafficking charges."
Why has Atlanta increased their security specifically in recognizing trafficked individuals and trafficking rings? Atlanta is hosting the Super Bowl this year and the crime of trafficking rose during last year’s Super Bowl with one particular hotline reporting a 300% increase in calls. In general, though, professionals in this line of work understand large, unsuspecting crowds in major cities are a great place for criminals to go unnoticed and get out - especially in port cities like Atlanta, San Francisco, New York, Miami, etc. (see map above).
Of course one outlet felt the need to "debunk" the Super Bowl myth: Slate, an online news publication was the culprit this time.
Slate’s point in their article regarding statistics being exaggerated is a well researched and well written post contrasting the mainstream; however, though facts are important, let’s not dismiss the point that trafficking is still a problem.
Their article reminds me of a conversation I had a few months ago where I was discussing crimes against women with another person, they said, “Rape statistics are blown out of proportion, they’re actually the same percentage as murder,” as if this was meant to subdue my enthusiasm for ending violent crimes. I hold the same opinion toward the majority of Slate's article.
Furthermore, regardless of statistics, if ONE person has been trafficked, it’s ONE TOO MANY.
But, Slate’s end quote to their article by Jennifer O’Brien, an assistant professor and researcher at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, is the one that I would like to elaborate on, she says:
'It’s a lovely idea that something as horrific as sex trafficking, and particularly sex trafficking of children, which gets a lot of attention, is limited to the Super Bowl and that we can as a nation or as a culture rally around this awful thing that happens in connection to this one event," she said, "That’s an easier idea to grasp than the reality, which is that trafficking and exploitation happen every day in every state in every community.'
Without a doubt, we are unwittingly infiltrated by traffickers. According to the Polaris Project, a victim-focused charity initiated to end slavery in all forms and who states these are often under-reported, over 40,000 trafficking cases were reported to their hotline in 2017, showing a 13% rise in trafficking.
This is one charity.
Reporting in the United States alone.
Slavery has been a heinous dark blot on human history… but this isn’t history. This is the missing person on the milk carton. The Amber Alerts. The Airbnb renters. The hotel patrons. The convenience store customers.
I’m not here to drive up your blood pressure or champion yet another cause. I’m here to make known the prevalent underbelly of violent crimes and start the discussion of practical solutions.
Though this article has so far only touched the absolute surface of the problem in the United States, this is a worldwide problem requiring worldwide involvement. So, how does one person such as yourself effect change?
The very first thing you can do is get informed (which you’ve already halfway accomplished by reading this!).
Next, think about how you can help. Can you donate time, money, or other resources? If so, here is a non-exhaustive list of nonprofits that could use your help:
Additionally, if you research your local women’s and homeless shelters, you could donate time or goods (blankets, clothing, groceries, etc.) there.
Law enforcement also accept donations and you can designate funds in either a letter or the memo section of a check (or note section of Paypal, Venmo, etc.) stating these funds are to be used for trafficking purposes.
Lastly, if you don’t have the resources to directly help, keep your eyes, ears, and gut open to your surroundings.
As previously stated, traffickers are among the crowds and patron the same establishments as you. You don’t need to put yourself in harm’s way and you don’t need to donate money to a charity to help a victim. When you sense something is off, let management know; or if it’s the manager with whom you’re concerned, inform the police.
Beyond trusting your sixth sense, here are some indications, both physical and non-physical, that you can look for to cement your potential claim (not all need to be present to validate your awareness):
Bruising, burns, scratches, injuries
Lack of personal freedom or control (victim can't leave the trafficker's side)
Passive or poor social cues (lack of eye contact, overly timid, anxious)
Apparent abnormal working conditions
Poor physical or mental health
Trafficker is typically older, male, controlling, sometimes charismatic or manipulative, can use multiple phones, and can use multiple forms of payment for goods
For more red flags and how to handle them, read here for the Department of State's recommendations and here for the National Human Trafficking Hotline's recommendations. Some of their information is redundant but no one organization is a comprehensive source.
If you feel you have an amazing intuition for these situations and you want to make a more direct impact, some police units offer hotel training where you can operate a sting investigation with hotels or you can train the hotel managers how to spot traffickers. For more information on this, please contact your local law enforcement and/or your local violence prevention nonprofits.
However, know that hotels are only one of the 25 distinct businesses Polaris names as the type of businesses traffickers create. (If you are in the hotel business, especially as a manager and your team isn’t trained, this article is a good start to awareness.) Other businesses listed include the more obvious such as strip clubs, bars, and pornography but also included are the less obvious such as health/beauty services, traveling sales crews, and domestic work (maids, nannies, etc.). So if you frequent any existing businesses listed on Polaris' site, please pay attention to the red flags as you're there.
Due to the fact that we can change our political and social surroundings with our dollars, if you are in the position of needing to buy goods or services from someone, go with business(es) and people you know and trust instead of the cheapest craigslist offer you receive (in fact, you may even report those craigslist offers to the police using the non-emergency contact numbers).
So, no, trafficking is not limited to the Super Bowl or other sporting events but that’s the worst part. In this way, I agree with Ms. O’Brien, I wish trafficking was limited to such events because the problem would be isolated and we could concentrate our efforts. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple and it’s going to take a worldwide effort to combat and eradicate it. This means you. This means getting involved.