From the Cullman (Ala.) Times

JANUARY IS Human Trafficking Awareness Month, designed to raise awareness of the fastest growing criminal industry in our nation.

We encourage everyone to learn the warning signs of human trafficking and report any suspicious behavior to law enforcement. We must also create an environment where it is more difficult for these predators to carry out their criminal enterprises.

Modern day slavery is big business. The selling of individuals for sex or labor is a $32 billion industry in the United States and second only to drugs and arms trafficking. The average age of victims is between 12-14 year old.

Organizations like Shared Hope International and the Polaris Project, along with many government task forces, have done a lot to educate the public about the issue and share warning signs.

But myths about human trafficking remain, many scripted by Hollywood blockbusters.

Take, for example, the movie “Taken,” where a beautiful, young woman and her friend are kidnapped by traffickers in a foreign country and one of the girls’ father, a man with “a very particular set of skills,” rescues the girl from her captors.

The reality is that people are more likely to become victims through psychological means, by manipulation, tricks or threats. Victims are runaways, children without stable home lives, individuals with substance abuse or mental health concerns. Predators exploit the vulnerable.

According to the Polaris Project, the top five sex trafficking recruitment tactics criminals use are: Intimate partner/marriage proposition; familial; job offer/advertisement; posing as a benefactor; and false promises. So instead of a father with a set of skills that will save his daughter, picture instead a father with a drug addiction who will sell his daughter to get his fix. That is the sad, sickening reality of sex trafficking.

Statistics show that Interstate highways play a large role in the trafficking business but it’s also happening in our neighborhoods and subdivisions. As one child advocacy center noted, “With the growth of technology and the use of social media, the buying and selling of human beings has become as easy as a simple ‘click’ on a keyboard.”

Thanks to that raised awareness and state laws across the nation requiring certain businesses to post of the National Human Trafficking Hotline number (1-888-373-7888 or text “BeFree” to 233733), more victims are seeking help. There was a 19 percent increase in calls to the hotline in 2019, which resulted in the rescue of more than 22,300 survivors and arrest of more than 4,300 perpetrators. There are now also more resources for human trafficking survivors, including, the ability to sue hotels and internet sites that have profited off of the trafficking business.

It is encouraging to see progress being made. There is more to do; for example, Shared Hope International recommends Alabama add human trafficking as a racketeering crime, giving prosecutors one more arrow in their quiver to fight traffickers. And we must extend our awareness of this crime to ever month of the year, keeping an eye on the vulnerable in our communities and watchful of those who would prey upon them.

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