The COVID-19 pandemic has affected communities across the globe. Although the challenges caused by the virus have rallied some to make the world a better place, many others are suffering and facing issues like displacement, hunger, and worse. Unfortunately, criminals are using the virus as cover to ramp up their operations in areas like human trafficking.
Sex trafficking is a chronic issue worldwide. But it’s alarming that we’re seeing an increase in the exploitation of human trafficking victims as the pandemic rages on. Here’s how you can help advocate for victims who are even more vulnerable during the pandemic.
First, Educate Yourself on the Reality of Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking is defined as the enslavement of people for the purpose of forced sexual activity, usually for profit. Victims are lured into slavery under false pretenses or are outright kidnapped and sold to brothels or other establishments where customers pay for sex acts. Victims are exploited and coerced or forced into making money for their captors and are often kept in poor conditions.
We’d all like to believe that sex trafficking is a rare occurrence, but the truth is that it happens all the time in countries all over the world. Sex trafficking is most common in Asia and the Pacific, with 73% of cases occurring in these regions in 2017, but even in the United States, there were 7,858 reports of sex trafficking. Women and girls make up over 99% of all sex trafficking victims.
It’s easy to ignore sex trafficking because it flies under the radar and seems uncommon. But in reality, millions of people are victims of human trafficking each year, an experience they may never escape from, mentally, physically, or both.
Then, Learn the Indicators of Sex Trafficking
Human traffickers are often very good at covering their tracks and coercing their victims into silence. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to be aware of the indicators of sex trafficking in case intervention is called for.
One of the ways you can help is to learn how to identify victims and help them escape their situation. Many victims of sex trafficking live in poor conditions with their employers and are often crammed together into a small space. Their “employer” may hold their documentation, or they may be undocumented and fearful of being turned in if they don’t comply with the demands of their captor.
Warning signs include bruises and signs of physical abuse, acting fearful, submissive, or withdrawn, earning little to no money, and poor school attendance (for minors). You may not have the opportunity to speak with the victim alone or their answers to your questions may seem very scripted. Try to get as much information as you can and call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 if you suspect that someone is being held against their will.
Next, Know How COVID has Impacted Sex Trafficking
Sex trafficking exploitation has only gotten worse during the COVID-19 crisis. Victims are less able to move freely and access the resources and help they might have gotten without stay-at-home orders in place. Sex traffickers have also begun using new forms of exploitation, including “drive-thru” services involving children and child pornography, which has spiked since the beginning of the pandemic.
Criminals may also be using the pandemic to source new victims. People who have lost their income or housing may become desperate and believe people who are offering them a “job,” only to find themselves in a sex trafficking situation. Those who do become victims may be at a greater risk of contracting the virus due to close quarters and lack of sanitation or healthcare.
On top of the COVID-19 crisis, it’s important to remember that the most vulnerable in our society are at even greater risk right now.
Write to State and Federal Legislators
In addition to being on the lookout for potential trafficking victims, there are other ways to advocate. Writing to your state and federal legislators is important for keeping the issue top-of-mind and reminding lawmakers that people are deeply concerned about sex trafficking.
Try to avoid form letters if you can, or at least change the details so they don’t end up in legislators’ spam folders. Be persistent and keep writing letters!
Consider Volunteering as a Health Educator
People who escape sex trafficking have to deal with unimaginable trauma. Although many in-person services are currently suspended, you might want to consider volunteering as a health educator to help people cope with issues like PTSD. There may be opportunities to do this virtually, and there are always ways to get involved with helping victims.
You might be stuck at home, but you’re not helpless when it comes to fighting sex trafficking. Your compassion, determination, and advocacy could make a huge difference in the lives of those living in modern sexual slavery.
Guest Author Bio
With a Bachelor’s in Health Science along with an MBA, Sarah Daren has a wealth of knowledge within both the health and business sectors. Her expertise in scaling and identifying ways tech can improve the lives of others has led Sarah to be a consultant for a number of startup businesses, most prominently in the wellness industry, wearable technology and health education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life with a focus on making America a healthier and safer place for future generations to come.