Beginning in 2010, by Presidential Proclamation, each January has been designated National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
This epidemic is not only taking place in our country and state, but right here in the counties in which we live.
Child trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. and second only to drug trafficking as the largest crime in the United States. According to the Department of Justice, it will be the number one crime in America by 2020.
Many people still do not know much about this crime or how close to home it is taking place. Although it is not something new, there is little statistical data on the local, state, and national level. One reason for this is a lack of public awareness.
What is child sex trafficking? According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is when any minor under the age of 18 is induced to perform a commercial sex act regardless of whether there is force, fraud, or coercion.
The average age of entry for a child trafficking victim is 11 – 14 years old.
With an average post-trafficking life span of 7 years, child victims often die in their early 20’s due to HIV, drugs, STD’s, starvation, and rape.
An estimated $32 billion industry, between 100,000 – 300,000 children are sex trafficking victims annually in our country.
In 2016, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 6 endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims.
Globally, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.5 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation.
In a 2014 report, the Urban Institute estimated that the underground sex economy ranged from $39.9 million in Denver, Colorado, to $290 million in Atlanta, Georgia.
Close to home
In Alabama, interstates I-85, I-65, and I-20 converge to create a trafficking corridor by which victims are transported rapidly around the state, and beyond. I-20 is known as the super highway of human trafficking, as it runs across almost the entire U.S.. These interstates make it possible for traffickers to easily move a high volume of child victims from state to state.
Those who help
There are organizations who are committed to fighting this crime and helping those who are affected by it. One of those is Blanket Fort Hope, a non-profit organization in Birmingham and Montgomery that is “a fortress of safety” for children who are victims of trafficking. Blanket Fort Hope (BFH) was born from a clear recognition that there is no place in Alabama dedicated to housing and assisting trafficked children.
“BFH is one of the few organizations in the country dedicated to assisting children who have been trafficked,” said Alexa James, Vice President and Co-Founder of BFH. “Our goals are to offer them healing, restoration, and the opportunity to thrive through long-term and short-term housing. We also work to prevent children from becoming victims by educating them, and also professionals who work with children.”
In just two years, Blanket Fort Hope has joined the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force, written a curriculum to educate children and professionals, released a prevention education video, trained approximately 500 students and professionals through their prevention program, and assisted with many child trafficking cases.
Currently in the beginning stages of developing a children’s home, Blanket Fort Hope will provide safe housing and vital care for child trafficking victims. In the meantime, they assist with cases in a variety of ways, including helping with coordination of services, basic necessities, transportation, medical and legal needs, locating shelter, finding interpreters, and providing human trafficking information to other agencies.
Ways to educate your children
On Blanket Fort Hope’s website, there is helpful information under the “Resources” section. One resource focused on prevention is about engaging parents and guardians of high school age boys in stopping sexual exploitation.
“We have our own training for 6th – 12th graders. Kids need to know what human trafficking is and to look for signs on social media,” James said. “For younger children, ask them to list on a sheet of paper all people they feel safe with. The parents can look at it and . . . if someone they think should be on there is missing, ask appropriate questions.”
James also adds to not force your children to hug or kiss people if they don’t want to. That way they know they have control of saying yes or no to physical contact.
Make sure your kids know about inappropriate touching of their body and private parts, and make sure they have a safe person to speak with if they feel uncomfortable about something.
Ways to help
BFH’s website lists a variety of ways to get involved in the fight against child trafficking.
- Host a lemonade stand fundraiser (contact BFH to get info.)
- Create or join a street team.
- Anytime BFH puts out info on social media, spread it to your community or church.
- Invite a representative to come to your workplace or school and talk about the organization.
- Donate to BFH via their website.
This issue is bigger and closer to home than we realize. Let’s educate ourselves, our kids, and our communities so we can be part of ending slavery in our city and in our nation.
Statistics Source: https://polarisproject.org