Human Trafficking: Global Phenomena. Domestic Concern.

Human Trafficking: Global Phenomena. Domestic Concern.

Over the last several years, the topic of human trafficking – or modern day slavery as many advocates call it – has captured the attention and pulled on the heart strings of the American public. U.S. citizens became indignant as they realized that slavery, something they thought fixed a century ago, was still growing in the world. Since then, countless organizations, advocacy campaigns, and fundraisers have been created to help the victims of global trafficking, especially the women and girls trafficked in our country.

Unfortunately, many people still don’t know that these same horror stories happen in their state, their county, their city. Recent reports cite that American born girls and boys are just as likely to be trafficked domestically as immigrant children. Amy Fine Collin recently wrote a story for Vanity Fair on domestic sex trafficking about two trafficked American girls, Gwen and Alicia, and the police officers, lawyers, social workers, and doctors who helped free them. “A pound of heroin or an AK-47 can be retailed once, but a young girl can be sold 10 to 15 times a day—and a “righteous” pimp confiscates 100 percent of her earnings,” Collin writes. This is an American reality, one that unfortunately is targeting younger and younger children.

  The largest groups of children trafficked are abused and neglected youth, girls, runaways, and homeless youth. These are groups highly vulnerable to other kinds of victimization including the increased probability of being exposed to violence. For example, in a recent study by DePaul University, 88 percent of trafficked victims reported they had come from a home where domestic violence was present. Research shows this type of exposure to violence increases children’s rates of regressive behavior, anxiety and depression, and conduct problems.  They are more likely to be involved in dating violence, delinquency, further victimization, and the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Moreover, violence exposure within victims of human trafficking is of particular interest because these effects are only multiplied by their captivity. Many of the “survival” behaviors—such as running away, refusal to talk, substance usage and abuse, depression, becoming suicidal or engaging in other at-risk behaviors may be driven by repeated experiencing of traumatic events.

Local programs report that about 70 percent of all homeless children will end up being commercially exploited, a third of them within the first 48 hours leaving home. That means of the 1 million to 1.5 million youth who leave home each year, somewhere between 330,000 and 500,000 children have most likely been a human trafficking victim. However, the majority of funding and awareness is going to foreign-born victims and global trafficking efforts.

Despite these large numbers of victimized American youth, U.S. policy has often focused on foreigners trafficked into the country and fighting trafficking overseas. It provides services such as health and mental health, education, legal aid, and housing for foreign victims but has not extended them to domestically trafficked girls and boys. The Rebecca Project for Human Rights estimates that there are only 200 residential beds reserved for American youth coming out of human trafficking.  Some law enforcement report having lodged girls rescued from pimps in motels, the same places where they experienced their trauma. Policy efforts also fall short of coordinating local, state, and federal efforts. Some states, such as Washington, have passed their own laws, but many domestic efforts are limited to only trafficked victims involved in the sex trade.

QuoteDomestic victims also do not experience the same kind of legal protection as foreign-born victims. Started in 2003, Innocence Lost, a joint-effort by the Department of Justice, FBI, and Center for Missing and Exploited children, was only able to rescue 500 domestic victims of sexual trafficking in its first five years. That is about 100 per year, far fewer than the 330,000 to 500,000 victimized homeless youth.  In her popular book, Girls Like Us, Rachel Lloyd, founder of Harlem-based recovery program Girls Empowerment Mentoring Services, or GEMS, recounts stories of girls being held in high-security prisons for prostitution. She points out that if these girls would have reported their real age or been foreign born, they would have been recognized as rape victims, their cases prosecuted, and services provided. Instead, because of U.S. penal codes that target prostitutes instead of johns, these girls face long sentences for prostitution.

Other barriers to adequately serving domestic trafficking victims include:
• Lack of funding
• Lack of resources, such as housing and transportation
• Lack of coordinated services (e.g., linking mental health, medical care, legal assistance, and other services in one location or through a network of providers)
• Lack of training for professionals who deal with trafficking victims, including training on needs of sexually exploited children, legal issues, and victims’ rights
• Need for more proactive measures to train law enforcement officers, particularly at the local level, to identify victims and forced labor operations and recognize and assist trafficking victims
• Safety concerns
• Criminalization of youth who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation
• Lack of legislation that adequately addresses prevention of and intervention in cases of domestic sexual trafficking of children and youth


Today, January 11, is Human Trafficking Awareness day – a day for U.S. citizens to recognize the problem happening within our borders, to remember the survivors past and present, and to put policies and practices in place that protect our children and youth. Here in the United States, we have begun the hard work to identify victims, free them, prosecute their captors, and extend recovery services.

Responses to human trafficking must take into account not only different types of exposure, but also factors such as increased risk of future victimization and the cumulative impact of multiple victimizations. Prevention is the next step – prevention of human trafficking activities, child abuse, and homelessness. These efforts must extend to protecting the 60 percent of children who are exposed to family, school, or community violence each year. This includes providing safe environments and supportive adult relationships for children at-risk of exposure to violence as well as services and interventions to reduce the impact on children and youth who have experienced violence.

We leave you with President Obama’s words when he addressed the nation, announcing Modern Slavery and Trafficking Awareness in 2010:

“During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we acknowledge that forms of slavery still exist in the modern era, and we recommit ourselves to stopping the human traffickers who ply this horrific trade…We must join together as a Nation and global community to provide that safe haven by protecting victims and prosecuting traffickers…Fighting modern slavery and human trafficking is a shared responsibility… Together, we can and must end this most serious, ongoing criminal civil rights violation.”


For Resources:

General Resources

Guide for Programs

National Human Trafficking Resource Center

Fact Sheet

National Groups – Domestic Human Trafficking

Women’s Funding Network

Innocence Lost Information

Salvation Army – PROMISE Initiative

Polaris Project

FAAST (Can we promote a faithbased organization?)

Freedom Network


Bay Fang. “Young Lives For Sale.” U.S. News & World Report. Vol. 139, No. 15. 24 October 2005.

“Bought and Sold”

Children’s Exposure to Violence: A Comprehensive Survey

From Victims to Victimizers

Sex Trafficking of Americans: The Girls Next Door


6 Responses

  1. […] more at the Safe Start Center article: Human Trafficking: Global Phenomena. Domestic Concern. Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  2. […] few months ago Safe Start Center highlighted Human Trafficking Awareness Day and in support of National Child Abuse Prevention and Sexual Assault Awareness month we’d like to […]

  3. […] problem and how it’s affecting children across the nation and shares resources to stop it. ———- Another favorite from our Director, Elena Cohen, discusses how policy […]

  4. […] we’ve mentioned in previous posts, the consequences of trafficking are vast. The largest affected group are children – abused […]

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