Human Trafficking needs greater awareness, response

January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day; but it is also observed as part of National Human Trafficking Awareness Week and National Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The increasing but still insufficient public focus on Human Trafficking signifies what has become the world’s fastest-growing crime reportedly due to its low risk and often high reward for perpetrators.

Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons (TIP), is the modern-day practice of slavery.  It is a crime under federal and international law.  It is also a crime in many U.S. states. Federal and state officials are paying closer attention to the dangers of human trafficking, but the crime remains an ever-growing illegal activity around the globe.

According to national advocacy group Polaris Project, human trafficking is a form of slavery where individuals profit from the control and exploitation of others through forced sex or labor practices. Victims can be found working in a variety of different roles throughout the world — including in restaurants, nail salons and hotels.

There is not one consistent face of a trafficking victim.  Trafficked persons in the U.S. can be rich or poor, men or women, adults or children, foreign nationals or US citizens.  Some are well-educated, while others have no formal education.

While anyone can become a victim of trafficking, certain populations are especially vulnerable.  These may include : undocumented migrants; runaways, homeless and at-risk youth; and oppressed, marginalized, and/or impoverished groups and individuals.  Traffickers specifically target individuals in these populations because they are vulnerable to recruitment tactics and methods of control.

Undocumented immigrants in the US are highly vulnerable due to a combination of factors, including: lack of legal status and protections, language barriers, limited employment options, poverty and immigration-related debts, and social isolation.  They are often victimized by traffickers from a similar ethnic or national background, on whom they may be dependent for employment or a means of support.

Call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline at 1-888-3737-888 if you or someone you know has experienced human trafficking or is in a potential human trafficking situation. Learn more about this problem and what you can do to help fight it.

It’s tough to prosecute crimes involving human traffickers. Many victims refuse to come forward. And if they do, they can be charged with tougher penalties than their traffickers. There’s also a lack of resources to help victims, who sometimes return to their traffickers because they feel they have nowhere else to go. Despite those challenges, lawmakers and grassroots groups across the country are joining to combat what many say is the growing problem of human trafficking, which is the use of threats, violence or coercion that results in forced labor and/or prostitution.

Pennsylvania’s State Senate recently passed Bill 75, which better defines trafficking, toughens penalties against traffickers and provides better protection for Pennsylvania victims. “What happens too often, when it’s noticed by law enforcement (is), the child is arrested, the pimp is let go and the person who gets a criminal charge is the victim, and society doesn’t treat them that way (as victims),” said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-12, Upper Moreland, who authored S.B. 75. “This is one of the last accepted injustices in our society.”

Now known as Act 105, the law went into effect Sept. 2, 2014. In a panel discussion in Willow Grove, Greenleaf told a group of anti-trafficking advocates that the previous legal definition of human trafficking was vague and lacked the teeth needed to effectively prosecute traffickers. Often, they were charged with other crimes or allowed to plea bargain to lesser charges, he said. Prior to the passage of Greenleaf’s bill, Pennsylvania was known nationwide for its weak policies addressing trafficking.

That reputation is changing now because of the new law. But effectively fighting and ending human trafficking–especially along the East Coast corridor so popular with traffickers–will require everyone, including church members, to become aware, educated and involved in recognizing and stopping the crime and helping its victims.

The United Methodist Women of the Southeast District will sponsor a Social Action Event on Human Trafficking Saturday, Feb. 28 (snow date: March 14), at Christ Middletown UMC, 600 East Dutton Mill Road, Brookhaven, PA. The program begins at 10 AM, following a light breakfast at 9 AM.

Obed Almeyda, co-chair of the Montgomery County Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition and Executive Director of the Mid-Atlantic Dream Center, will speak. He is also senior pastor of Healing Word Ministries.  The Dream Center’s mission is to serve Christ by serving and loving forgotten people, many of whom are hungry, homeless or victims of human trafficking.

Please notify Ann Daniel at acardan@verizon.net or 267-408-1168 of your plans to attend.

Partial information source: Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency

For more information and resources about Human Trafficking and to join the efforts of United Methodist Women in the global movement to end this complex web of labor bondage and sexual exploitation visit http://www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/human-trafficking.