22 Dec How to Fight Human Trafficking in Everyday Life
Once you know, you can’t unknow. More Americans are becoming aware of the reality of human trafficking here in the United States. It’s an overwhelming topic. I’ve been in conversations where people have physically put their hands over their ears when learning about it for the first time. I attribute this avoidance to a sense of helplessness— I don’t want this terrible thing to be happening, and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m going to pretend it’s not.
But there are ways to fight human trafficking during everyday life. The only way to move the needle is for the unaware to be made aware and the unaffected to engage. Here’s how:
Trafficking exists to meet demand. It’s a business.
At a board retreat last year, someone asked a survivor in Empower Her Network’s program who the buyers are. She said, “Your cousin. Your friends. Your next door neighbors. It’s people who look and dress like you.” So, it’s crucial we end demand wherever we see it. Take a hard look at your habits, music lyrics, and influences. What have you been okay with happening at bachelor parties because you assumed consent?
If you’re a man, be an ally. If you’re a woman, encourage the men in your life to join the fight.
When crude, lewd, rape-culture comments are waved off as “locker room talk,” it normalizes the idea of women as play toys and property. You don’t have to be confrontational if that’s not your way. Something as simple as, “That’s a bit much,” or, “Whoa, there.” Anything is better than silence. Silence is tacit approval.
As you’re out in the world on planes and trains, traveling in different cities, eating at restaurants, doing your job—if you know the common signs of human trafficking and you’re looking for them—you will absolutely have cause to call the National Trafficking Hotline during your lifetime. It’s out there, we just need to start seeing it.
Here are some human trafficking red flags:
- Employees living with their employer or “shared employee housing.”
- Group transportation to and from work. For example, a nail salon or restaurant where a van pulls up at the start of the day and 8 people get out even though demand isn’t at its peak yet, work all day, then get in the van to go home. That doesn’t make any sense: no business owner would want more staff than needed if they were paying fair wages.
- Employer blocks you from speaking to an individual directly or alone.
- An employee’s answers appear to be scripted and rehearsed.
- Only one person at the establishment is allowed to handle money.
- A massage parlor with windows drawn and mostly/only men coming in and out.
- A person presents signs of physical abuse and/or has a total lack of agency.
- Someone who is clearly a minor being escorted to a hotel room in a non-paternal way by a much older male.
- Someone being grabbed and pulled or roughhoused to physically move.
If you work in an industry that intersects with trafficking victims (such as emergency medical care, law enforcement, hospitality, transportation), encourage your employer to educate staff and report suspicious happenings. I recommend checking out offerings from Runaway Girl, a training company owned and staffed by a team with lived experience.
My last suggestion is this: help survivors who have made it out, stay out (which also keeps their kids from getting sucked in). Learn about the programs assisting survivors in your community and support them with your time and resources. If you’re interested in joining the anti-trafficking community, reach out to Empower Her Network. We welcome anyone who’s decided to take their hands off their ears and become a part of the solution.