While human trafficking is a growing problem throughout the country, our backyards are no exception to this. According to Human Trafficking Hotline, Virginia received 578 contacts and 119 cases reported in 2020.
Human trafficking is a global crime that “compels someone into labor or commercial sex using force, fraud and/or coercion”. Knowing the signs and educating yourself and others is key, especially for anyone coming into contact with people who are vulnerable in our area. Though Fairfax County feels like an affluent area, many women, men, and youth from every walk of life are forced into exploitative situations.
Before any of us can make a difference, knowledge is one of the most powerful tools we can have to crack the roots of human trafficking and provide safe havens for our community.
Here are four facts you might not know about this global issue:
Human trafficking is often underreported
According to records from Northern Virginia Human Trafficking Task Force, there were about 500 sex trafficking identified victims between January 2013 to February 2017. Yet, human trafficking remains largely unreported to authorities due to a number of reasons – low awareness, lack of resources, fear of law enforcement, and etc. Only 0.5% of human trafficking victims in Fairfax County self-report, according to FCPS.
Before 2015, Virginia did not even have standalone human trafficking laws. The number of victims identified is far less than the official estimate, which means the impact on young people could be greater than these numbers suggest.
There are different forms of human trafficking
Human trafficking has many forms but the United States categorizes it into two primary forms – sex trafficking and forced labor trafficking. Traffickers use social media and other tactics to recruit victims into engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against their will.
According to the National Network for Youth, one in five youth had been a victim of sex and labor trafficking or both.
Certain populations are more vulnerable to human trafficking
Traffickers often target people who are marginalized or in difficult situations. Not having a place to sleep, food to eat, or clothing on your back can put people at high risk and traffickers often promise to meet those needs. While male victims face the same exploitation, human trafficking disproportionately affects women and young girls, especially people of color.
When people are denied the means to meet basic needs, they often have to make a desperate choice to stay safe. Young teens in economic hardship, low-income families, broken homes, or violent neighborhoods are more vulnerable in certain ways. According to National Sexual Research Center, 23% of homeless adults, ages 18-26, engaged in sex trades. A report found that LGBTQ+ youth experiencing homelessness were at higher risk to engage in survival sex for essentials like food and shelter.
COVID-19 increased the number of people at risk
According to a report by the State Department, the COVID-19 pandemic increased existing vulnerabilities as economic and social conditions made it easier for traffickers to target victims. With mass layoff and income loss, this increases the likelihood that young people will accept survival sex or forced labor to make ends meet.
Global school closure meant that young people were spending increased time online, where traffickers are increasingly targeting for grooming and sexual exploitation. As the economy recovers, pressure to meet heightened demands can become a breeding ground for forced labor trafficking.
Human trafficking thrives on vulnerability and the pandemic raise alarms that trafficking is not bound by physical locations. No young person should ever have to make desperate choices to stay safe or avoid exploitation.
Hidden in plain sight, it can be difficult to see human trafficking in our area but the impacts are there. Trafficking prevention is prioritized in each of Second Story’s programs — by keeping youth safe we remove the factor of vulnerability, the key to a young person’s risk for trafficking.
Learn more how Second Story is keeping young people safe. Join us for our next Open Door information session!