January 11th is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
Like most of us, Jo is breathing a sigh of relief that 2020 is over. Her teenage son, a bystander shot in a random drive-by shooting, is recovered and doing well. She has a good full-time job and was recently promoted to the management team at a call center, where she helps train others. And for the first time in her life, she is getting ready to buy a new car.
Jo’s experience may appear to be only a little different than what we know, yet her newfound success is remarkable given what she has been through in her young life.
Jo is a survivor in every sense of the word, enduring a lifetime of abuse from human trafficking. Her mother had plunged Jo and her five siblings into trafficking from the time she was very young – not even old enough to attend kindergarten.
Like most people emerging from a lifetime of trafficking, she managed to escape the trade as an adult with nothing but the clothes on her back and a few personal items. In dire need of medical attention after years of neglect and abuse, Jo spent three months in the hospital recovering from surgery and intensive treatment.
Throughout her ordeal, she focused on creating a fresh start for herself and her son, who she was forced to give up until she could provide a safe environment for him.
The hospital gave Jo stability and security she had never known. She ate three hot, nutritious meals a day, slept on a warm bed at night and was well-cared for by medical staff that brought her back to health. She was comfortable in the hospital, but with no money, no resources and no plan, she had no place to go once she was well enough to be discharged. She longed to provide a stable home for her son, but she needed help.
Jo found UMOM New Day Centers and worked with a case manager on a plan to start a new life with a job and a place to live. She was able to get the ongoing medical care she needed and get healthy. She was earning her own income and able to save money. She took advantage of counseling services and became well enough that she was able to do what she had wanted to for so long: provide a loving and safe home for her son.
While Jo has experienced some ups and downs in the years since she escaped her previous life, she is handling everything now quite well. She has managed to repair broken relationships with family members, kick an addiction to pain medication and shares her story to help others. She works with Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research (STIR), providing valuable information and insight into the world of human trafficking. One day, she hopes to become more involved by opening a resource center to help survivors get help.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING FACTS
- Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery and can take many forms. A trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for profit against their will, most commonly for sex acts for money or forced labor.
- Human trafficking is a global problem, in every country, every state, every community. While the United Nations estimates there are anywhere from 20 to 40 million cases of human trafficking worldwide, data is difficult to track because the activity is often hidden. It’s believed that number only scratches the surface of how prevalent human trafficking actually is.
- Traffickers typically prey on people who are vulnerable, including those who are experiencing homelessness and others who lack safe housing.
- A study from Arizona State University’s Office of Sex Trafficking Intervention Research found one in three young adults experiencing homelessness reported being trafficked at one time.
- Freedom Network USA, an anti-human trafficking public policy organization, advocates for safe housing and support services for survivors of trafficking. Because of manipulation and abuse, survivors are often in need of intensive medical treatment, counseling, help dealing with addiction and other issues.
Safe Housing options allow individuals to concentrate on their psychological needs, including any effects of complex trauma that they experience. When a survivor’s basic needs (including safe and affordable housing) are not met they must concentrate on basic survival. This creates an environment that makes them more vulnerable to new exploitative situations.
– International Institute of St. Louis, Missouri
Predators take advantage of being able to remain anonymous while stalking people online. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends adults use the following online safety tips for children:
- Never share pictures of yourself online that you wouldn’t want to be seen by your family, teachers, or a total stranger.
- Set user profile to private so only real friends can get access. Know who you’re chatting with – a “friend” is not always a friend.
- Treat people online as you would in person: be polite!
- Don’t share personal information online such as your full name, school, address or phone number, or user passwords.
- Don’t meet up in person with anyone you met online.
- Report suspected abuse to law enforcement or a trusted adult.
If you see something that is not right, such as a young adult that appears to be abused or controlled by another person, appears to be crying out for help or something truly seems off or not right, call and report the incident with as many details as you can to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1.888.373.7888. You can also text BEFREE to 23373.
Human trafficking is often a hidden crime. Victims may be afraid to come forward and get help; they may be forced or coerced through threats or violence; they may fear retribution from traffickers, including danger to their families; and they may not be in possession of or have control of their identification documents.
Sources: U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, United Nations, Freedom Network USA, National Human Trafficking Hotline