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  • Writer's pictureKrista Bontrager

An Insider Explains How Human Traffickers are Caught

As we've been researching questions about the film, Sound of Freedom, we have interacted with various insiders who work in the field of human trafficking. Our guest for this discussion has worked in a human trafficking law enforcement unit in a major U.S. county. Our guest helped us get a glimpse inside their unit, how traffickers are actually captured, and how to keep your kids safe.



 

Interview with Guest, "Rhonda"


**Part 2 of the series on Human Trafficking**


Rhonda (not her real name), previously worked as an Intelligence Analyst in Law Enforcement in a major U.S. County. She worked within a Human Trafficking Task Force where she collected, analyzed, and interpreted information in order to mitigate crimes and threats. Rhonda currently works in the private sector, still focusing on human trafficking cases, as well as serving as a volunteer with organizations that fight child exploitation and human trafficking.


Important statistics:

Claim: Every 30 seconds a child is sold into slavery or is used for organ harvesting. Is this true??

Rhonda, in addition to her very experienced colleagues, could not find the original source for this claim, nor any data to back it up! Because there is no data, this claim cannot be validated.


However, this does NOT mean human trafficking is not a global problem! It is the 2nd largest criminal enterprise in the world (1st is drug trafficking) and it is estimated to be a $150 billion industry.


Definition:

Human trafficking (based on the federal definition) is the use of force, fraud, or coercion, to compel a person into a commercial sex act or labor act against their will.

Exception: No such thing as child prostitution...you do NOT have to prove force, fraud, or coercion when it comes to a child being trafficked. That child IS being trafficked, plain and simple.


Special note:

The quantity and quality of data on human trafficking can be affected for a variety of reasons:

--It is an underground crime

--It is happening as we speak

--It is not being reported (past or present)

--Trafficked persons may not recognize/identify themselves as victims

--Organizations who work in this field may not share data


Most Respected Organizations Following the Data: (see links to articles/websites below):

  • Polaris Project--Runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the US:

--2021 data from Hotline: 10,359 trafficking situations reported; of those, 16,610 were likely victims; of those victims, likely over 11,000 were sex-trafficked

  • United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC):

--Reports every 2 years; 2018-2021 data from UN member states: 53,800 detected victims reported

  • International Labour Organization’s Global Estimates of Modern Slavery:

--Report Sept 2022, estimates at any given time, 27.6 million were labor or sex trafficked; regarding children specifically, age of entry into trafficking: 1400 were adults, 4500 were minors

  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:

--Of the 25,000 reported missing children in the US in 2022 who had run away, 1 in 6 were likely victims of sex-trafficking


Important: The term "estimate" indicates the data is likely close to the true number vs the phrase "based on trafficking reports" guarantees it is a fraction of what is actually happening.


How do victims get brought in to a life of trafficking/prostitution?

In the United States, a child is *rarely* kidnapped and brought into trafficking by a stranger.

In 2022, 42% of victims were brought in by a family member and 39% by an intimate partner:

--Familial trafficking--parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, cousin, sibling, close family friend (ie "uncle" or "aunty")

--Intimate partner (pimp-controlled trafficking)--not related to the victim, but could be a romantic partner or spouse and brought in through a grooming process


Vulnerabilities:

--Children in foster care, welfare system, juvenile justice system

--Runaway and homeless youth

--Children living in unstable situations, such as poverty, substance abuse, broken families, minorities

--People with a history of trauma and abuse

**Common thread--these children/young people are desperately in need or want, whether it's for food, housing, money, drugs, love, safety, or belonging and the trafficker will use these vulnerabilities to exploit their victims


How are traffickers caught?

Proximity & context: Teachers, nurses, social workers, police officers, calls into tip line, clues left on social media

Historically/typically, these are the potential signs to look for:

--signs of physical abuse, exhaustion, disheveled

  • BUT, we may not be able to "see" actual signs, but need to know the STORY.

BEST WAY to look out for family/friends: PAY ATTENTION to the people you know and interact with every day. Keys are PROXIMITY and CONTEXT!

Proximity = a relationship with an individual

Context = circumstances that form the setting of a situation

Therefore, based on PROXIMITY and CONTEXT, someone may notice changes in a person...exhaustion, new boyfriend, glued to phone, new & high-end clothing/gifts, etc


Cautions/wisdom for parents:

--Refrain from/limit posting photos of children publicly

--Choose an appropriate age for getting a smartphone (closer to 14-15 yrs)

--Have age-appropriate conversations with children about dangers of social media/online gaming (ie what is sexting? what is online exploitation? what is the grooming process?)

--Remind them not to allow followers that they don't know in real life

--Fill your home with love and security!

--Pay attention! Notice changes in personality & moods

--Let them know you are available to talk if anything uncomfortable comes up

--Encourage them to look out for their friends


  • Important note: ANY child is susceptible of being victimized by predators or traffickers!


If you suspect someone is a victim of trafficking:

--Call 911 for immediate danger

--Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or

text 233-733 (to report tips or if you are being victimized)

  • If a close friend is being victimized (and willing to talk), BEST OPTION is to report to the hotline/law enforcement. You may be putting your friend or yourself in danger if you try to follow-up on your own.


How do we properly vet trafficking organizations?

--Research the organization on websites such as https://www.charitynavigator.org/

--Examine the organization's website

--Look at the organization's annual report. How are they spending their money?

--What is the mission of the organization? How are they fulfilling their mission?

--Are they aligned with other reputable organizations?

--Do they have survivors as board members, volunteers, or advisors?

--What is the news saying, your community saying, other volunteers and survivors saying about the organization?


Resources:


Polaris Project Data from the 2021 National Human Trafficking Hotline:


United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:


International Labour Organization’s Global Estimates of Modern Slavery:


National Center for Missing and Exploited Children:


Be sure to check out the ATT episode from 2020 on Human Trafficking and the phenomenal organization, Agape International Ministries: https://www.youtube.com/live/AdmDoNfTIiQ?si=Br8JHYOC_EaOCVYg


To find out more about Krista's deep dive into the recent movie "Sound of Freedom", check out the Theology Mom podcast:

"I Went Down the Rabbit Hole | Tim Ballard, Founder of O.U.R.":

Sound of Freedom (Christian Movie Review)":


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