Last fall during my junior year of college, I heard the following from a classmate:
“I get that human trafficking is an issue, but it doesn’t happen as much in the United States, right?”
Over time, I heard similar statements and general confusion from classmates after I introduced the issue to explore for a service project. I was surprised by the lack of prior knowledge.
During one of our meetings to finalize the project, another classmate raised her hand and asked for clarification: “what is human trafficking?”
It was a simple question, so I gave a simple reply:
“Human trafficking is modern-day slavery.”
A lightbulb went off in her head. Slowly, the gravity and brevity of the issue spread across the room. Following the meeting, we prepared and implemented an awareness assembly with Greenlight Operation that educated over 250 freshman and sophomore high school students.1
Why did we think it was important to educate these students? Here are three reasons:
1. It doesn’t just happen overseas.
Like my classmate initially thought, many people tend to think human trafficking only happens outside of their country or to non-U.S. citizens. However, although the Human Trafficking Hotline has only been able to identify 32,457 victims/survivors in the past four years,2 it is estimated that there are upwards of 400,000 slaves in the United States.3
More specifically, for the past two years, Pennsylvania has ranked 10th for the highest reported human trafficking cases per state. Additionally, more than half of the 2018 reported human trafficking cases in the United States and in Pennsylvania involved U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.2 Clearly, it happens here and happens to anyone.
2. The average age of victims is lower than you think.
According to the Department of Justice, the average age of human trafficking victims is 15—the same age as many high school students.4 The Polaris Project also compiled data and found, on average, that victims are first trafficked at the age of 19.5 Although 19 is typically a post-high school age, victims are rarely abducted out of nowhere, but groomed over a period of time. This grooming process most likely takes place throughout high school, so the ability for students to spot this unusual behavior early on is vital for prevention.
3. Community involvement thwarts criminal involvement.
The Human Trafficking Hotline reported that community members were the largest category of callers to provide information on cases (they made up 30% of callers in 2018).2 Everyday people are valuable fighters and advocates for victims. Polaris also shared that interactions with friends and family were among the top points of access for potential help.5 By equipping friends and families in schools with the tools they need to reach potential victims, prevention can become more of a reality.
The more you know about human trafficking and what it looks like, the more you’ll be able to spot it before it happens or have the confidence to contact authorities if it is happening. If you witness or suspect human trafficking, or are personally being trafficked, call the toll-free, multilingual, 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center & Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE).
The first step to prevention is education, awareness, and understanding. Greenlight Operation offers age appropriate education and training at schools, churches, clubs, events, or other community gatherings. If you would like to schedule a speaking engagement or training event please go to https://www.greenlightoperation.org/schedule-a-training/.
To partner with us financially, read our blog, meet our team, or grab some great swag, visit www.greenlightoperation.org.