Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern slavery where traffickers use ways of force, coercion, or fraud to control an individual to perform commercial sex acts or labor services against their will, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH). There are two forms of human trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking.
Human trafficking is a consistent national topic, with numbers of victims growing each year, but it is also a local concern. According to the Polaris Project’s 2019 Data Report, there were 22,326 victims and survivors reported. This number breaks down into 14,597 who were in sex trafficking, 4,934 in labor trafficking, 1,048 in sex and labor trafficking, and 1,747 not specified. The NHTH wrote that there were 233 human trafficking cases reported in Missouri alone in 2019, putting Missouri 15th in the country.
Advocates for human trafficking awareness across the country have continued the use of hashtags #SaveOurChildren and #SaveTheChildren to draw awareness on social media platforms. As of October 26, 2020, on Facebook 3.4 million people are talking about #SaveOurChildren and as of November 6, 2020, 1.6 million are talking about #SaveTheChildren. The numbers of those posting about these topics and discussing human trafficking have greatly increased in recent months, as compare these current numbers to those from August 11, 2020 when 585 thousand were talking about #SaveOurChildren and 1.1 million about #SaveTheChildren on Facebook.
Numbers of human trafficking situations identified have steadily increased each year recently, as Polaris reported that in 2019 11,500 situations were identified—compared to 2015 with half the amount, at 5,713. Additionally, from December 2007 to December 2019 63,380 total human trafficking situations were identified. Polaris’ 2019 Data Report broke down the demographics of identified human trafficking victims, showing that trafficking affects all genders, ages, and nationalities. The report showed that the average onset age for sex trafficking was 17 and for labor trafficking was 22. Human trafficking situations can take various forms, but Polaris identified the top types. The top three identified sex trafficking types are: escort services; illicit massage, health, and beauty; and pornography. The top three labor trafficking are: domestic work; agriculture and animal husbandry; and traveling sales crews. Though, the top three where both sex and labor trafficking occur are: illicit massage, health, and beauty; illicit activities; and bars, strip clubs, and cantinas.
One way that Polaris mentions human trafficking has affected the nation recently is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Polaris addresses this, stating that “housing insecurity is a leading indicator of vulnerability to human trafficking,” as there have been many individuals during the pandemic having to face evictions due to certain circumstances—such as inability to pay utility fees, rent, mortgages, and more—this can make individuals more vulnerable to human trafficking. Polaris states that working toward efforts to help individuals facing these circumstances can reduce their vulnerability. Polaris recommends that in responding to the pandemic’s economic impact, housing for vulnerable individuals and communities should be prioritized—including those homeless, on the verge of homelessness, and young people aging out of the child welfare or foster care system.
From 2018 to 2019, Polaris saw a 19 percent increase in the number of victims and survivors who contacted them. For those who may not yet wish to tell the authorities, Polaris ensures that the NHTH will not contact law enforcement or take action on behalf of the individual without prior consent—except for in specific situations, such as those involving children.
The Missouri Attorney General provides resources and information about how to get involved and “Join the Fight Against Human Trafficking.” Suggestions provided are to join local coalitions and to educate yourself through resources, such as training videos offered on the Missouri Attorney General’s website.
A coalition available to Joplin area residents is the RISE Coalition. RISE Coalition’s mission is to work with area organizations and agencies in the four states to “increase public awareness through community collaboration and education, to identify human trafficking cases, and to connect identified victims with comprehensive social and medical services.” They provide resources for advocates and victims specific to the Joplin and surrounding area.
Other Joplin area resources for victims and survivors of human trafficking include Rapha House International and Black Box International. Rapha House’s focus is on preventing human trafficking in children before it starts, but also to provide care to children affected by human trafficking. Black Box’s goal is to provide awareness to boys, specifically, who are affected by human trafficking. They focus on rehabilitating boys 16 and under who have been sex trafficked. For those interested in getting involved with spreading awareness of human trafficking, they may volunteer their time with or donate to any of these organizations.
For individuals experiencing human trafficking, or those who identify situations of human trafficking, there are multiple ways to report—including call, text, or via online form. Call the Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, text “BEFREE” to 233733, or go online to the Human Trafficking Hotline website.