By Allison Chawla
In the 1800’s during the time of the Emancipation Proclamation there were over 36,000 northern blacks that remained enslaved” (Dolgoff & Feldstein, 2009). Most of these slaves were held in New York and New Jersey, even though most of the northern states had begun the movement to abolish slavery. In the United States before and during Civil War times, the country thrived on slavery. It was because of slavery that the states succeeded. Men and women could be auctioned off and sold on the streets. Men and women who were enslaved had no basic rights in life. They did not even hold rights to their families and could be sold and separated from their children at anytime. Even children were sold as slaves and taken from their parents at ages as young as 4 and 5.
In time and after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, slaves began to be freed. Not only did the laws for slavery change, but over the years the nation also began to recognize the importance of protecting children and how their needs differ from adults. Towards the Progressive Era, the perspective on what life should be like for children shifted significantly and it was eventually decided that the appropriate environment for children was in the home, as explained by Walter Trattner. Children were safe at home and the men and women who were once enslaved were beginning to experience the basic rights to their families, education and the rights to own land as the nation evolved.
There were many strong leaders that challenged the practices of slavery and fought to make such great changes in our country over time, but while we celebrate names like Lincoln, Wilberforce, Arthur and many others who stood up against the Atlantic slave trade, the number of slaves in the world today “is far greater than ever before in history”(Skinner, 2008). The grip of slavery is strong and continuing to grow and approximately 75-80% of human trafficking and slavery is for sex. It is also estimated that 30,000 people die each year while being trafficked for sex from neglect, abuse, disease or torture. Slavery is not dead at all. It is actually thriving and cashes in more than $8 million a year without any law that prohibits this type of slavery. The total market value of illicit human trafficking is estimated to be in excess of $32 billion. Nearly 20,000 victims are sold and trafficked each year. This number includes the victims who are as young as 5 and 6 years of age.
According to UNICEF every two minutes a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation. 1.2 million children alone are being trafficked every year. This number excluded the millions already being held captive by trafficking. UNICEF also reports that approximately 30 million children have lost their childhood through sexual exploitation over the past 30 years. People are trafficked from 127 countries and are exploited in 137 countries according to the United Nations. Every year, 20,000 Nepali girls are trafficked and often send to work as prostitutes in brothels in India or as domestic servants in the Middle East. Some of these girls are as young as nine and even sadder, “many of these girls end up contracting HIV within two years and many of them die before the reach 20” (Tan, 2011). Although most people associate the term human trafficking with countries other than the United States like Romania, China, Lithuania, Bularia, Thailand, Mexico and Nigeria, there have been approximately 100,000 to 150,000 sex slaves in the United States since 2001.
America holds the title of “second highest destination in the world for trafficked women” (Wiehl, 2010). Between 14,500 and 17,500 victims are trafficked into the USA each year. In most cases the average age of the prostitute or exploited victim is between 12 and 13 years old. A study from the University of Pennsylvania estimated that nearly 300,000 youth were at risk of being sexually exploited for commercial uses and many of them who are forced into performing sexual acts by their pimps are as young as 5 and 6 years of age. Sex traffickers tend to recruit children because they are not only more unsuspecting than adults, but there is also a high demand for young victims. Since 2003, according to FBI Director Robert Mueller, only 433 of the child victims have been rescued and only 308 hookers and pimps have been prosecuted for these crimes.
Traffickers target their victims on the internet, on the telephone, through friends who have already been victimized, at the mall and even in after-school programs where their families believe they are safe. Most young victims are cases of neglect by their families and often considered a throw away of society. New York City alone has had a number of cases documented and Long Island has become a natural location for human trafficking because of its proximity to New York City. The New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services has recorded 29 arrests for sex trafficking in New York from January 2008 through September 2010. 25 of those arrests were in New York City. The CIA says that human trafficking is the third largest criminal industry in the world. It falls right behind drugs and gun smuggling. They also state that women are especially vulnerable in New York and that it is a prime destination for human traffickers because of the international borders and ports, large immigration population as well as the tourists. Catching predators in New York is also difficult because local officials have no authority under New York state law to arrest these people and protect their victims. Although Congress did pass the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) in 2000, it was underfunded and without enough money to support the act, there was not enough money to provide law enforcement.
A bill called the Anti-Human trafficking Act of 2006 was passed by the New York Assembly, which created strict criminal penalties for human trafficking and was also set to protect the victims of trafficking and slavery. In order to make these crimes more recognizable and easy to charge, this bill defined human trafficking much more broadly compared to other proposals. Not only would people confiscating passports and immigrations papers be suspect and questioned under this new legislation, so would anyone demonstrating any kind of possible abuse or threatening restraint. Although the bill had wide support its penalties were argued. Defense lawyers felt that “up to 15 years in prison for offenders was too tough.” (Wiehl, 2010)
In 2008 sex trafficking was added to New York City’s penal code and since that time, there have been a recorded 32 arrests for the crime, but the amount of arrests made are still much less than the number of crimes committed in trafficking each year. Because there is still a great lack for awareness that needs to be built as well as better law enforcement for these crimes, very few trafficking cases ever reach conviction and many of the pimps arrested are released and free to continue to carry out these crimes. Even with the many bills that have been proposed, “we really have no law to stop this” (Wiehl, 2010) and without an actual law to prosecute the predators of these crimes, we cannot protect its victims.
In other cities like Kansas City, MO it is estimated that since 2000 at least one victim of commercial sexual exploitation is identified each month through substantiated sexual abuse and neglect allegations. This totals a minimum of 84 Domestic Minor sex trafficking victims identified by only a single agency in Jackson County alone. In 2006, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention reported 1,600 juveniles were arrested for prostitution and commercialized vice. Out of the 1,600 74% were female and 14% were under 14 years of age. The amount of space in protective shelters in the Kansas City area is not nearly great enough to provide beds and shelters for all of the minors brought in requiring necessary protection. Only 25 beds are available to girls out of the 214 beds that are available through the juvenile court system. Most of the services that are available do not serve victims who are being controlled by a pimp or trafficker because they are statistically short term although in need of protection. Once released majority of the victims return to their pimps or traffickers.
A human trafficker can receive up to 2000 percent profit from a young girl trafficked for sex. The pimp will often turn around and sell the victim after a period of time for an even greater price because he has then trained her and broken her spirit, which makes it easier and her less of a hassle for her future buyers. In 2003 a study was conducted in the Netherlands that found, “on average, a single sex slave earned her pimp at least $250,000 in a year” (Skinner, 2008). Skinner continues to say that we need to understand the value of each of these lives in the way that the trafficker understands his profit margin, in order to stop this situation and turn it around.
Dolgoff, R., & Feldstein, D. (2009). Understanding social welfare. (eigth ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.
Oloffson, K. (2010, October 26). A slow war on human trafficking. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/28/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/28litraf.html?ref=humantrafficking
Skinner, B. (2008). A crime so monstrous: Face-to face with modern day salvery. Free Press. Retrieved from http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/05/a-crime-so-monstrous
Tan, D. (2011, September 19). Five things to know about human trafficking. Cosmopolitan, Retrieved from http://cosmopolitan.sg/2011/09/19/human-trafficking-5-things-to-know-deborah-tan/
Trattner, W. (1999). From poor law to welfare state. (Sixth ed.). New York: The Free Press.
Wiehl, L. (2011). Sex trafficking. Retrieved from http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,198694,00.html
This blog was published on The Huffington Post on February 25, 2017.