Slavery, contrary to some people’s understanding, continues to exist in the form of human trafficking. Human trafficking is the forced exploitation of an individual, which includes offenses such as forced labor, sex, servitude, organ removal, and other abuses, and is a $150 billion global business. This illegal and obscene practice violates the human rights and dignity of its victims. The thought of it happening close to home is terrifying; yet, nonetheless, it still occurs.

A common misconception about human trafficking is that it does not happen in the United States—a developed country and the hegemonic power of the world. Even still, human trafficking touches every corner of our country, from rural communities in Tennessee to our nation’s capital. In fact, child human trafficking in Washington D.C. is a $100 million industry, and, in 2016 alone, more than 7,572 human trafficking cases were reported across the United States. These were just the cases that were identified; the actual number of individuals who suffer from human trafficking in the United States is unknown.

Human trafficking can happen to anyone, as those who are forced into this exploitative industry can be of any nationality, socio-economic class, race, or gender. Of the thousands of human trafficking victims in the United States, many of them are U.S. nationals. The majority of trafficking victims are women, and 20% are children. Of the teenage victims in the U.S., many of them are runaway girls. Foreign nationals face hardship, as between 600,000 and 800,000 people every year are trafficked across international borders. Most sex traffickers trap their victims by posing as an intimate partner or proposing marriage; and most labor traffickers snare their victims through a job offer. The poor, the needy, and the disenfranchised are often the most vulnerable targets in the greatest danger of becoming human trafficking victims

Yet, despite the profusion of studies that show human trafficking to be a serious problem affecting a wide variety of individuals within the United States, many people, including law enforcement officers, are unaware or refuse to believe that human trafficking is a problem in their own communities. In a national survey, researchers found that three-fourths of law enforcement leaders in municipal, county, and state agencies across the United States believe that human trafficking is not a problem in their communities, and only ten percent reported working on a human trafficking case in the past. In a study of 223 undergraduates from The Ohio State University, more than half of the participants said they knew little of policies relating to human trafficking in the United States, and over 40 percent did not even consider human trafficking to be a serious problem in the United States.

This lack of awareness from citizens and law enforcement officers stems from an insufficient amount data on the problem and little media interest in the subject. General awareness, however, is crucial, as citizen reporting can serve as an important method in finding and identifying human trafficking victims. Victims are often scared to reach out, yet the signs are there: many victims are in poor physical and mental health; look distressed; have suspicious answers to simple questions; may not be allowed to speak for themselves; and so on. A trained citizen can identify these signs, and report a victim to agencies and organizations, such as the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which can contact the appropriate agency official to address the case and rescue the victim.

At Grieboski Global Strategies (GGS), we understand the importance of raising awareness about human trafficking. GGS works with many countries and advocacy groups in an attempt to develop and implement policies to reduce and eliminate predatory human trafficking practices. GGS supports organizations like Anti-Predator Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating human trafficking and sexual predators in the United States through the use of specially trained private investigators. U.S. citizens must give due attention to this form modern slavery here in our nation’s backyard. At GGS, we will continue to do our part in the fight to educate our cohorts and liberate victims of these abuses.