Report suspicions of human trafficking

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 19 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:18 am in

By Sister Emily Devine and Sister Jeanne Christensen

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Human trafficking is defined as “modern day slavery” because it controls a person through force, fraud or coercion — physical or psychological — to exploit the person for forced labor, sexual exploitation or both.

Women, children and men are affected by this crime. By federal law, any minor exploited by prostitution or pornography is considered trafficked. Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry and profits are estimated at more than $32 billion annually. It is illegal in every country in the world. The demand must be stopped.

It is estimated that annually 27 million people are trafficked globally: 80 percent are women, 15 percent are children and 5 percent are men. In the United States, 82 percent of the incidents involved sex trafficking; of these, 98 percent are women and girls. Ninety-five percent of the victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking and the majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age. In the United States, 100,000 children are commercially sexually exploited every year and the number may be as high as 300,000.

The Internet is a major source for predators’ hunting, recruitment and trapping unsuspecting and/or innocent victims.

Victims of human trafficking can be found in sweatshops, forced prostitution, domestic servitude, restaurants, agriculture, construction and in hotel/motel cleaning services, to name a few. During major sporting events such as the Super Bowl or World Cup, ads for and engagement of prostituted escorts significantly increase.

Who might be a victim?

l Someone employed in a hotel or restaurant you patronize.

l A neighbor’s housekeeper or nanny.

l A teenage girl “working the street.”

l Residents of an apartment who are all young men working odd hours and never going out otherwise, or young women who come and go in shifts during the night.

What should one do if you suspect a person may be a victim of trafficking? Act on your suspicions and/or intuitions that something just “isn’t right” in a particular situation — call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s 24/7 Hotline at 1-(888) 373-7888 (it also can provide information on resources in your local area), your local law enforcement or the U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-(888) 428-7581.

In Iowa, the Network Against Human Trafficking in Ames is working on the issue as well.

Reporting your concerns could save a life.

You also can join with other individuals and organizations addressing this issue as the Sisters of Mercy have. Together, we work to raise awareness of the issue, provide direct services to victims and advocate for policy change and stronger legislation to abolish this criminal industry.

Sister Emily Devine of Cedar Rapids is a volunteer in trafficking and immigration issues. A Sister of Mercy since 1961, she was chaplain at Mercy Medical Center in Mason City and has done pastoral work in St. Paul, Ames and Iowa City. Sister Jeanne Christensen is justice advocate for human trafficking for the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest and a member of the U.S. Catholic Sisters Against Human Trafficking, which represents 16 religious communities in the United States. To learn more about human trafficking and how you can become involved: devinee07@gmail.com or jchristensen@mercywmw.org.

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