According to the Global Slavery Index, there are an estimated 29.8 million people trapped in modern-day slavery. Some reports indicate that there might be fewer, others claim there are far more. Though these numbered insights are important, may they not let us lose sight of this:
Behind every number is a human being with a story worth telling and a life of freedom worth living.
Numbers and bars on a chart can't speak like a survivor's smile. It's the glimmers of hope found in each individual's story that empowers groups like Love146, an international non-profit fighting to end child trafficking and exploitation, to stay dogged in their fight to eradicate human trafficking.
But many outside of such organizations are constantly looking for ways to help. I've heard it time and again: "What can I do to help?"
It's a beautiful question, a question all of us will forever need to keep asking if we are to make a difference in this fight. Though I've been studying this crime intensively for the past three years, and although I studied Criminal Justice in college for four years prior to that, I'm still often amazed at the complexity of this crime. I recently gave a talk in New York on this topic, and many in attendance seemed to think of human trafficking as a bogeyman who strategically hides behind some bushes and jumps out to abduct people. Truth is, those behind this crime are far more sophisticated than that. Masterminds of organized crime have transferred the skills they've successfully used in drug trafficking to human beings who, unlike the drugs, are "reusable."
I recently asked Elaine Kim at Love146 how she would answer the "What can I do?" question and here's how she responded:
"The answer for right now is that you can get involved with advocating for legislation that protects children and fights vulnerabilities."
She's referring to H.R.1732, otherwise known as the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2013. It's considered a critical piece of legislation by many working to combat human trafficking because it's intent is to ensure that child victims of human trafficking are being properly identified and can receive the myriad services they need to be protected and to heal. It's currently being considered by committees in both the House and Senate, and right now we can show our government that we want it to become a law.
Elaine went on to say that:
"Runaways from group homes, children in foster care, homeless teens... victims and children at-risk of trafficking in the United States often come into contact with child welfare systems. For example, a 2007 study conducted in New York State, showed that more than 85% of identified commercially sexually exploited children in New York had prior involvement with child welfare systems.
Vulnerable children are already coming into the system and if this act became law, child welfare systems would be better equipped to use existing resources to serve youth better. It would establish training programs so child welfare agencies can better detect and respond to youth who have been sexually trafficked or exploited."
In addition to this, H.R.1732 acknowledges the need to address the unique demands for particular groups by seeking:
"...to develop and publish guidelines to assist state, Indian tribe, and tribal organization child welfare agencies and juvenile and family courts..."
To combat this crime it's going to take a truly wide-reaching effort like this, one with the potential to reach across various sectors.
So here's where YOU come in:
The Polaris Project and Love146 have collaborated in an effort to make it easy for you to tell your local representative that you want the Strengthening the Child Welfare Response to Trafficking Act of 2013 (or H.R.1732) to become law:
After we've done that we can take our "What can I do to help?" and transform it to: "What can I do next?"