US trafficking statistics are numbing

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Last week, we first brought you the story of how human trafficking is the equivalent of modern-day slavery — and how the State of New Jersey is requiring many businesses to conspicuously hang signs alerting patrons to the dangers of the situation.

What we found was disturbing, to say the very last.

But what we didn’t bring you last week were many statistics about this worldwide problem, bearing in mind New Jersey is one of the most highly trafficked locations in the world given its proximity to three metropolises — New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

That changes today, thanks to a company called Polaris.

What is Polaris?

“Polaris is leading a data-driven, social justice movement to build a world where the powerful cannot exploit the vulnerable for profit,” the company says of itself. “We are working on solutions that mirror the scale of the problem — 25 million people worldwide deprived of the freedom to choose how they live and work.

“For more than a decade, Polaris has assisted thousands of victims and survivors through the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline, helped ensure countless traffickers were held accountable and built the largest known U.S. data set on actual trafficking experiences. With the guidance of survivors, we use that data to improve the way human trafficking is identified, how victims and survivors are assisted and how communities, businesses and governments can prevent human trafficking by transforming the underlying inequities and oppressions that make it possible.”

Is human trafficking really this bad?

Well, as hard as Polaris works — and as diligently as law-enforcement across the planet do the same — the statistics are truly staggering. And remember, this is what we’re aware of — there are likely countless cases that go unreported, unknown.

We’ll break them down as simplistically as possible now, but please keep in mind, these figures are as of 2020.

That year, Polaris was able to identify 10,583 instances of human trafficking, involving 16,658 victims. Now while it may be easy for one to believe trafficking is all about sex work — and a good chunk of it is — there is so much more to it than forced sex.

Of the nearly 11,000 cases reported three years ago, 7,648 involved some kind of sexual activity. But there were also 1,052 cases of forced labor, 334 cases of combined sex and labor and more than 1,500 that couldn’t be classified.

The human toll was even worse. Almost 11,000 Americans reported being victims of sex trafficking. Nearly 3,600 people were victims of coerced labor. There were 631 people who were victims of forced labor and sex. And more than 1,600 were involved in unclassified cases.

Now what does that entail?

According to Polaris, the most common “roles” or so-called “jobs” include escort services, pornography, illicit massage, residential and commercial sexual activity, personal sexual servitude, street solicitation, domestic work, bars, strip clubs, cantinas (Spanish-speaking pubs) and various other illicit activities.

How did COVID-19 affect trafficking?

Now, given these reports come from 2020 — the beginning of the global Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic — Polaris says adaptability was and is the name of the game when it comes to trafficking.

“Shut down one venue and traffickers will find a new one. Wherever there are vulnerable people and communities, there will be someone who finds a way to exploit them,” the company said. “During the lockdowns, as the proportion of victims from common recruitment sites such as strip clubs (-46%), foster homes (-70%) and schools (-38%) went down drastically, the Internet was reported as the top recruitment location for all forms of trafficking.

“Most notably, the (Polaris) analysis found a significant increase in the proportion of potential victims for whom Facebook and Instagram were the sites for recruitment into trafficking (at 120%.)

While that may not be as surprising, what is is that many victims are intimately familiar with their traffickers.

“Recruitment by family members and intimate partners was highly reported for all forms of trafficking. While this is the case year over year, it was particularly pronounced in 2020. In 2020, among all forms of trafficking whose recruitment relationships were known (4,142),  the proportion of victims recruited by a family member or caregiver increased significantly — from 21% of all victims in 2019 to 31% in 2020 — a 47% increase,” Polaris said.

There was also a 21% increase of victims of trafficking who were already intimately involved with their partner.

And, perhaps most importantly, there is absolutely no way to identify simply by looking at a person whether they’re being trafficked. In fact, it could be anyone, frankly.

However, the people who are most trafficked for sex are, according to Polaris, (top 5) those who are addicted to substances, runaway youth, those with unstable housing, people who are mentally ill and recent migrants.

The people who are most trafficked for sex are, according to Polaris, those (top 5) who recently migrated, people experiencing economic hardships, those with unstable housing, anyone with a previous criminal history or record and those who have had substance-abuse issues.

Editor’s note: This is the second in a multiple-part series on human trafficking. Are you the victim of human trafficking or do you know someone who is? Call (888) 373-7888 or text BEFREE to 233733 for immediate help.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.