By Qudsia Jafree
Advocacy & Policy Manager of Health and Safety, YWCA USA
On this fifth day of Week Without Violence, we turn to focus on an invisible epidemic that many in our country don’t believe can even exist in today’s time: sexual trafficking. This modern day form of slavery impacts billions of women and families in communities both domestic and international:
- There are an estimated 12.5 billion people trafficked globally.
- Of that, 1.2 million are children, and globally, the majority of trafficking victims are between the ages of 18-24.
- Alarmingly, 95% of victims experience physical or sexual violence during their trafficking.
A majority of victims are women and girls, with 80% of victims documented as female and 50% as children. According to the United Nations, an estimated 700,000 – 2 million women are trafficked across international borders annually. If you take into account rates of trafficking within the United States, that number looks a lot larger, at nearly 4 million women per year. The Polaris Project cites the primary reasons for the pervasiveness of trafficking as being a “market-driven criminal industry” that is low in risk and high in profit. In fact, trafficking generates over $32 billion annually, unfortunately making it a lucrative industry for trafficking networks that take advantage of women, children, and other vulnerable communities.
There is still a common misconception that trafficking is a problem that only occurs in other countries and not within our own borders. This is far from true. Human and Sexual trafficking has both implications. Some might think that trafficking in the U.S. only occurs in urban settings. This is also not true. It happens both in rural and urban settings, and leaves both communities equally as devastated. While trafficking victims can look like anyone, we are learning that there are particular subsets of our communities that traffickers prey on. For example, many traffickers recruit directly from crisis beds of runaway shelters, as well as where foster youth congregate. Youth in the foster care system, runaways, and homeless youth are particularly at risk because they have fewer safety nets available to them.
The thread that connects us globally and domestically is what fuels human and sexual trafficking: rampant poverty, discrimination and structural inequalities that put young girls, women and communities of color at risk. Having a more thoughtful approach to identifying and understanding the intersecting roots of trafficking is key to being able to effectively advocate for victims and implement prevention and intervention services in place.
As one of the leading providers of services for victims of domestic violence in the U.S., YWCA’s across the country are working collaboratively with local and grassroots organizations in their communities to address the prevalence of trafficking head on. For example, the YWCA in York, Pennsylvania leads the York County Human Trafficking Task Force. This is a coalition of law enforcement agencies, service providers and community leaders whose mission is to promote awareness, provide training and technical assistance, and increase outreach and education in South Central Pennsylvania regarding the crime of human trafficking. YWCA York and others on the task force provide support and referral services for those who have been identified as victims of trafficking.
In 2010, the YWCA of Greater Portland received a federal grant to establish a shelter specifically for trafficking victims. Recognizing that Portland is ranked among 12 hub cities where traffickers recruit youth, teens, and sex workers to be moved around the country, this shelter provides a critical preventative as well as direct service to the greater Portland community.
The YWCA Silicon Valley is able to provide holistic services to victims of trafficking through their Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis department. They offer case management and emergency shelter for human trafficking survivors when there is an intersection with domestic violence and trafficking for the victim. The Center is also able to provide advocacy and counseling services to survivors of sexual violence and sex trafficking, including commercially exploited minors.
Silicon Valley’s story is one that is familiar to us at the YWCA: through the services they were already offering to women and families in the community, they saw an emerging need for victims of trafficking and sough to elevate and address the issue head on. They worked with Rep. Mike Honda to secure federal funds that today allows for two full time staff to provide awareness and training to the community and direct services to victims of trafficking that come through their doors.
Here at the YWCA, we have learned, through providing services to survivors, that it takes a holistic approach to adequately address trafficking: intensive counseling, public awareness campaigns, financial literacy and education, access to health services, and strategic policy advocacy on both local and national levels.
- Share your thoughts in the comments below, or participate in our blog carnival.
- Find your local YWCA and learn about ways to get involved.
- Learn more about human and sexual trafficking and share this information with at least 5 friends.
Learn More (And Pass It On!)
- The Polaris Project
- National Trafficking Referral Database
- Youth Ending Slavery
- Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS)
- Not For Sale: Ending Human Trafficking and Slavery
To support the ongoing advocacy work of the YWCA USA to eliminate racism and empower women, please click here.
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