Recently, the issues of sex trafficking have become more and more prevalent. Until a few years ago, many hadn't realized that sex trafficking really exists, but rather we lived in the fantasy land where sex trafficking is really just something you see in movies like "Taken."

Until two years ago, I thought the exact same way. I had no idea what was happening to millions of men, women and children within my own country, state and even city. The definition of sex trafficking, according to the Mirriam-Webster online dictionary, is "the organized criminal activity of recruiting, harboring, transporting, obtaining, or providing a person and especially a minor for the purpose of sex." The definition further states that these forms of sex trafficking can include "pornography, prostitution and commercial sexual exploitation of children, which is sexual abuse of a minor for economic gain."

Here are some statistics for trafficking provided by the Do Something organization:

  1. Globally, the average cost of a slave is $90.
  2. Trafficking primarily involves exploitation which comes in many forms, including: Forcing victims into prostitution, subjecting victims to slavery or involuntary servitude and compelling victims to commit sex acts for the purpose of creating pornography.
  3. According to some estimates, approximately 80 percent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation, and 19 percent involves labor exploitation.
  4. There are approximately 20 to 30 million slaves in the world today.
  5. According to the U.S. State Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80 percent are female and half are children.
  6. The average age a teen enters the sex trade in the U.S. is 12 to 14 years old. Many victims are runaway girls who were sexually abused as children.
  7. California harbors three of the FBI’s 13 highest child sex trafficking areas on the nation: Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego.
  8. The National Human Trafficking Hotline receives more calls from Texas than any other state in the US. 15 percent of those calls are from the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
  9. Between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year.
  10. Human trafficking is the third largest international crime industry (behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking). It reportedly generates a profit of $32 billion every year. Of that number, $15.5 billion is made in industrialized countries. (Recently, this has changed. Sex Trafficking has become the second largest industry in the world, behind illegal drug trafficking).
  11. The International Labour Organization estimates that women and girls represent the largest share of forced labor victims with 11.4 million trafficked victims (55 percent) compared to 9.5 million (45 percent) men.

Furthermore, a victim's life within trafficking is far from any normal life. In November of 2015, a victim shared her story with CNN describing the horror she faced daily. This particular victim, Karla, had been raped by a relative starting at the age of five, and then, at the age of 12 started being trafficked by a man that she says "lured her away using kind words and a fast car." The man spent one month with her, and then, the little girl started being trafficked by the man's cousins. "A few days later he started telling me everything I had to do - the positions, how much I need to charge, the things I had to do with the client and for how long, how I was to treat them and how I had to talk to them so that they would give me more money." Karla spent four years enduring this pain and mistreatment. Four years, with at least 30 customers a day (per her pimp's demands) beaten by hands, fists, iron chains, spat on and even mocked throughout each encounter. Within that time, she estimates that she was raped by 43,200 men. At the age of 15, Karla gave birth to a baby girl, fathered by her pimp. Her daughter was taken from her for a year because the pimp did not want Karla to see her daughter. She was rescued a year later at the age of 16, ending her trafficking experience.

This is only one of the millions of stories that are out there about trafficking and a victim's daily hell. Trafficking exists all over the world. At hotels. At the airport. Maybe at that awesome restaurant you like to eat at. These victims do not need pity, they are strong enough without everyone feeling sorry for them. These victims need action. The more people know about trafficking, the more people know that women, men and children are being taken and sold against their will for sex. To help, look for the signs of a trafficked victim, report the victim and do not stop until trafficking has ended. One person might not be able to change the world, but one person can change someone's life.

Here are some common identifiers of a victim of sex trafficking, according to Usccb.org

  • Seems anxious, fearful or paranoid. Avoids eye contact.
  • Tearfulness or signs of depression.
  • Unexplained bruises or cuts or other signs of physical abuse.
  • Appears to be in a relationship with someone who is dominating.
  • Never is alone and/or always has someone translating or answering questions on their behalf.
  • Not in control of their own finances.
  • Presents with secrecy or unable to answer questions about where they live.
  • Inconsistent details when telling their story.
  • Has no identification such as a license, passport or other ID documents.
  • Inability to leave their job or residence. Says they cannot schedule appointments.
  • Is a recent arrival to the United States and does not speak English.
  • Is under 18 and providing commercial sex acts. Or at any age unwillingly providing commercial sex acts.
  • Is afraid of law enforcement or receiving help from an outside entity.

If you can find an opportunity to get him/her alone, ask him/her the following screening questions:

  • Can you leave your job or house when you want?
  • Where did you get those bruises - or - is anyone hurting you?
  • Do you get paid for your employment? Is it fair? How many hours do you work?
  • (If foreign national) How did you get to the U.S. and is it what you expected? Are you being forced to do anything you don't want to do?
  • Are you or your family being threatened?
  • Do you live with or near your employer? Does your employer provide you housing? Are there locks on doors or windows from outside?
  • Do you owe debt to anyone?

If you suspect they are a victim of human trafficking, take the following actions:

  • Ask the person if you can help them find a safe place to go immediately.
  • If they need time, create an action plan with them to get to a safe place when they are ready.
  • Call and make a report to the human trafficking hotline at 1.888.3737.888. The hotline has language capabilities, so any individual can call directly if they choose.
  • If you need more guidance, you can call and talk through the case with USCCB Anti-trafficking program staff at 202.541.3357.

Please also note, The National Human Trafficking Resource Center says "According to federal law, any minor under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex is a victim of sex trafficking, regardless of the presence of force, fraud, or coercion."

Know the signs. Save a life. Even if you live in the shadows, and pretend to not know what is happening, trafficking will still occur.

You can choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know --William Wilberforce