Imagine being taken from your home, moved halfway across the world and sold into slavery. To many, this sounds like a moment from the past. But to 27 million men, women and children, this situation is all too real.
For people like 13-year-old Natalia, moving to the U.S. was the only choice she had to receive a better, more affordable education. However, instead of receiving the education she deserved, she was abused and forced to work for the family she was living with.
After six years of living with a family that beat her to the point of hospitalization, Natalia found a way to escape from this servitude. The nurse at the hospital was able to help Natalia in more ways than one and referred her to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the Polaris Project — a non-governmental organization that works to fight trafficking and rehabilitate victims.
But what is human trafficking? The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of person, by means of the threat or use of force… for the purpose of exploitation.” While there are quite a few types of human trafficking, the most common forms of this exploitation are found in the forms of sex and labor trafficking.
Even though many victims of human trafficking come from other countries, it is not uncommon to find members of our own community being forced into this trade. In fact, the Polaris Project found that, in 2012, five reports of human trafficking were made in Columbia alone. This is proof that human trafficking can truly happen anywhere, not just in big cities like Los Angeles or St. Louis.
Because this horrid crime is common even in our own backyards, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri has taken a very proactive role in combating this crime. Their Human Trafficking Rescue Project is one of the top programs in the nation and is comprised of law enforcement from all levels of government as well as powerful non-governmental organizations.
Last year, the Polaris Project awarded Missouri the prestigious honor of being a Tier-1 state, the highest ranking a state can be given in regards to the legislation they have to tackle the issue of human trafficking.
Although Missouri has decided to take on the fight to end human trafficking, the state cannot do it alone. One of the most difficult parts in battling this crime is that it is largely a self-reported one. The Western District of Missouri’s Human Trafficking Rescue Project has witnessed great success, but a large part of its investigation is based on tips given to them by the public.
This being said, you can be a part of the abolishment of modern-day slavery. Educate yourself on the issue. Along with the Polaris Project, there are so many other non-governmental organizations that are fighting back through educating the public. Once you’ve done that, keep your eyes open for critical signs that can indicate someone is being trafficked. Finally, don’t be afraid to call the Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force Complaint Line, run by the U.S. Department of Justice, if you witness any of these signs and believe that someone may be a victim of trafficking. After all, if you had the power to change a life, wouldn’t you?
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