05.05.2020 Culture

Hiding in Plain Sight with The Polaris Project

Sable Massingill
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It may be difficult to think of slavery taking place in your community, but the sad reality is, it is. Even though slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865 thanks to the 13th Amendment, modern day slavery still exists in the form of human trafficking. US Law defines human trafficking as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to compel a person into commercial sex acts or labor or services against his or her will.” 

While this does not include cases involving a minor (anyone under the age of 18) working in the sex industry, anytime a minor is working in the commercial sex industry it is always considered human trafficking (even without force, fraud, or coercion). Outside of forced sex work, human trafficking also includes labor exploitation — which is, also, often hiding in plain sight. 

In 2017, The Polaris Project, a non-profit working to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking, identified 25 different types of human trafficking business models in the United States, some of which include: Agriculture, Arts, Sports, & Entertainment, Bars, Strip Clubs, Cantinas, Carnivals, Construction, Domestic Work, Factories & Manufacturing, Forestry & Logging, Health & Beauty Services, Health Care, Hospitality, Illicit Massage Businesses, Landscaping, Recreational Facilities, and Restaurants. 

As this shows, almost every single industry has the potential to be a means to exploit and make money off a person.

Those most vulnerable to trafficking are undocumented immigrants, those with a history of sexual abuse, addiction, homelessness, and/or those who have an unstable home life (which may include runaways, children in the foster care system, or those with a family/caregiver with substance abuse and addiction issues). 

While it’s true that trafficking can happen to anyone, traffickers are most likely to prey on these vulnerabilities. There has been evidence to show that the most at-risk demographics include LGBTQ+ communities and people of color. 

Many people are coerced into trafficking by someone close to them, like a family member or romantic partner.

Traffickers can consist of an individual, family members, a gang, a network of businesses, and even corporate or government officials, and the ways in which traffickers are able to continue their cycles is complex. 

An image of young girls kidnapped from the streets to be held hostage as sex slaves may come to mind when thinking of human trafficking (as depicted in the popular 2008 film, Taken), however, oftentimes trafficking victims are not locked in a room and held against their will, sometimes they enter the industry willingly. 

“More often, people in trafficking situations stay for reasons that are more complicated. Some lack the basic necessities to physically get out — such as transportation or a safe place to live. Some are afraid for their safety. Some have been so effectively manipulated that they do not identify at that point as being under the control of another person,” states the Polaris Project website. 

The Polaris Project has researched and created in-depth reports of the ways in which legitimate businesses are used for continuation of the human trafficking business model. Some examples include buses/planes for transportation, hotels for housing illegal activities, and banks for cash flow. The organization aims to learn as much as possible about the ways in which human trafficking is allowed to operate. 

The more that each of us know about human trafficking, the better prepared we can be to stand against it.

“If human trafficking is a business, the fight against [it must] be a collective undertaking,” states the organization’s website. People who work in industries such as healthcare and trucking are encouraged to be the “eyes and ears” against trafficking and are urged to educate themselves on the signs and to know when and where to report suspected cases. 

There is much work to be done legally to help prevent situations like poverty and homelessness which allow the cycle of trafficking to thrive. Aside from donating money and time, consider reaching out to your representatives and legislators to make sure human trafficking crimes are properly prosecuted and victims are protected under the laws and treated as victims, not criminals.  

The nature and secrecy of human trafficking means that cases are severely underreported. For more information on human trafficking and ways you can help, visit The Polaris Project. If you or someone you know needs help, contact the US National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1(888) 373-7888 or text “BeFree” 233733. 

Sable Massingill is a writer, creative connector, and entrepreneur exploring the intersection of wellness, beauty, and travel. You can find her in the window seat on her next flight, on Instagram @sablemassingill, or at sablemassingill.com

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