What is Human Trafficking?
According to the U.S. Department of Human Services website, “Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” The one exception involves minors and commercial sex. Inducing a minor into commercial sex is considered human trafficking regardless of the presence of force, fraud, or coercion.
Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States. It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, economic status, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.
Because human trafficking is complex and dynamic it is widespread, but exact numbers are hard to come by. It follows patterns, but every situation is also unique. There is so much more to learn, and so much misinformation already out there. Here is what we really know: In 2019, Polaris worked on 11,500 situations of human trafficking reported to the Polaris-operated U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. These situations involved 22,326 individual survivors: nearly 4,384 traffickers and 1,912 suspicious businesses. Human trafficking is notoriously underreported. Shocking as these numbers are, they are likely only a fraction of the actual problem.
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Dominant Types of Trafficking
There are two dominant types of trafficking – sex and labor. The top venues/industries for labor trafficking include:
- Domestic Work (housekeeping and nannying)
- Traveling Sales Crews
- Restaurants/Food Service
- Illicit Activities, including the hotel industry.
The top venues/industries for sex trafficking include:
- Illicit Massage/Spa Business
- Residence-Based Commercial Sex
- Online Ad, Venue Unknown
Profile of a Victim & Trafficker
Victims of human trafficking may look like many of the people you help every day. Listed are some Clues and Potential Warning Signs of a person being groomed or trafficked:
- Evidence of being controlled.
- Evidence of inability to move or leave job.
- Bruises, scratches, welts, or other signs of physical abuse.
- Fearful, especially near law enforcement.
- Depressed, nervous and/or paranoid, withdrawn, distracted.
- Unaware of their location or surroundings.
- Have no sense of time.
- Avoid eye contact.
- Lie about their age.
- Appear to be branded or tattooed.
- Inconsistent with their stories or giving “scripted” answers regarding their whereabouts or activities.
- Lacking in personal belongings. Appear to be without control of his/her own money.
- Not speaking on own behalf and/or non-English speaking.
- No passport or other forms of identification or documentation.
Asking the right questions will help you determine if the person in front of you is a victim of trafficking who needs your help. Here are some Key Questions to ask:
- What type of work do you do?
- Are you being paid?
- Can you leave your job if you want to?
- Can you come and go as you please?
- Have you or your family been threatened?
- What are your working and living conditions like?
- Where do you sleep and eat?
- Do you have to ask permission to eat/sleep/go to the bathroom?
- Are there locks on your doors/windows so you cannot get out?
- Has your identification and documentation been taken from you?
Child Sex Trafficking
Twelve (12) years old is the average age of entry into the sex exploitation industry; with some as young as nine (9) years old. Human trafficking is the fastest growing and third largest organized criminal activity. Child sex trafficking is a huge part because a child can be sold over and over again. Unfortunately, the life expectancy for a child taken into sex trafficking is only 7 years from the date of capture. Listed below are Potential Warning Signs that a child may be being groomed or trafficked:
- Signs of physical abuse such as burns, marks, bruises, or cuts.
- Unexplained absence from school; truancy
- Sudden inappropriate dress or sexualized behavior
- Overly tired in class or unable to keep up with studies.
- Withdrawn, depressed, or distracted.
- Bragging about making or having lots of money
- Displays expensive clothes, accessories, shoes, or new tattoo (often used by pimps to brand victims)
- Older boyfriend, new friends with a different lifestyle or gang affiliations/involvement
- Overly sexual, talking a lot about sexual activity.
- Talk about wild parties or invite other students to attend parties.
- Disjointed family connections, running away, living with friends, or experiencing homelessness.
- Interacting and sharing personal information with sometimes significantly older people online
- Constant cover-up for abuser, self-shaming/blaming.
- Risk-taking behaviors, poor boundaries
How Can You Protect Your Child?
Because child sex trafficking is prevalent around the world and in the U.S. and could include someone you know, like a neighbor, the One More Child Anti-Trafficking lists some ways to protect your child or a child you know from becoming a victim
- Talk to your child about the realities of sexual abuse. Remind your child that he or she can talk to you about anything. Ask him or her to come to you if there is abuse or mistreatment – verbally, physically or sexually.
- Verbalize to your child how much he or she is loved and valued, show that love every day. Talk about what real, Christ-like love is all about (1 Cor. 13: 4-8).
- Know your child’s friends. Learn about those your child chooses to spend time with after school and on the weekends.
- Trust your child, but be cautious about surroundings. Take advantage of online parental control settings and stay aware of all cell phone communications.
- Be social media savvy. Monitor your child’s social media activity and remind him or her to keep all personal information private.
- Keep online time out in the open. Ensure your child is only on the Internet in common areas of your home, like a living room, kitchen or family room.
- Be transparent about your own life experiences. This may help your child understand why you make the decisions you do and could encourage them to confide in you when it really counts.
- Take the time for extracurricular activities. Encourage your child to be active in sports, church outings, school clubs and more. Traffickers are thought to be looking for victims in malls, gas stations, parks, restaurants and other places children hang out when they “have nothing to do.”
- Decide whether a GPS tracking device is right for your family, such as an AMBER Alert GPS.
- If your child runs away, immediately report him or her as missing to your local law enforcement agency.
Labor traffickers tend to be violent and very controlling. Sex traffickers in a street–based situation are more commonly known as pimps. These traffickers may vary in their relationship to the victim but are similar in the tactics they employ to recruit, control, and exploit their victims.
Those who recruit, transport, or harbor people by [physical or psychological] threat, force, fraud, or coercion, in hopes to profit from their victims’ sex acts – also have many faces, making them difficult to spot and thwart. When it comes to commercial sexual exploitation domestically, here are the three most common: The Boyfriend Pimp, The Gorilla Pimp, and The Bottom Girl.
Traffickers/Pimps often exhibit the following behavior or characteristics:
- Jealous, controlling, or violent
- Significantly older than female companions
- Promise things that seem to be too good to be true.
- Encourage victims to engage in illegal activities to achieve their goals and dreams.
- Is vague about his/her profession.
- Takes time to learn a child’s hopes and dreams and exploits their weaknesses.
- Encourages inappropriate sexual behavior.
- Expresses financial difficulties to make victim feel obligated.
- Accompanies and translates for, or speaks for, victim at school or medical appointments.
- Pushy or demanding about sex!
- Befriends a child online through social media, gaming or apps that provide private communications.
Ways You and Your Church Can Make a Difference
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.
Whether you have an hour, a day, or a week to dedicate, there is something for everyone. Here are ways you can help:
- Become well educated on this issue. Make sure you understand the issue and learn as much as possible about what life is really like for sex trafficking victims. Then educate others.
- Learn how to identify a victim of human trafficking or child sex trafficking and where to report it. Put the National Human Trafficking Hotline in your cell phone today: 1-888-373-7888. You can also report the production or distribution of child pornography or suspected trafficking to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children’s Child Pornography and Sexual Exploitation Tip line: 1-800-843-5678.
- Invite a local ministry to speak at your church or group. Request a speaker from One More Child Anti-Trafficking.
- Post “Warning Signs” posters around your church and/or use them as a bulletin insert.
- Act responsibly. Matthew 10:16 warns us to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” You should not attempt direct street outreach without training from someone who knows the streets. Without proper training you can put the child at increased risk of violence, not to mention the matter of your own safety. Never pay a child for time to talk in the hopes of rescuing her. Go through the appropriate and proper channels to assist victims.
- Pray for the children that are invisible, that will be abused and exploited today and tonight.
- Organize a Prayerwalk around the “hotspots” in your community: strip clubs, adult entertainment stores, questionable massage spas, lingerie shops, hotels, some liquor stores. Ask your local law enforcement where the hotspots are located.
- Pray for the children that are in therapeutic, restorative ministry programs.
- Pray for those who are actively working to rescue and restore victims of human trafficking.
- Volunteer and mentor. Look for opportunities to serve in homeless shelters, soup kitchens, pregnancy resource centers, etc. All these services are serving trafficking victims, sometimes without realizing it.
- Develop a relationship with a service provider so they can get to know and trust you. For example, let them know that if a child expresses spiritual interest, you are available to mentor, do a Bible study, etc. This is how you can volunteer and assist in whatever ways the organization feels best fits their needs.
- Donate professional assistance. Shelters and outreach organizations may need doctors, therapists, or dentists to provide pro bono services for victims of sex trafficking. The organization may need a lawyer, accountant, or marketing expert to assist them on a project. Reach out to your local human trafficking coalition, shelters and/or organizations to see how you can provide your expertise.
- Collect gift cards, school supplies, toiletries, Bibles, etc. to give to ministries serving rescued victims.
- Donate to your local trafficking or runaway shelter. Runaway and homeless children are highly vulnerable to exploitation. Providing shoes, warm clothes, and other items to the shelter will give children some of the necessities of life. Call your local runaway program to find out what they need.
- Support state and federal legislation. Political advocacy at the national, state, and local levels is an effective way to respond to the Gospel call to protect the poor and oppressed. Visit sharedhope.org/policy for state and federal legislation aimed at addressing the issue of human trafficking, child sex trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, child welfare and similar issues.
- Get training in legal advocacy. Learn how to lobby and get laws changed.
- Establish a relationship with local law enforcement. Encourage and pray for them. Share your concern about trafficking in your area. Ask how you can help them protect your community’s children.
- Invite local law enforcement who deal with human trafficking to speak to your group.
- Write about it. If you write a personal blog, take part in your church newsletter publication, or develop other forms of media, consider addressing the topic of human trafficking and exploitation in your writing.
- Talk about it, lead by example. If you are a church or community leader, engage your community in a dialogue about the sex trafficking of children and the broader topic of commercial sex and the sexualization of children. You don’t have to be a public official or expert. Every parent, older brother or sister, or aunt or uncle is a model for the children in their lives.
- Develop a boutique in your church exclusively for human trafficking survivors.
- Partner with Law Enforcement to use your church as a rescue center for victims.
- Partner with an organization that has a residential facility for human trafficking victims.
- Provide a residential long-term care facility for victims of human trafficking.
IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SUSPICIOUS, REPORT IT!
Recognize the signs; help save a life! If you suspect someone is being trafficked in the United States, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1.888.373.7888 immediately or Text HELP to 233733 (BEFREE) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Click Here for international hotlines.
Florida Baptist Affiliated Ministries
Florida Dream Center (St. Petersburg)
Florida Dream Center, founded by Florida Baptist Pastor Bill Losasso, is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization providing a broad array of human services. Services include recovering and restoring sex trafficking survivors, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, job skills training and placement, improving our community through Adopt-A-Block and ministering to those imprisoned.
Healing Root Ministries (Tampa)
Healing Root Ministry established in 2013 as a non-profit organization, touching the lives of countless women through mentoring and outreach efforts. When God called Edie to open her arms wider, it led to establishing The Gate in the summer of 2018. Capable of housing up to six women at a time, this safe home for adult survivors of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation provided shelter for 26 women in the first year of operation.
Edie Rhea is the founder and is a sex trafficking survivor. This ministry began as a ministry of Lutz First Baptist Church.
Her Song (Jacksonville)
Founded in 2013, Her Song interrupts the cycle of human trafficking and leads women to freedom. Our mission is to engage survivors of sex trafficking in building a new life by providing safe relationships, a healthy community of support, mental health care, life skills, and preparing them for work, education and to achieve new goals. Rachel White is the founder of Her Song. Her husband is Dr. Paul White, pastor of Faithbridge Church in Jacksonville.
One More Child Anti-Trafficking (State-wide)
One More Child, known also as the Florida Baptist Children’s Home, is bringing healing and hope to child victims of domestic sex trafficking, and working tirelessly to prevent more from being coerced into it.
Slaves No More (Umatilla)
Slaves No More is a ministry of First Baptist Church of Umatilla focused on spreading awareness of human trafficking. Florida ranks third in the nation for human trafficking and it’s our mission to make people more aware of what is happening and to educate them on how to protect children and youth, as well as teaching them how to recognize victims. Robin McGillivray is the current contact person (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Additional Information and Resources
Human Trafficking: The Church’s Response (Mini Course from National WMU)
This self-guided minicourse will provide you with an overview of human trafficking. Resources will be provided for leading training conferences on the issue and how you can be involved in the fight against human trafficking. ($20)
Trafficked: Fighting to Be Free (One-hour Simulation from National WMU)
Expose the hard truths and tough consequences of human trafficking to students and adults. This one-hour simulation is designed for up to 60 participants to experience the realities of trafficking. Participants will learn about trafficking around the world and have an opportunity reflect on their experiences and learn how they can minister to those who have been rescued.
Trafficked: Fighting to be Free will be downloaded as a ZIP file to your computer. Please refer to your computer’s tutorial files if you need assistance opening the ZIP file.
Available as a digital download only. ($49.99) Product Number: E204118
Because child trafficking is prevalent around the world and in the U.S. and could include someone you know, like a neighbor, the One more Child Anti-Trafficking website lists some ways to protect your child or a child you know from becoming a victim.
Shared Hope International (website)
Shared Hope International is dedicated to bringing an end to sex trafficking through their three-prong approach: Prevent, Restore, Bring Justice. This site also includes links to the Report Cards on Child and Youth Sex Trafficking by state. Download Florida’s Report Card here.
Shared Hope Resources:
- Renting Lacy: A Story of America’s Prostituted Children (2013), book by Linda Smith with Cindy Coloma — Based on actual encounters, Linda exposes the underworld of child sex trafficking in America by telling the stories of those who live there.
- Potential Warning Signs that a Child May Be Being Groomed or Trafficked
- Pimps/Traffickers Common Behaviors or Characteristics
- Sex Trafficking is a Booming Industry Infographic
Named after the North Star, a historical symbol of freedom, Polaris works to reshape the systems that make sex and labor trafficking possible and profitable in North America. Polaris experts analyze data from the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline as well as other available sources of information and work closely with survivors to publish insightful and actionable research that shines a light on the shadowy world of human traffickers.
- The Latino Face of Human Trafficking and Exploitation in the US (English or Spanish)
- Crisis in Human Trafficking During the Pandemic
ECPAT-USA (End Child Prostitution and Trafficking)
ECPAT-USA is the leading anti-trafficking policy organization in the United States. As a member of ECPAT International, ECPAT-USA belongs to a network of organizations in more than 100 countries all working together to end the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
A21 is a global nonprofit organization determined to eradicate human trafficking through a multi-dimensional operational strategy: Reach, Rescue, and Restore. Through partnerships and the efforts of supporters across the globe, A21 believes that more potential victims will be identified and assisted, and perpetrators will be brought to justice. They are one of the largest organizations in the world that is solely fighting human trafficking at a local, domestic, and international level. Founders are Nick and Christine Caine from Hillsong Church in Australia.
Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) exists to educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking, bus and energy industries to combat human trafficking. As the eyes and ears of our nation’s highways, truckers are in a unique position to make a difference and close loopholes to traffickers who seek to exploit our transportation system for their personal gain.
ILRF holds global corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains; advances policies and laws that protect decent work and just migration; and strengthens freedom of association, new forms of bargaining, and worker organizations.
Our mission is to change the conditions that allow modern slavery to exist so the next generation can live in a slavery-free world. Slaves usually come from the poor, the desperate, the uneducated, the marginalized, and the unprotected. People are forced to work without pay, under threat of violence, and they are unable to walk away. Our strategy is to reduce people’s vulnerability, help those in slavery to freedom, and transform the political, economic, cultural, and social circumstances that make slavery possible.
The foundation is committed to advancing the fight for the lives of those who have been trafficked or who are at risk of becoming victims across the world. Recently, the Tim Tebow Foundation has entered a partnership with Her Song to combat human trafficking in the Jacksonville area as well as globally.