This week I had the great honor to speak at the United Nations on the issue of human trafficking, invited by the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam). The discussion focused on the root causes of trafficking and the key role of the family in preventing this growing and disturbing trend of modern slavery. Human trafficking knows no boundaries and affects the lives of women and children around the globe.
Lately, we are seeing more and more stories on human trafficking in local communities. In the D.C. area alone, a number of Latina and black teenage girls have gone missing, with a possible link to human trafficking.
The statistics are staggering. According to the Department of Justice, human trafficking has become the second-fastest-growing criminal industry in the country, with children accounting for roughly half of all victims. The department’s Office of Justice Programs estimates that some 12.3 million adults and children around the world are in forced labor, bonded labor or forced prostitution, and 56 percent of these victims were women and girls. Over 300,000 children are said to be at risk of sexual exploitation each year in the United States. These are not just numbers and percentages, but a tragedy darkening the lives of millions of adults and children.
The testimonies are chilling and heartbreaking. At the U.N. event, Jennifer Spry, a survivor of human trafficking, shared her story of when, as an 8-year-old girl, she became a victim of her male neighbor, who forced her to have sex with different men and pose for child pornography. Ms. Spry explained how it was difficult for law enforcement to prosecute these crimes. Human trafficking, she noted, is not only “the fastest-growing crime, it is also the easiest to get away with.”
She recounted how the police, the local school and relatives missed the warning signs and how the aggressor would threaten her by saying he was going to kill her younger sister and her mother if she said anything. Just think for a moment how this innocent child was brutally sexually exploited and raped by different men every day, abandoned and living in constant fear. This is happening in the United States and across the globe, where young women and children feel hopeless, depressed and frightened because they are controlled by their pimps and aggressors.
As Americans we have an obligation to protect the most innocent lives. As parents and guardians, we need to keep a close eye on the activities of our children and family members and be on the alert for the warning signs of potential human traffickers.
There is no question that the family provides the core of stability in the lives of children. As Ambassador Madina Jarbussynova, the OSCE’s special representative and coordinator for combating trafficking in human beings, remarked, “We need to raise awareness for the family and empower women and mothers.”
Congresswoman Ann Wagner, the Missouri Republican who has been a champion of combating human trafficking on Capitol Hill, has highlighted the issue of sex trafficking that is taking place online. “Innocent women and girls will continue to be sold online until we choose to prosecute the exploitative online marketplaces that facilitate the crime,” she said.
There must be a special focus on those children in precarious family situations, situations that make women and children more vulnerable to trafficking. Families disrupted by poverty, drugs and violence fail to protect their children, and many times their girls try to find comfort in the arms of human traffickers, who eventually destroy their lives.
Rev. Shenan Boquet, the Catholic priest who heads Human Life International, closed the event by talking about the inherent dignity of the human individual and the role of family and faith. Part of the solution is to restore the family with morality and protecting the family structure.
I know that when I got home to my five young daughters, we had a lengthy conversation on human trafficking. It made me realize that we are all vulnerable to the danger, a danger that is growing and primarily taking place online. Talking with our children and helping them feel empowered is just the first step.
We also need more parents and guardians to become aware of the dangers, and find ways to help organizations such as Shared Hope and Operation Underground Railroad escalate the fight to end human trafficking once and for all.
• Mercedes Schlapp is a Fox News contributor, co-founder of Cove Strategies and former White House director of specialty media under President George W. Bush.
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