Rather than diminishing, reports of children victimized by human traffickers are increasing. Worldwide, children comprised 20 percent of all victims from 2003 to 2006 – that rose to 27 percent over the next three years.
The report estimates 20.9 million adults and children are trafficked every year, and that 1.5 million of them are within the United States, says Sharon Buchbinder. They’re sold for forced labor, organs and sex.
“Prostitution, statutory rape and kidnapping are all illegal, so we must have quite a robust criminal underworld,” says Buchbinder, an award-winning, multi-published novelist who recently published “Obsession,” (www.sharonbuchbinder.com), which deals with international kidnapping.
The FBI recently announced the biggest sex-trafficking bust in U.S. history, featuring the arrests of 150 alleged pimps and the rescues of 105 children. However, this is by no means a rare occurrence in our country, Buchbinder says.
“If you’re not familiar with these cases, you may ask yourself, ‘How is this possible?’ ” says Buchbinder, who reviews some the major, enabling factors.
• Sexually exploiting women and girls is big business. A human trafficker can potentially earn 20 times the amount paid for a girl. Unlike drugs and guns, the same girl can be sold over and over again. Poor girls can be found in all corners of the world, and a wealthy country like the U.S. is a prime market. Once a girl has been sufficiently frightened by her victimizer – told that she’ll be found and punished if she flees, or that the lives of her family in another country may be at stake – she will follow a pimp’s demands.
• The internet is a free channel for the criminal underworld. According to one estimate, 76 percent of transactions for sex with underage girls start on the internet. A website called Backpage.com is thought to be the largest U.S. forum for sex trafficking of these girls. While the site connects many consenting adults, it’s also rife with girls and women forced into prostitution. A New York Times expose revealed the site is owned by private equity financiers, with a 16 percent stake formerly owned by Goldman Sachs. It sold its shares after the newspaper’s inquiry. The internet also allows traffickers to find and “befriend” girls who reveal through their postings the characteristics traffickers are looking for.
• Diplomats can take advantage of immunity. Diplomats to this country are allowed to obtain special visas to bring workers from their home country. Some of these officials take advantage of this and exploit workers. After confiscating passports, an abusive diplomat may force workers to toil for long hours with little or no pay. Several women have been sexually abused under these conditions. And, because of diplomatic immunity, these officials are not prosecuted.
• Major events provide opportunity for traffickers. As reported by Forbes, the 2011 Super Bowl in Dallas included 133 underage arrests for prostitution; more than 10,000 prostitutes were packed into Miami for the Super Bowl in 2010. These are facts that officials know about; however, former victims say they were trafficked to various major events throughout the United States decades ago.
“Human trafficking is not a foreign problem; it’s a sad fact throughout the world and in our own backyards,” Buchbinder says.