Make it your Fight
Though it often goes unrecognized, modern day slavery through the form of human trafficking, is a widespread issue in today’s society. Most of us prefer to think that this is not a problem that could impact our lives, or the lives of those close to us. However difficult to conceptualize, this is issue touches every individual to some extent, whether or not we initially realize it.
Though the statistics are sobering, they are also necessary in comprehending the magnitude and prevalence of this problem. According to a study done in 2016 by The University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work, Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault:
“There are approximately 79,000 minor and youth victims of sex trafficking in Texas.
There are approximately 234,000 workers who are victims of labor trafficking in Texas. There are an estimated 313,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas” (The University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, 2016, p. 13).
79,000 minors and youths are sex trafficked in Texas. While there are a million questions to ask- such as how, when, what, and why, I want to focus today on the question of who. The Polaris study on sex trafficking identified that adolescents, mainly girls, are the most vulnerable population for human trafficking (Polaris, 2017).
Traffickers target vulnerable populations, including those who have suffered past abuse, neglect, low self-esteem, or who lack a sense of belonging. Additionally, adolescents who are living in poverty or homelessness, those on child welfare, or those identifying as LGBTQ are at an increased risk of being trafficked.
Adolescence is a hard stage of life. Even without the risk factors listed above, Galeotti (2015) explains that in general “pre-teen girls are often ill- equipped to deal with the pressures around them, where they frequently suffer from low self-esteem, poor eating habits, inactive lifestyles, bullying, gossiping, and acting irresponsibly” (Empowering Pre-Adolescent Girls, p. 408).
These are young girls looking for acceptance, love, and belonging. Erikson characterizes this developmental stage as “identity vs. role confusion” explaining that this stage represents a bridge between childhood and adulthood. This search for identity lends itself well towards those who wish to exploit this population.
Gross (1987) in Introducing Erik Erikson: An Invitation to his Thinking, explains adolescence as a time of radical change, such as puberty, increased cognition, and awareness of societal roles. Adolescent girls are simultaneously dealing with societal pressures in addition to a variety of radical changes. If you add any of the risk factors listed by the Polaris study, it makes these girls at risk for being tricked and trafficked through force, fraud, or coercion.
I do not write about this to bring shame, hopelessness, or blame. While harm has certainly been done, this does not undermine the impact prevention can have on present and future girls. I chose to write about this because there is a need for education, awareness, and prevention for our youth. Many of us, to some extent, interact with middle school and high school adolescents. For those of us who intersect with these girls, we should each take up this fight.
While it is easy to put distance between us and the 79,000 girls who have been trafficked because it is not our child, sister or student, proactive intervention could change many lives. Encouraging self-esteem and positive behaviors, being a safe place to land could be the difference for a teenage girl. Standing with and for the most vulnerable is a call in the social work profession as well as a Christian value. As mentioned above, adolescents are each going through a hard and transformative time, regardless of their environment and circumstances.
My hope is that we will all take the time to learn more about trafficking, despite the sobriety, shock, or disbelief we may feel. Taking the feeling of hopelessness that we feel looking at the statistics, and allowing it to evolve into action to make a difference in the life of a child. Let us learn the warning signs, learn about tactics to provide aid. So many resources, referrals, and programs exist that focus on prevention and education. I will make this my fight, I implore you to make this your fight too.
Above all, be a place of safety for any youth you know. If girls are vulnerable because of low self-esteem, the longing for love, and the need for belonging- prevention happens through relationship. Prevention happens through genuine care, interaction, and involvement. It happens through education and empowerment. If we can be a stable, safe person for one adolescent girl, we could be the difference in their future.
Below, in the references, are two sources that offer education, prevention strategies, and services related to human trafficking. The UT study and the Polaris study are both in depth resources for prevention in this area. I encourage anyone interested to look either one of them up, and to read more about this issue. Knowing the signs, being intentional about prevention and education, and being an advocate for the most vulnerable can make a difference in a child’s life. If we all take up the fight, we can all make a difference.
Galeotti, S. (2015). Empowering pre-adolescent girls: Girls on the run experiential learning
program exploratory study. Journal of Experiential Education, 38(4), 407-423. doi: 10.1177/1053825915603578
Gross, Francis L. (1987). Introducing Erik Erikson: An invitation to his thinking. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. p. 47. ISBN 0-8191-5788-0.
Polaris. (2017). Sex trafficking. Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/sex-trafficking
The University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work, (2016) Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault