By Capt. Allison Farres, combatting trafficking in persons coordinator, 184th Intelligence Wing
As the 184th Intelligence Wing’s point of contact for combating trafficking in persons, I’d like to observe January as national Human Trafficking Awareness Month by highlighting Department of Defense policies and resources available to combat this crime.
While most people have heard about human trafficking, or trafficking in persons, through various news stories or documentaries, it has been my experience that many misperceptions and stereotypes exist around this issue.
As a DoD employee and military member, it is important that you understand what trafficking in persons is. The DoD has a zero tolerance policy against human trafficking. To avoid taking part in this crime, we must have a full understanding of what it looks like and how it exists in our community.
Trafficking in persons became a federal crime with the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000. This law defines human trafficking as having three components: action, means and purpose. Using this model, human trafficking is harboring, transporting, recruiting, or obtaining someone by means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of sex or labor.
Sex trafficking or sexual exploitation refers to the exchange of sex for anything of value. Sex trafficking is more than street prostitution; it happens online, in hotels, strip clubs, phone sex services and in pornography. Because pornography and strip clubs are normalized in our culture, it’s important to remember as a DoD member, trafficking can occur in these settings and that it is your responsibility to not take part in or support it.
Although trafficking in persons is often considered a foreign problem, the most vulnerable population for sex trafficking are American youth. Most often, vulnerable youth are exploited for sex on the streets of their own communities.
Vulnerabilities exploited by traffickers and buyers include: being system-involved (foster care or juvenile justice), being runaway or homeless, substance abuse (of the youth or within their home), and experiences of childhood abuse or neglect, among others. In Wichita, it is estimated that 300-400 youth are exploited for sex each year.
It is important to note than minors involved in sexual exploitation (also referred to prostitution, sex work or sex trafficking) do not have to prove force, fraud or coercion occurred. This means that minors involved in sexual exploitation are automatically considered to be victims.
Labor trafficking occurs when an individual is forced to work for free. This often includes long hours and physically demanding or unsafe occupations. Labor trafficking occurs in hotels, restaurants, as well as in agriculture and meat processing (again, not an exhaustive list).
Trafficking can also include organ harvesting or child soldiering, but these are less likely in Kansas.
The bottom line to remember about trafficking in persons is that it is an exploitation of vulnerability. Traffickers and buyers take advantage of vulnerabilities for their own gain.
The means used to trap an individual into a life of trafficking can be as simple as exploiting a relationship (family, friend, or significant other), making false promises of love or employment, or using force or threats.
While I’ve tried to give you an idea of the various forms of human trafficking, the fact is that it can look a million different ways. This is true of the victims, traffickers and buyers alike—no two cases are the same. However, if we only have images of victims being kidnapped and held in bondage, we will miss real cases of trafficking in persons as they occur in our communities.
If you see a situation that you suspect may be human trafficking, there are resources available to help. You can make a report through your chain of command, Security Forces, local police, or by calling the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
Also know that as your wing point of contact for combating trafficking in persons, and an employee of the Wichita State University Center for Combating Human Trafficking, I am available to answer questions or help address any concerns. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 316-759-7020.