Human Trafficking 101: See Something, Say Something

Also known as modern slavery, human trafficking affects people of all ages and all walks of life around the globe. 


|Rebecca Bender, human trafficking

“See something, say something” is a phrase often associated with airport security—and, with good reason. The phrase, however, is also apropos to another dangerous threat to men, women and children globally: human trafficking.

Also known as modern slavery, trafficking affects people of all ages and all walks of life around the globe. Yet most of us are woefully unaware of the scope and impact of these criminal practices and what we can do to halt these activities.

Where and How Human Trafficking Occurs

According to ECPAT-USA, human trafficking is likely to occur where large gatherings are held, such as industry conventions and sporting events. Although the Super Bowl is considered the largest attraction for human traffickers, a study by Carnegie Mellon University’s Auton Lab suggests other events and industry conferences may have a larger impact than anticipated, concluding that valuable resources may have been misdirected toward the Super Bowl.

Human trafficking makes no class distinctions and occurs in all social classes and among every race. Many victims believe they are romantically involved with someone, only to be manipulated and forced into prostitution. Others are lured by promises of modeling or dancing.

Earlier this year, an American Airlines agent at Sacramento International Airport questioned two girls who arrived at the ticket counter with one-way first-class tickets to New York City that had been purchased the day before.

The agent notified the sheriff’s department, which interviewed the girls. The girls admitted to lying to their parents that they were staying at each other’s house. The police released the girls to their parents, admonishing the adults that had the agent not been astute, the girls would have landed in New York and been forced into a life of drugs and prostitution.

Sadly, others are forced to sell sex by their parents or other family members. Victims in the United States can be citizens, foreign nationals, women, men, children and LGBTQ individuals. Globally, the International Labour Organization estimates more than 4.8 million people are forced into sexual exploitation each year.

What Event Professionals Can Do

ECPAT-USA recommends:

  • Download the TraffickCam mobile app produced by the Exchange Initiative. Simply upload up to four photos of an empty hotel room from different perspectives with the hotel name and room number. The photos are then entered into a database so trafficking videos can be compared to the photo database, and the city, hotel and room number where trafficking occurred can hopefully be identified.
  • Know the signs and report suspected trafficking. Carry an ECPAT-USA child trafficking travel indicators card with you. As you attend meetings and events, be watchful for signs of trafficking as detailed on the card.
  • Choose responsible travel companies—those who have signed The Code, short for The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism.
  • Learn what is going on in your state and local community, and, if desired, join or support an organization or project that fights human trafficking.

No human being should suffer the consequences of being dragged into a life of human trafficking, no matter where they live. Human trafficking knows no boundaries as to wealth, it only looks for individuals who can be persuaded as noted in this article. See something, say something. It may save a life and/or a life of misery.

Global Statistics and Facts

  •  According to the U.S. Department of State, the 10 worst countries for human trafficking are Belarus, Central African Republic, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Venezuela.
  •  Human trafficking has two major avenues: child labor and sex exploitation.
  •  Although girls make up two-thirds of the victims, boys, especially very young ones, often are subjected to more severe abuse, such as sadism.
  •  The International Labour Organization estimates $150 billion in illegal profits is derived annually from sex trafficking ($99 billion) and labor trafficking ($51 billion).
  •  The ILO’s report also estimates profits generated per victim for sex trafficking are $21,800 and $4,800 per victim for labor trafficking.
  •  58.7 percent of homeless LGBTQ youth are exploited by sex traffickers compared to 33.4 percent of homeless heterosexual youth.
  •  Psychological abuse is the most common means of controlling sex trafficking victims.

Key Laws and Regulations

  • The 1996 Communications Decency Act, the first attempt to regulate pornographic material on the internet, is in dire need of updating. When it was enacted, legislators could not have imagined the internet could or would be used to promote human trafficking.
  • On April 6, Backpage and its affiliated websites were shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice. Its CEO was arrested and charged with money laundering, but a charge of pimping could not be proven. Other sites such as Craigslist have come under scrutiny. Others have been shut down for violating their host’s terms of service.
  • In late 2017, California enacted legislation that earmarked businesses required to post human trafficking notices, with DOJ required to provide an updated model compliance notice by Jan. 1, 2019, in 13 types of business establishments.
  • On April 11, President Trump signed a bill called FOSTA-SESTA: Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act. This bill has both supporters and detractors, and has had little time to be tested as to any positive effects in eliminating sex trafficking.

Organizations to Know and Partner With

  • Polaris Project is a nongovernmental nonprofit that works to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking. It also advocates for stronger state and federal anti-trafficking legislation and engages community members in local and national grass-roots efforts. Its webpages contain valuable resources and information.
  • End Child Prostitution and Trafficking hosts multiple resources.
  • ECPAT’s USA site includes valuable resources for U.S. residents.
  • The American Hotel & Lodging Association offers multiple solutions for its member properties and best practices for lodging establishments.
  • California Hotel & Lodging Association offers training for its member properties and has multiple human trafficking resources. See what your state’s association is doing.

Rebecca Bender Fights Back

In the near decade since Rebecca Bender, founder and CEO of the Rebecca Bender Initiative freed herself from a six-year nightmare involving sex trafficking, she’s devoted her life to educating Americans about the dangers of a sordid industry that can enslave young people.

How did you become a victim of trafficking?

I was 18, almost 19, and a single mom when I met a guy on the University of Oregon campus. I wasn’t a student, but I had friends there and hung out. We exchanged phone numbers; it got serious and I thought it was normal dating. Until... Six months later, I moved with him to Las Vegas where I was forced into sex trafficking the day I arrived.

You hadn’t realized what was happening before then?

I wasn’t aware of the signs of coercion and fraud that played out in everyday life. No one taught me what to look for to see if a trafficker was “grooming” me. I had a small daughter he used against me, and eventually I got addicted to drugs. Over nearly six years, I was traded between three different traffickers.

What about your family?

They knew something was wrong but didn’t realize what was happening.

What kept you going?

I had a personal encounter with Jesus while at a faith-based women’s home in Portland. What kept me going was my daughter and my faith in God.

How did you finally get free?

I attempted four escapes in the near six years, but it’s like being in a gang—you can’t just walk away. In 2007, the feds raided one of the homes, and the trafficker took a plea deal on a tax evasion charge. When he was out of town, I packed everything in one suitcase, grabbed my daughter and ran.

Is trafficking as sensational as it seems on TV and in the movies? The media creates images of blue-eyed 5-year-olds kidnapped and tied up with duct tape on their mouths. But most kids are lured by someone they know and trust, be it a family member or someone they met online. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has great stats on kids being lured off the internet and being groomed by someone they know versus abductions, which are actually much more rare here in America.