Author: Jami McDermott, B.S. Speech Comm., Outreach Coordinator
Recently, the movie “Sound of Freedom” brought attention to the horrors of human/work trafficking. This form of exploitation preys on vulnerable individuals, taking advantage of their economic and emotional needs to force them into unsafe and illegal situations, often involving sexual exploitation or forced labor. The film highlighted the urgency to combat this crisis and support the victims, shedding light on the fact that it’s not just an international problem but also prevalent within our own communities.
According to the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Department of State, CNN reports that the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent societal shifts have worsened the problem, with traffickers exploiting the social and economic turmoil caused by the global outbreak.
Social distancing measures pushed traffickers to expand their use of the internet utilizing AI programs to exploit victims. In the article Using AI to Fight Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery…Can We Win? Author Avantika Chopra of Cyber Express Magazine states, “A large percentage of people recruited into forced labor or sex trafficking are targeted and trapped through chat rooms, social networking, advertisement, and so forth.”
The increase in homelessness within our communities has also made families more vulnerable. Many families in St. Charles County now live in hotels, and cars, or rely on the hospitality of friends and family, making them susceptible to exploitation for labor, sex, drug dealing, and more.
Cases of depression, fear, and isolation have become commonplace during the pandemic, leading to an increase in Peer to Peer trafficking. Predators use survivors of trafficking who are of similar ages and situations to lure and entice their friends or family with the promise of friendship and affirmation.
If you notice someone showing signs of trafficking, such as disconnection from family or friends, behavioral changes, fearful or submissive responses, lack of trust, or substance abuse, it’s essential to take action. Steffanie Kaiser, the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Coordinator (CSEC) at Child Advocacy of Northeast MO, urges everyone to speak up if they see something suspicious.
Dr. Shima Rostami, Executive Director of Gateway Alliance against Human Trafficking, acknowledges that the situation in St. Charles County has worsened. However, we can make a difference by trusting our instincts and asking two straightforward questions: “What if this is sex trafficking?” and “Why did it happen?” While the reasons behind trafficking can be complex and broad, there are numerous organizations dedicated to advocating for victims and educating the next generation to be resilient and have strong character. By staying alert and informed, we can actively combat human trafficking and support those who need help.
As a pregnancy resource center, Birthright St. Charles has met with women who face pregnancy and have been exposed to sex trafficking. We meet them where they are with no judgment or preconceptions. Supporting them through the challenges facing them with love and compassion. Providing guidance with no cost master-level counseling.