PERSPECTIVE: We Can All Do Our Part to Help Stop Human Trafficking

I’ve been involved in anti-trafficking efforts in one way or another since 2014. Like many Americans, up to that point, I knew human trafficking existed, but I had no idea of the severity of it. If I had been aware of the depth of the problem, I certainly would have jumped in much sooner.

There are more people trapped in slavery today than ever during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Though the real number is impossible to know due to the secret and underground nature of modern slavery, the UN estimates there are well over 20 million people enslaved in some form across the globe today. That is a staggering number! With such a seemingly insurmountable number, it’s hard to decide what one person can do. The answer is that everyone can do something. If we each identify our strengths and work from them, we can all do a little bit of something and someday solve this problem.

My particular area of interest in human trafficking is child trafficking, and specifically child sex trafficking and how our laws can help us better fight this evil.

When you save an individual, you save generations. I’m only one person, but I’ve been blessed to be connected to amazing people and a couple of amazing organizations: One is a nonprofit, donor funded 501C-3 called Operation Underground Railroad and the other is a government funded, grant-run state program called the Utah Trafficking in Persons Task Force.

Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) is an organization that you wish didn’t have to exist, but you are so glad that it does. It’s also a unique and rare organization that has a goal of working itself out of existence eventually. O.U.R. works with local authorities inside and outside the United States to apprehend perpetrators and rescue children. Prior to any operation, O.U.R. identifies aftercare facilities that will rehabilitate, educate and protect these children from ever being trafficked again. The goal is to eliminate this evil through deterrence, education and empowerment. I have been fortunate to join myself with the body of over 2,000 volunteers that help make this organization successful. For my part, I have been able to apply my background from the homeland security and defense industry to aid in the administrative side of operations, aftercare and development. Since its inception, O.U.R. has rescued nearly 1,000 children and helped governments around the world apprehend more than 300 traffickers. It has been my high honor to participate, in my small way, in these liberations and apprehensions.

This work with O.U.R. has led to my participation in the Utah Trafficking in Persons (UTIP) task force administered from the Utah Attorney General’s office. This task force brings together private industry, nonprofit organizations, medical personnel and federal, state, local and tribal stake holders to discuss best practices in tackling the difficult problem of human trafficking in the state of Utah. Very often children trapped in sex slavery become adult prostitutes or traffickers themselves, and that’s a cycle we’d like to break. When you look at the laws across the country, sometimes our code can work against us. Here in Utah, our legislature has worked to eliminate the term “child prostitution” from our laws. The word “prostitute” connotes a lifestyle choice and, legally, morally and ethically speaking, a child cannot make the choice to be a prostitute. We’re also working to spread awareness through the justice system on how to identify a victim of trafficking vs. someone who chooses a certain lifestyle. UTIP brings all of these stakeholders together to facilitate discussion and action.

I encourage everyone to learn the signs of human trafficking and look in your sphere of influence to see how your skills can help in this fight to eradicate this evil. Some ways you can get involved are:

  • Find organizations in your area fighting this evil: Sometimes the problem seems so big you don’t know where to start. Joining yourself to others focused on the same mission will help you get your footing and identify the contributions you can make.
  • Work to learn the laws and change what can be changed in your state: Modifying the laws of your state may not seem like a big, heroic effort to eradicate human trafficking, but it goes a long way toward changing culture and the thought process that currently enables children to continue to be victimized.
  • Learn the signs of human trafficking and how to report it: Knowing what to look for and how to report what you see increases the eyes and ears of law enforcement exponentially. Do not engage with or confront a trafficker directly.
  • Share what you’ve learned within your current sphere of influence and encourage others to join this fight.

Human trafficking is as dark as any evil can be and, consequently, it can be very difficult for people to acknowledge its existence. The reality is, however, the brighter a light we can shine on this terrible darkness, the more we can drive it away. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Lynda Cox is a volunteer with Operation Underground Railroad, an organization that rescues adults and children from human trafficking and sex trafficking.

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