Human trafficking is an American problem

By Emilia Beuger

(Andrea Barisani/Flickr)
(Andrea Barisani/Flickr)

When someone mentions human trafficking, they usually think of sex workers or child soldiers in the Third World. What if I told you that trafficking is happening in our nation, right under our noses?

In late January, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R.)  and The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations revealed that “The Department of Health and Human Services placed more than a dozen immigrant children in the custody of human traffickers after it failed to conduct background checks of caregivers,” according to the New York Times. This specific case was in Portman’s home state of Ohio.

This problem is rooted in the thousands and thousands of children at the southern border of the United States, trying to get to a better life. These kids are placed with sponsor families, who are similar to foster parents. About 90,000 children were placed by the Department of Health and Human Services between 2013 and 2015. The DHHS did not investigate these sponsors properly nor conduct the proper home visits due to restrictions being loosened in order to deal with the massive influx of minors. By speeding up the process and no longer collecting fingerprints and certain documents from the sponsors, immigrant children were put into the hands of human traffickers.

This story is only a small piece of the very real problem of human trafficking in the United States. Even at this year’s Super Bowl, an event which draws the attention of the entire nation, human trafficking remained a prevalent issue, as Santa Clara (Calif.) officials found 42 potential human trafficking victims in a series of sting operations, according to CBS San Francisco.

People are unaware of trafficking’s prevalence here. Not only are there adults and minors being trafficked as sex workers, but many are also being used as agricultural workers. Americans and immigrants alike are being trafficked. In 2015, the Ohio Attorney General said that there were at least 200 potential human trafficking victims in Ohio that year alone, according to the Human Trafficking Commission’s report. These include all kinds of victims, including white, young women. Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine (R.) has commented on the complexity of the issue, as human trafficking is extremely difficult to identify and investigate.

Every day, thousands of children, women and men are victims of human trafficking in the United States. Over 5,000 human trafficking cases were reported this year, according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center. The center can only give estimates on how many victims there are based on the reported cases, but there is no telling how many victims really exist in the United States.

There are two things about this issue that scare me. One is that human trafficking is a huge, multi-billion dollar industry that is extremely difficult to locate and investigate. I fear that this industry will only increase with the absence of media coverage and lack of policies and enforcement of those policies. There are policies and numerous Senate reports on this issue, but no one ever hears about them. These reports are extremely difficult to find and not very informative.

The second part of the issue that scares me is that the story about the immigrant children should have been big news. It should have brought human trafficking to the forefront of peoples’ minds. Instead, one or two stories were run in several magazines and newspapers, and that was it. No major media outlets picked the story up. And an even bigger problem is that this example is a very small instance of human trafficking. This was a story that could have brought this issue to light, and was instead ignored.

Many in this nation think that slavery is behind us. It’s not the case. That is why I wrote this article – because it is important to be aware of this issue. Not only that trafficking is happening halfway across the world, but that it is happening in our own country. These issues appear in every single state and ignoring this issue abroad and at home is a huge problem. With lack of resources, knowledge, and education toward this issue, it will only get worse. That is why it is important to seek out this information. It is important to know that the government is not implementing proper policies, enforcement and allocating proper funds to this issue. I am very disappointed with the Barack Obama administration’s handling of the situation of the immigrant children and the lack of action toward this issue.

Human trafficking is all around us, whether it be in a brothel or on a farm. People are suffering and it is our duty as a nation and as people to help those who are being controlled by others. Why should you care? Because everyday people are losing their freedoms to others and hardly anyone is doing anything about it.


Emilia Beuger is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]