Human Trafficking During Crisis

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I think all of us are wondering what is happening in our world right now as it erupts all around us with hurricanes, fires, and earthquakes. But those of us fighting modern-day slavery also are wondering what happens to victims of human trafficking during crisis? How will natural disasters effect those victims in cities where devastation is rampant and vulnerabilities are at their all-time high.

Trafficking, as we know, has many faces and many facets. A report by the Polaris Project recently estimates 25 Typologies of human trafficking in America alone. With that many subsets of exploitation within our communities, one must wonder what happens to them? What happens to the Asian massage parlors when they are under water? What happens to the Cantinas when the wind is pushing over the thin walls? What happens to the pimps and the online ads when devastation is wreaking havoc?

In a recent study by Free Our Girls out of Colorado, they exposed what was happening online. We also obtained a report charting online ads from Houston PD. Here were the results:

This advertisement is a RECRUITING tactic used by a trafficker in Houston targeting vulnerable girls during the hurricane. Research provided by Free Our Girls, Colorado

This advertisement is a RECRUITING tactic used by a trafficker in Houston targeting vulnerable girls during the hurricane. Research provided by Free Our Girls, Colorado

Websites that are selling people are offering traffickers 50% off to keep posting and selling people, making it more likely that traffickers will continue to look for vulnerable girls to take advantage of the half-price ad offer. Research provided by Free Our Girls, Colorado

Websites that are selling people are offering traffickers 50% off to keep posting and selling people, making it more likely that traffickers will continue to look for vulnerable girls to take advantage of the half-price ad offer. Research provided by Free Our Girls, Colorado

Research by Free Our Girls

Research by Free Our Girls

Here a notorious trafficker in Houston poses with supplies and offers to help and below is his GoFundMe page. Research provided by Free Our Girls, Colorado.

Here a notorious trafficker in Houston poses with supplies and offers to help and below is his GoFundMe page. Research provided by Free Our Girls, Colorado.

Research provided by Free Our Girls, Colorado

Research provided by Free Our Girls, Colorado

Here is what we do know- regardless of the type of exploitation, bad guys target those with vulnerabilities and to them, this is a business. They must chase the money, it’s their addiction.

*Children At Risk made this information available and they are working with HPD to continue to monitor these ads.

*Children At Risk made this information available and they are working with HPD to continue to monitor these ads.

The above chart was tracking ads before, during and after HARVEY. The 1.5 increase after Harvey is believed to contribute to street prostitution being displaced and more persons turning to the internet. 

Some warning signs to look for:

  1.   An increase in crime and trafficking in cities surrounding those affected by a natural disaster.
  2. Promises to help those who have no support system (single moms in need of diapers, formula, etc.).
  3.  Assisting of families—traffickers will often offer to help their victim’s families during devastation. This is a calculated, manipulative offer with a lot of strings attached. Now the victim feels obligated to pay them back while the trafficker appears to be the hero and the family sings his praises (not quite the respite during escape they had imagined).
  4. "People make bad choices when they are mad, or sad or stressed." I am not the only one who wonders why buyers would still buy when so much destruction has hit. But, people make bad choices under stress and devastation. Watch for spending that you don’t know where it went, charges to clubs, bars, or parlors that seem excessive.

If you see something say something.

We’ve all heard that saying, but what does it mean with human trafficking?

  •  If you see something suspicious
  •  If someone offering to help who you haven’t known that long
  •  If there is a fast track toward a relationship with you or someone ages 12-24
  • If you notice suspicious activity on your bank or credit card statements

Please call the national human trafficking hotline and ask to make a report or to be in touch with your local law enforcement who specialize in this issue.

Here are some tips before calling:

  • Write down, text to yourself, make a note of what you’ve seen. You’d be surprised how quickly we forget when adrenaline is heightened.
  • Write down height, weight, hair color of all parties, make and model and license plate of any vehicle if possible, any identifying information (streets, location, etc).
  • You are FREE to make an anonymous phone call, so it’s ok to say “I'm not comfortable disclosing who I am.”
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Rebecca Bender is a nationally recognized and awarded expert on domestic sex trafficking. After escaping nearly six years of both labor and sex trafficking, she emerged as a Survivor Leader, providing consulting, training and speaking with some of the largest anti-trafficking groups and government agencies in the country, including FBI, Homeland Security , and former president Jimmy Carter. After writing her first book, Roadmap to Redemption, she founded the Rebecca Bender Initiative.