Human trafficking is a billion dollar per year business.
As Americans, we tend to think that certain heinous crimes only exist in other parts of the world. While our country isn't void of atrocities by any stretch of the imagination, we still prefer to live in a bubble where what goes on here, even at its worst, is still nothing compared to what goes on in other countries.
Human trafficking, for example, is a crime that we'd rather not associate with the United States. But the truth is, is that it's very prevalent, as much as we'd like to turn a blind eye to it. Every year between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States, and the majority of them are women.
In 2002, Elizabeth Smart was taken from her bedroom in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was 14 years old. For months investigators looked into every possible lead, and there were many as people kept seeing Smart in the area, but they kept coming up empty-handed. On March 12, 2003, nine months after her abduction, Smart was finally found in the company of her abductors, Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee, only 18 miles away from her home. Although what went on in those nine months was just speculation at first, it was during the 2009 trial of Mitchell that Smart testified that her captors kept her bound, threatened her life if she tried to escape, and raped her three to four times every day. Since then Smart has been an advocate for fighting against human trafficking.
In 2013, at Johns Hopkins University, Smart explained that one of the key factors in the fight against this horrible crime is making everyone aware of their self-worth. As she told the audience that day:
"I think it goes beyond fear for so many children, especially in sex trafficking. … It's feeling like 'who would ever want me now? I'm worthless.' That is what it was for me the first time I was raped. And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth; you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value."
She further explained that it was that lack of self-worth that kept her at her captor's side, despite realizing just how close she was to home during some of those months in captivity.
Human trafficking isn't always about sex. Sometimes it's involves forced labor, forced marriages, or commercial exploitation which means people are being sold for their organs or other body parts. No matter who's doing the selling and who’s doing the buying, it's still the business of making money off people who have no choice in the matter. What it is, is slavery; a dark and dirty business, and one that’s consistently on the rise.
This week, Smart (not Elizabeth Smart-Gilmour actually) took to another podium to not only talk about the human trafficking crisis and sexual abuse, but just how important law enforcement, health care professionals and social workers are in not only getting justice for victims, but getting them the necessary support they need to go back into the world. The conference held in Sioux Falls, South Dakota was to bring to light the human trafficking trade that has been on the rise due to the increased amount of oil workers in the area. Estimation puts human trafficking at a billion dollar per year business, and one that all of us can help prevent through education and awareness.
Smart's foundation, appropriately named the Elizabeth Smart Foundation, focuses on violent and sexual crimes against children. The purpose is to teach not just kids, but everyone, that no matter what happens to us, we're still worthy of a second chance and we should never stop fighting. Through education and open dialogues we can help save children before they fall victim to such atrocities. However, if some children do find themselves in a situation in which their freedom to decide has been stolen and their body is for sale, hopefully, what they've been taught about self-worth will be the fodder to help them break free from their captors.
We may not be able to end human trafficking, but in admitting it's a problem here in the U.S. we're at least making strides in helping people to avoid becoming victims.