When Americans hear the phrases “human trafficking” or “sex trafficking,” they often imagine this is only a concern in other countries. While international trafficking is a serious issue, domestic human trafficking and the trafficking of Americans into other countries is just as much of a problem. The statistics behind human trafficking are still largely unseen, and if we don’t all come together to shed light on this serious issue, people will continue to be impacted.
At the Children’s Protection Center in Little Rock, Jennifer Long provides services for many young people and their supporting caregivers who are victims of trafficking as well as other forms of abuse and trauma, and she knows the value of understanding the warning signs. One of the main purposes of awarenesses months is to spread knowledge and increase understanding. According to Long, “Our industry often swoops everything into one big ‘child abuse’ bucket, and we don’t always think to identify trafficking victims who may need a different approach to investigation and advocacy.” Whether you’re just a citizen who’s seen something strange or a first responder, knowing what to look for and how to report human trafficking is essential.
What is Human Trafficking?
The US Department of Homeland Security defines human trafficking as, “modern-day slavery that involves the use of force, fraud, and coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.” The victims can be of any age, race, gender, nationality, and socioeconomic status, but those who are already at risk are the most likely to be targeted. There are three forms of human trafficking - forced labor, domestic servitude, and sex trafficking.
What is Sex Trafficking?
Sex trafficking involves the use of force, coercion, bribery, fraud, manipulation, or other unethical means to elicit sex acts that earn the trafficker money. Any person under the age of 18 involved in commercial sex acts is considered a victim of human trafficking.
Doesn’t Human Trafficking Only Happen in Other Countries?
Unfortunately, both domestic and international trafficking is a problem. According to Long, “We administer a questionnaire to cases when the child is 12+ just to assess for risk factors that could indicate trafficking. While we do see trafficking of children at CPC, it is not prevalent among our cases, but I would make a guess that we see about 20 a year. Often when we see it, the offender is a parent or caregiver who is exploiting their child for money, drugs or other resources.” According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, Arkansas had 29 cases of sex trafficking reported in 2019 - as of January 15th. While this may not be something you see every day, the concern is real. Human trafficking is notoriously underreported, so it’s important to know the basics and report concerns.
How the Children’s Protection Center in Little Rock Helps
When trafficking cases arise involving children, whether they are the direct victims, or children of the direct victims, the Children’s Protection Center can provide forensic interviewing services that help hold the offenders accountable. This interview is conducted using protocols supported by the US Department of Justice and is important in developing a criminal case. They also offer many client support services, which include victim advocacy, trauma-focused mental health therapy for all clients, and specialized medical exams. Medical exams are generally conducted when sexual assault is suspected. However, they also have instances of physical abuse when an exam is conducted at the Children’s Protection Center. In their mental health program, they offer trauma-focused therapies to children and their caregivers, and the Children’s Protection Center hosts support groups for teen girls and caregivers.
According to Long, “All services are no cost to our clients. Our victim advocacy program provides a wide range of help for families - legal assistance, immigration assistance, orders of protection, food, shelter, clothing, psycho-education, support systems - really anything that a family needs to help their children heal.”
How Can I Help?
Raising awareness and reporting concerning situations are the easiest ways you can help stop trafficking. If you see something – say something. The first step for anyone should be to immediately call the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-843-6349 and be prepared to give as much information as possible, including the name and location of the child, name and location of the alleged offender(s), and all details surrounding the suspicion. You should never attempt to confront an offender. Do not attempt to question the child at length to get detailed information - this can hurt the chances of helping the child. If the child tells their story without significant prompting, listen and relay the information to authorities. Some warning signs that a person is being trafficked include:
- Physical abuse - burns, bruises, cuts, etc.
- Being gone for long periods of time without explanation
- Changes in the way the person is dressing that may be inappropriate for their age or environment
- Sexualized behaviors
- Overly tired during the day
- Suddenly seeming withdrawn or checked out
- Suddenly has expensive clothing or other items or brags about making money
- New tattoos, especially those that include a name, monetary symbol, or barcode
- Older friends, especially older romantic partners
- Invites others to or brags about going to parties
In addition to reporting these behaviors to the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline, you can also make reports on incidents specific to trafficking to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. This is a national anti-trafficking hotline with resources for survivors and caregivers impacted by human trafficking.
For more information about reporting or human trafficking, you can visit:
National Human Trafficking Hotline: www.humantraffickinghotline.org.
Arkansas Human Trafficking Hotline: www.humantraffickinghotline.org/state/arkansas