In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution formally abolished slavery by declaring that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
So, if slavery was abolished 150 years ago, why does the president of the United States and Florida's governor need to declare January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month?
Why? Because human enslavement still exists in America today. It's just in a different form and we give it a softer name — "human trafficking."
Human trafficking, simply put, is modern-day slavery. Victims are smuggled across international borders and sold or traded as a commodity. It generally happens in the form of labor or sex trafficking.
The number of victims in the United States alone is astonishing. Some reports reveal an estimated 17,500 foreign nationals are annually trafficked into the United States. The number of United States citizens trafficked within our own borders is substantially higher with some estimates as high as 500,000.
In addition, according to the FBI, there are currently an estimated 293,000 American children that have a high risk of being exploited and trafficked for sex.
The numbers are difficult to determine, but the global estimates of the number of people trafficked at any given time is 2.5 million. About 80 percent are women and children. Every minute, two children become victims of human trafficking. It is disturbing.
It is happening in our own backyard. Florida ranks third, behind California and Texas, in the U.S. for human-trafficking cases.
And, it's happening in Jacksonville. According to the Jacksonville Sherriff's Office, there have been at least 27 arrests for human trafficking in our area since 2008.
Unfortunately, Jacksonville is attractive for human trafficking because of the major interstates that run through it. So, while 27 seems like a relatively small number on its face, we can expect that is only the tip of the iceberg because victims do not self-identify.
Preying on the vulnerable is a trafficker's modus operandi. Targets include migrants, the poor and other oppressed groups, along with runaway and throwaway children. Men are likely to be victims of labor trafficking, while women and children generally are victims in the prostitution and sex-entertainment industries.
Victims of labor trafficking take several forms. They include domestic labor (e.g., private homes), small family businesses (e.g., restaurants, bars and begging rings), agriculture and landscaping, day labor, factories and plants, and more.
The use of these victims is not only degrading and criminal with respect to the victims, but also it increases the health and safety risks to consumers because the laborers are not subject to the regulations designed to protect consumers from such risks. It is a vicious cycle. Laws are now being enacted that attempt to ensure that corporations cannot plead ignorance.
This stuff is gruesome when you realize, for example, that a large portion of human trafficking targets girls between the ages of 12 and 17 for purposes of prostitution and sex entertainment. These children — that's right, children — live a life of fear.
Many are runaways hoping to leave a life of abuse or neglect. They are easy targets because they are vulnerable and they unfortunately find themselves in situations more hopeless than the ones they came from.
They are threatened, beaten, raped, drugged and sold. Think about that: sold. And, once they are caught in the web, they only expect to live for two to four years.
Two to four years? Stop reading for 30 seconds and think about that.
What's even more daunting is there is no consistent face for a trafficker. Both men and women act as traffickers. Though many associate trafficking with organized crime, many traffickers are individual pimps or even small, family businesses. Often, traffickers are supported by indirect beneficiaries like distribution or retail companies.
As this complex web of human trafficking unfolds, you can't help but wonder how people can do this.
The answer is simple. It's money, the root of all evil. Again, it is difficult to measure, but some sources estimate it to be a nearly $100 billion industry, which is greater than arms and drug trafficking.
So, how do you stop it? The hidden nature of the crime presents a challenge because there is no particular type of trafficker nor is there a particular look of a victim. It generally is the victims' circumstances that make them attractive to traffickers.
As I alluded to, victims often come from communities where there is poverty and corruption. They are homeless, runaways or orphans with no family support. Often, there is a history of abuse. In some cases, their families actually collaborate with the traffickers. The traffickers lure them into a sense of security by offering them a better life. Then, they strip them of their human rights and dignity. In order for their nightmare to end, they must escape and that is impossible for most.
But, there is hope. Nationwide organizations like the Polaris Project and World Relief, as well as local organizations, are working to help recover trafficking victims. These organizations are built around the desire to help make a positive difference in our communities, but they need our help and lots of it. It starts with educating ourselves.
At The Jacksonville Bar Association's March 6 meeting, Terry Coonan, executive director of Florida State University's Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, will share information about the new generation of human trafficking.
Coonan also will explore causes of action arising from these types of cases, including employment, labor, tort, restitution and even punitive damages under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. After the luncheon, a symposium on human trafficking will be held where the panel will share firsthand experience and insight into the travesties of human trafficking and the challenges faced by practitioners working on behalf of human trafficking victims.
I hope you will join us at both events.
The Bar is open! Come make a difference.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all people held as slaves in the United States to be free forever.