The crime of human trafficking is one of the most egregious human rights violations and it is happening in our own New Hampshire communities. Its victims are domestic runaways being taken in by traffickers and forced to trade sex for a place to sleep. They are girls being baited into “the life” by a presumed boyfriend who later reveals himself as a pimp. They are individuals lured into this country with false promises of legitimate work, only to be forced into the sex industry on arrival. Much like a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking victims are trapped by fear, isolation and brutality at the hands of their traffickers and those who purchase them for sex.
Victimization of children through human trafficking is a brutal form of child sexual abuse, yet it is often overlooked and unrecognized. Within the United States it is estimated that nearly 300,000 children are trafficked for sex every year. The majority of these victims are runaway and “throwaway” homeless youth, who often have a history of truancy and running away that was precipitated by sexual and other abuse at home. Nationally, 450,000 children run away from home each year and one of every three will be lured toward prostitution within 48 hours of leaving home. This means at least 150,000 children are lured into prostitution each year. The average age of children for entry into prostitution in the United States is 12 years old.
What can be done to prevent other children and teens from being victimized? A first step is addressing the truth about trafficking. Put simply, human trafficking is the selling of human beings for profit through sexual exploitation, forced labor or involuntary domestic servitude. Experts estimate that annually human trafficking reaps $32 billion in illegal profits which makes it the second-largest and fastest-growing black market in the world.
Human trafficking is a crime that can be difficult to identify and track. The Internet and websites such as Backpage.com have only exacerbated this problem by taking the sex trade off our streets and into hotel rooms — out of sight of law enforcement and social services.
The Trafficking Victims Protection Act passed in 2000 became the first federal law that emphasizes the need to protect victims and offers legal protection for victims of trafficking. New Hampshire responded in 2009 by passing a state human trafficking law. However, while momentum against trafficking is increasing more must be done. Our work to reduce the demand for commercial sex is built on a simple, solid foundation: societal change requires information. Just as a movement against drunken driving helped the public understand the danger of drinking and driving through a concerted campaign of public awareness and powerful testimonials to reduce deadly accidents, our work seeks to spark positive change. And just as domestic violence all too recently was a topic broached only behind closed doors, bringing the tragedy of human trafficking to the public eye is the first step of many. Those used in commercial sex lead an extremely dangerous and often violent existence — epidemiologists report that those persons used in commercial sex live only to an average age of 34. Many aren’t willing participants and many aren’t even old enough to consent to sex.
As attorney general, I have recently formed the New Hampshire Commission to Combat Human Trafficking, comprised of experts from our state, local and federal partners, law enforcement, victim advocates, community services, the criminal justice system, medical providers, and others. It is the task of this commission to craft a victim-centered collaborative multidisciplinary, statewide comprehensive approach to combating human trafficking in the state of New Hampshire.
If you wish to join our effort, consider offering your time and financial support to charities that provide services to victims. Men can speak out against johns who purchase individuals for sex. Parents, parent-teacher organizations and schools can help educate children about how to protect themselves online. Doctors, nurses, and hospitality and travel industry workers can seek training to identify victims and help them access services. Each one of us can do something to combat human trafficking.
The fight to end the exploitation of human trafficking victims continues. Join us.
Michael Delaney is attorney general of New Hampshire.