Human trafficking is the second largest criminal activity in the world and the fastest growing. Awareness in the United States has increased, but human trafficking continues to be underreported due to its isolated nature, the misdefinition of human trafficking, and a lack of awareness of its signs and indicators.
Human trafficking occurs when an adult or child is recruited, harbored, obtained or exported through violence, fraud or coercion for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labour, involuntary servitude, bonded labor and other methods of slavery. The US State Department estimates that at any given time there are approximately 27.6 million victims of human trafficking worldwide. Human traffickers prey on people of all ages, backgrounds and nationalities and exploit them for their own benefit.
In the US, traffickers force their victims to have commercial sex and to work in both legal and illegal industries and sectors, including hospitality, traveling salesmen, agriculture, janitorial services, construction, landscaping, restaurants , factories and in the care of persons with disabilities, salon services, massage parlors, retail services, fairs and carnivals, peddling and begging, drug smuggling and distribution, religious institutions, child care and domestic work, according to information released by the State Department.
Victims can be of any age, race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, immigration status, cultural background, religion, socioeconomic class, and educational level. Persons vulnerable to trafficking include children in the child welfare and juvenile court systems, including foster families; runaway and homeless youth; unaccompanied foreign children without legal immigration status; people with limited knowledge of English; people with disabilities; ; and victims of intimate partner violence or other forms of domestic violence.
To raise awareness, several Alabama communities have designated January 2023 as Human Trafficking Awareness Month. These cities include Albertville, Ashland, Birmingham, Brent, Brundidge, Center Point, Chelsea, Collinsville, Cullman, Daleville, Dora, Elba, Enterprise, Fairhope, Fort Deposit, Fort Payne, Geraldine, Hamilton, Helena, Holly Pond, Killen, Kimberly, Madison, Magnolia Springs, Montevallo, Montgomery, Mountain Brook, Northport, Phenix City, Ragland, Rainbow City, Satsuma, Semmes, Trussville, Tuscaloosa and Vestavia Hills.
Since 2019, several communities across the state have declared themselves trade-free zones as defined by the United States Anti-Human Trafficking Institute. To become a trafficking-free zone, cities commit to train all staff, law enforcement, and first responders on human trafficking awareness; they uphold a zero-tolerance human resources policy regarding solicitation of commercial sex, requiring immediate termination; They are asked to educate schools and the community through educational events and awareness and prevention programs.
Alabama Trafficking Free Zones now include the cities of Alexander City, Bessemer, Birmingham, Camp Hill, Center Point, Cullman, Dadeville, Gardendale, Homewood, Hoover, Irondale, Lakeview, Mountain Brook, Northport, Opelika, Oxford, Pinson, Rainbow City, Semmes , South Vinemont, Trussville and Vestavia Hills.
Several Alabama organizations and businesses have also taken steps to become Trade Free Zones including: BH Photography, Birmingham City Council, Coastal Alabama Community College, District Attorney’s Office 7th Judicial Circuit of Alabama, Fowler-Davis, LLC, Jefferson County City Council, Jefferson County Mayor’s Association, Trafficking Hope, World Games 2022 Birmingham and UAB School of Medicine.
The ninth annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Alabama was observed on January 11th.
The Alabama Human Trafficking Summit will be held January 26-27 at the Renaissance Hotel Montgomery. To learn more about the summit, visit this link.
For more information about the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force or to register for the Alabama Human Trafficking Summit, please visit enditalabama.org. (Information from the Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force with additional reporting from The Alabama Baptist)