Photo courtesy of Breahn Foster.
During his address at the Clinton Global Initiative on Tuesday morning, President Obama firmly told the world, “Human trafficking is not a business model, it’s a crime.”
What may seem like an obvious observation, in fact, comes at a time when the business of sex trafficking, particularly child sex trafficking, is widespread around the world. Statistics reveal that, even in a seemingly sophisticated first world country like the U.S., the danger lurks everywhere and the threat is real. The U.S. State Department found that child and human trafficking is one of the fastest growing crimes in the world, and second only to drugs as the largest criminal enterprise. Additionally, UNICEF reports that 1.2 million children are victims of trafficking across the world, making it a $12 billion market.
Not surprisingly, the victims are the vulnerable – runaways, the sexually abused, and impoverished. In an interview with AZFamily.com, Amira Birger, a victim of child prostitution, described her life around the time she was first approached by a pimp at the age of 15.
“I started sneaking drinks, I started cutting, I started having suicidal thoughts,” Birger told the outlet. “I tried committing suicide several times. I was really acting out in school, getting D’s and F’s all the time. And started running away on and off. My parents didn’t understand what was going on, and I was just this rebellious kid.”
In many ways, Birger was an easy target, yet she was able to later escape the trade and has since spent years recovering in therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Others are not as fortunate, thus the fight for resistance has grown larger. In May, Los Angeles County began its own campaign to halt child sex trafficking after new data found that, in 2010, 174 reported prostitution cases involved girls under the age of 18, and another 2,351 involved 18-to-24-year-olds, reports The L.A. Times. Furthermore, 84 percent of the girls were from poor communities, nearly 60 percent had been in the child welfare system, and 92 percent were African American.
“People just don’t realize that child sex trafficking is happening right here,” County Supervisor Don Knabe said at a press conference. “Some as young as 12 and 14 are being bought and sold on the streets of Los Angeles County.”
Due to rising figures and the nature of the activity, more and more organizations are committing to doing what they can to fight this crime as celebrities have also lent their name and time to the cause. With her husband, Will Smith, and children in tow, actress Jada Pinkett Smith testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington this past July, asking Congress to heighten its own watch over new slavery conditions, and noting she would begin a campaign on the issue.
The actress attributed her interest in the cause to her daughter, Willow, who brought it to her attention through the Kony 2012 project. Smith asked government leaders for an extension of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and also teamed with actress Salma Hayek to begin the organization, Don’t Sell Bodies.
“Fighting slavery doesn’t cost a lot of money,” she told Congress. “The costs of allowing it to exist in our nation and abroad are much higher. It robs us of the thing we value most — our freedom. We know what that freedom is worth.”
Beyond Hollywood, the global war against human trafficking is being waged, and no one is more galvanized than the youth. From international courthouse steps to college campuses around the U.S., there is a movement and it is growing.
On Sunday, 100 students and community members at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill organized a walk to raise awareness through the nonprofit Stop Child Trafficking Now, and a similar march went down in Georgia a few days prior. Now with the president making human trafficking a high priority on the global agenda, the marching steps of demonstrators are more resounding.
“It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world,” Obama went on to say in his Tuesday address. “We’ve got to be moved by compassion. We are our brothers’ keepers. We are our sisters’ keepers.”