Martha Coakley: Join the fight against sex trafficking
EDITOR’S NOTE: This commentary by the state’s attorney general explores contemporary slavery. Today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
BOSTON — The crime of human trafficking is one of the most egregious human rights violations we see today. And it is happening right in our own communities.
Its victims are individuals lured into this country with false promises of legitimate work, only to be forced into the sex industry on arrival. They are domestic runaways being taken in by traffickers and forced to trade sex for a place to sleep. They are also girls being baited into “the life” by a presumed boyfriend who later reveals himself as a pimp. Much like a victim of domestic violence, human trafficking victims are trapped by fear, isolation and brutality at the hands of their traffickers.
An estimated 1 million children worldwide are sexually exploited annually, with the average age of girls forced into the sex trade between the ages of 12 and 14. Within the United States alone, it is estimated that nearly 300,000 children are trafficked for sex every year. The cases involve tremendous violence, such as a recent case where the victim was beaten, forced naked into a cold shower, covered with ice and then made to stand in front of an air conditioner for 30 minutes.
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 forced labor, sexual exploitation or involuntary domestic servitude. Experts estimate 27 million people are trafficked worldwide annually, reaping $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 has 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. Our computers provide access to a variety of sites that promote prostitution, which make millions of dollars by offering anonymity to traffickers, further facilitating the victimization of children.
That is why I, along with a coalition of legislators, law enforcement, and advocates, including lead sponsors Sen. Mark Montigny and House Judiciary Chairman Eugene O’Flaherty, filed the bill “An Act Relative to the Commercial Exploitation of People,” which was signed into law in November 2011 and went into effect in February 2012.
This law makes trafficking a felony, increasing fines for those who buy trafficked labor and addressing the needs of victims. Law enforcement has made multiple arrests in the past year, often targeting organizations that bring women from out of state, housing them in deplorable conditions, and profiting by selling them over and over again.
In addition to enforcement action, our office has been working and meeting regularly with other state agencies and nonprofits across the state to prevent this crime when possible and address its aftermath where it has already occurred.
Today, all but one state has some form of anti-trafficking law. Momentum against trafficking is increasing, but more must be done. Our work to reduce the demand for commercial sex is built on a simple, solid foundation: societal change requires information.
Those used in commercial sex lead an extremely dangerous existence — epidemiologists report that those persons used in commercial sex live only to an average age of 34. Many aren’t willing participants. And, the stark reality is that many aren’t even old enough to consent to sex. If apprehended, johns increasingly face serious criminal prosecution. These basic facts, if widely understood, should reduce the demand for commercial sex and thus lessen the number of human trafficking victims.
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.
Martha Coakley is attorney general of Massachusetts.