Ask the Expert: Sex Trafficking Is on the Rise. Could My Business Be Targeted by Sex Traffickers?
Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world; but could your business be at risk of accidentally facilitating kidnapping and trafficking?
According to recent reports from the Department of Justice and The U.S. State Department, there were at least 393 arrests related to human trafficking in the U.S. in 2020, and at least 109,216 identified victims of human trafficking worldwide. Both of these numbers represent a slight decrease from the previous years, but pre-pandemic the numbers were on the rise, and since lockdowns have ended, we will likely see another rise when the numbers for 2021 are released.
What does this have to do with your business? Traffickers often exploit legal business to find, groom, abduct, move, and hide victims. We’ve already written about how movie theaters can be an attractive place for traffickers to snatch teens, but any business can be exploited, from online platforms to the hospitality industry. If kids, teens, and young people tend to gather at your business, your site might be a hunting ground for human traffickers.
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10 things all businesses should know about human trafficking
Yes, it could happen at your site: Awareness is the first and often the most important part of preventing crime. It’s important to accept the fact that bad things, like abduction or trafficking, can happen at your business. Once you’re aware it can happen, you can start being proactive instead of reactive.
Your parking area or curbside is a danger zone: When kids are waiting for a ride outside a restaurant, movie theater, or store, they’re vulnerable. For one thing, they believe they are alone and will often push boundaries. For another, they can easily be approached by criminals or abducted. Find a way to keep them in your establishment while they’re waiting for a ride. Their parents or guardians will text when they’re outside.
Kids don’t necessarily know about trafficking: Schools may not be teaching kids about the behaviors of criminals. They may not realize that traffickers groom victims online or how they may abduct kids from public places, so it’s important that you and your staff are aware of the possibilities.
If a victim is being trafficked at your location, they’re probably not local: Traffickers want easy-to-control victims. Victims are often kept sedated and moved from place to place. If a victim escapes and comes to your location for help, they are likely to be from another state, and may not know anyone in the area.
It’s important to have a police presence: If possible make sure there’s a police presence either at your site or at least in the area. The sooner an abduction is reported, the sooner a victim can be found — criminals are often less likely to abduct someone if police are visible.
Don’t underestimate the importance of cameras: Your place of business should have cameras and good lighting both inside and outside. In case of an incident, you should be able to easily provide law enforcement with video of the criminal and victim, car, and license plate.
Nonprofits and law enforcement agencies are here to help: If you want to keep on top of human trafficking trends, start by talking to the nonprofits who are involved in this work, as well as to state police, which is more likely to handle trafficking cases than the local police department. These agencies can tell you more about trends, like which age groups are being abducted and from where.
Human trafficking is happening in your state
Human trafficking is often thought of as an international crime; you may think of young women kidnapped abroad and brought to the U.S. illegally, but that’s not necessarily the case. A recent report from the Guardian Group found that all 50 states reported sex trafficking crimes in 2021, and 83% of the victims were in the U.S. legally. Victims may be your customers, their kids, or even your younger employees. When they’re on your site, it’s important to keep them safe.
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