January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Human Trafficking

January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month. Every year since 2010, a U.S. president has dedicated the month to raise awareness about human trafficking and to educate the public about how to identify and prevent the crime.

The Polaris Project staffs and operates the United States’ only national hotline dedicated to human trafficking. In 2021, it reported more than 10,000 calls to its hotline. From those calls nearly 17,000 human trafficking victims were identified. And those are only the cases that are reported to the hotline. Of those cases, the top three types of trafficking reported in 2021 were escort services (10%), pornography (8%), and illicit massage, health and beauty (8%).

Human Trafficking

Courtesy: The Polaris Project

The list above shows categories provided by The Polaris Project. The data shows trafficking victims are generally recruited by someone they know – like a family member or caregiver (33%), an intimate partner (28%), or an employer (22%). As a whole, the Internet remains the most likely place where people are victimized. Online dating sites and social media sites like Facebook are two of the top three recruitment locations.

“Human trafficking normally starts on social media. We see it here in Tuscaloosa,” said West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force Commander Capt. Phil Simpson. “Young people, both male and female, are groomed by someone they think is their own age. It’s actually an older person who is building a relationship with them with the purpose of getting the victim to go with the trafficker, on of their own free will.”

Simpson said traffickers do not want to attract attention the way a kidnapping case would. So traffickers build relationships with teens and get them to leave on their own.

Local cases happen more often than anyone would think. That’s why the WAHTTF was created to combat and prevent cases of human trafficking. Simpson asks that everyone be vigilant and keep an eye out for victims.

“You want to look for a person who seems to be under the physical control of another person unwillingly. Human traffickers usually target victims in their mid to late teens,” Simpson said.

Simpson said human trafficking can have lifelong effects on victims.

The West Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force offers training classes for individuals and groups on how to recognize and prevent human trafficking.

You can register by calling the Tuscaloosa Police Department at 205-349-2121.

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