By Lily Rusk, Clarion Editor in Chief and Nikole Farina, Clarion Staff Reporter
Human trafficking is not an otherworldly term to us teenagers, yet teens aged 11-14 are at a higher risk to be sexually exploited and are not educated nearly enough. From a young age, we are taught about the dangers of the outside world. We are told about “stranger danger”, and to be careful about what kinds of information we put on social media. Now, as we get older we willingly get in strangers’ cars, are desperate for finding financial independence, and are helplessly in love, so the dangers of strangers seem to shrink.
While human trafficking is prevelant, especially in Sacramento and its surrounding cities, there are many misconceptions about what human trafficking is which can further endanger victims. Federal law recognizes “human trafficking” according to an Action-Means-Purpose (AMP) model. This means that there must be an act of force, fraud, and/or coercion to get victims to work under abusive conditions or engage in sexual activity in exchange for something of value such as money, shelter, drugs, or even blackmail.
David Nichols, Kennedy senior, said human trafficking is “people being stolen– kids, women, sometimes boys.”
Karla Rios, sophomore, and Miguel Navarrete, junior, said that it is similar to kidnapping.
In reality, many people are at risk of being trafficked for many reasons, including a person’s history of child abuse, neglect, maltreatment, family conflict, disruption, dysfunction, peer pressure, social norms, social isolation, gang involvement and under-resourced schools.
Force is actually the least common method of trafficking. In most cases, people are trafficked by people they know, and they either walk into it unknowingly or are coerced. Some groups are more vulnerable than others, such as impoverished families and/or minorities, but anyone can be trafficked. It’s manipulative and deceitful, and rarely has anything to do with one’s physical strength.
The U.S. Department of Justice website indicates that although there is no defining characteristic that all trafficked victims share, traffickers tend to target individuals who are poor, vulnerable, living in unstable conditions, or are in search of a better life.
Michelle Erickson, junior, told us that she feels like her male counterparts are more free to do what they want, and questions why she feels afraid at all. Meanwhile, Cayden Lorde, senior, felt that he wasn’t in any particular danger or would be a target.
There are different kinds of human trafficking; such as debt bondage, commercial sex, and forced labor. In Sacramento, there is high demand specifically for commercial sex. As long as these demands remain, there will be supply. The discrepancy between awareness among males and females is widespread and dangerous. Out of every male interviewed, none said they feared being trafficked; however, every female said it was something they regularly thought about and feared.
This is concerning for many reasons. While women and girls are most likely to be coerced into commercial sex, and men and boys are most likely to be forced into exploited labor, this does not mean men are not in danger of sex trafficking and it does not make sex trafficking specifically a womens’ issue. This can lead men to be more detached from the issue, making them have less of an interest in being educated on the subject, and therefore are more likely to be potential victims or buyers.
So, if traffickers can target anyone, how can a person protect themselves and identify a trafficker to avoid these situations?
Traffickers can be anyone– male or female, U.S. citizens or foreigners, family members, friends, intimate partners, or strangers. They tend to share the same characteristics as their victims, because they understand their backgrounds and can better exploit their victims’ vulnerabilities.
According to KCRA’s article by Melanie Wingo, Sacramento is a sex trafficking hotspot because it is the hub between major cities Reno, San Francisco, and Oakland. Many cases of trafficking go unreported in an already heavily affected California. This means that it is especially important in Sacramentans to be educated more about human trafficking so that people of any age or gender are educated and protected.
All of the students we interviewed felt that they have not been educated enough to recognize the signs of trafficking or if they are in the presence of a victim. One of the most effective ways to mitigate this is providing awareness and guidance at schools, especially ones in affected cities. Students shouldn’t be worried about the dangers outside and should be focusing on their education, but safety is very important to a healthy school life. Here at Kennedy, there have been clubs and activities to help provide awareness, but required classes to not only inform but protect students to put them at a lower risk of trafficking will help keep them safe.