British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of luring teenage girls to be sexually abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein. Her trial brought the stories of human trafficking survivors into the public eye. Much more often, trafficking operates in the shadows, reports USA Today. January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, aimed at raising awareness and funds for victims. The Department of State estimates as many as 24.9 million adults and children are trapped in some form of human trafficking around the world. The U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline saw a nearly 20 percent increase from 2018 to 2019, according to Polaris, the nonprofit that runs the hotline for victims and survivors. Human trafficking is prevalent, but frequently misunderstood. It often happens closer to home than some might believe.
"Trafficking is profoundly adaptable and dynamic," said Caren Benjamin of Polaris.
Under U.S. law, sex trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for a commercial sex act that's induced by force, fraud, coercion, or if the person is under 18. Labor trafficking follows the same definition, except its purpose is subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. A 2019 FBI study found that 80 percent of human trafficking cases from 2015 to 2017 involved sex trafficking victims. Nineteen percent were victims of labor trafficking, and one percent involved both forms. There's no way to truly know how much human trafficking exists. Data from the U.S. national hotline, for example, only represents victims who know enough or who aren't scared to report trafficking. Many people mistakenly believe someone has to be moved from one place to another to be a victim of human trafficking. Human trafficking does not require transportation to be considered a crime, says the Department of Homeland Security.