By now, most Americans are familiar with the term “human trafficking.”
Often described as modern-day slavery, human trafficking is the coerced “recruitment” and transport of people into a situation of exploitation. Victims are forced to work against their will, typically in the sex trade.
While most people would acknowledge a basic understanding of human trafficking, it likely feels far removed from most of us. We tend to believe we’ll never witness it or encounter a victim.
That’s exactly where we would be wrong.
Are you planning to travel this summer? Vacations will take us to hotels, truck stops and highway rest areas. Those are the very places to be alert to the signs of human trafficking.
Victims of human trafficking — typically young women — might come across as disoriented, confused, frightened, unclear about where they are, submissive, malnourished, fatigued. The locations visited by travelers are often frequented by those in the midst of trafficking.
And it’s happening right here in the tri-state area. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there were 35 cases of human trafficking in Iowa last year, 64 in Wisconsin and 135 in Illinois.
Just last month, a Dubuque man was sentenced to more than 17 years in federal prison for child sex trafficking.
Two years ago, a couple accused of running two Dubuque massage parlors where, authorities say, prostitution occurred were charged with human trafficking. They await trial.
The instances are real, they are happening everywhere, and eyes and ears of the public can help.
Another thing that could help would be to have every worker in every hotel on the lookout for signs of sex trafficking.
This past legislative session, two Dubuque lawmakers sponsored a bill that would have moved that toward reality. Reps. Chuck Isenhart and Lindsay James introduced a measure that would direct state and public business to hotels whose employees had received human trafficking awareness training. While the bill did not win final approval, Isenhart vows that it will be back.
Indeed, many local hotels have already provided such training for their employees. That’s another way anyone can help. Before you book a hotel this summer, make sure it’s a location that has made the effort to train employees to watch for signs of human trafficking.
For many of us, the world of modern slavery is hard to imagine. But it exists in our midst, and greater awareness by everyone can help combat human trafficking.