When the COVID pandemic halted almost every aspect of our life last year, human trafficking became even more prevalent. The disruption in anti-trafficking resources and awareness gave traffickers an advantage during the many months the COVID pandemic was at the forefront of our news feeds last year.
Traffickers adapted to the quarantine by shifting their focus to target potential victims online. This shift created an increase in illicit online activity, particularly human trafficking that targeted children. The Polaris Project reported a 40% increase in calls to the National Trafficking Hotline the month after stay at home orders were put in place. According to the U.N. Rights committee, the use of online traps to recruit victims, particularly women and girls, continued to increase over the last year.
As children spend more time online to complete schoolwork or stay occupied while parents work from home, they are at a greater risk of exploitation. Those who spend several hours a day online without supervision are particularly vulnerable, especially if they have no parental controls set up on their devices and can access any content online. Social media platforms and messaging apps provide easy access to potential victims and hide perpetrators' identities, so children may not realize who they are in contact with. Contact is not limited to social media sites. As many as one in five kids online are sexually propositioned through gaming platforms as well. Parents, educators, and caregivers must warn and educate children about online risks and use parental controls and device monitoring when possible.
The pandemic has also made it challenging to locate and identify victims of trafficking. As we learn more about the effects of the pandemic on human trafficking, it is of utmost importance that we look out for those most vulnerable in our communities. Everyone can play a part in helping stop human trafficking, be on the lookout for the following:
- Children traveling with adults who are not their parents
- Unable to speak to a child or individual alone
- The individual appears to be coached on what to say and looks for approval before answering questions
- Individuals who have their passport, I.D., or money held by someone else
- People with bruises and wounds in various stages of healing
Neighbors, teachers, and first responders can report suspected human trafficking activity to their local law enforcement or federal law enforcement at 1-866-347-2423.
If you or someone you know needs support, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text HELP to 233733.