Rising Rates of Human Trafficking
Mental health struggles aren’t the only critical issues that have risen since the start of the pandemic. Human trafficking has also increased across the United States. In California, 4,970 ‘signals’ were made to the Human Trafficking Hotline in 2020, up from the 4,820 ‘signals’ made the year before. During the first half of 2021, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking reported an 185% increase in cases of emergency response to escaping survivors. Sadly, these numbers reflect only a portion of the total number of individuals who are survivors of trafficking.
The data also shows that human trafficking impacts underserved communities at much higher rates. The White House recently released The National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which highlights this imbalance: “Because we know that human trafficking disproportionately impacts racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, LGBTQI individuals, vulnerable migrants, and others from historically marginalized and underserved communities, our mission to combat human trafficking cannot be cut off from our broader efforts to build equity for members of marginalized communities.”
Unfortunately, a significant percentage of trafficked individuals are minors. The National Human Trafficking Hotline reported that, out of 10,583 unique cases of potential human trafficking reported in 2020, 28% of sex trafficking and 15% of labor trafficking situations involved minors. Young people are often targeted through online platforms: groomed via social media, multiplayer gaming, and private messaging. When the pandemic shut down schools and young people were more accessible online, this kind of exploitation and outreach also increased.
Lisa Fatu, SAY’s Director of Youth Crisis and Career Services (YCCS), has witnessed this increase firsthand: “I’ve really seen a shift in the way human trafficking occurs. The internet has essentially taken it over. It’s not on street corners or in parks and alleys. This is now available all over the web.”
Lisa and her team are at the forefront of providing supportive services to trafficked youth in Sonoma County. These services include dedicated shelter beds for survivors of trafficking, counseling services, and support applying for SSI and other benefits from a SOAR-certified Case Manager. Many youth who enter into our services do not have personal documents, such as an ID card or Social Security card; SAY Case Managers assist them through the process of getting new cards. This team is staffed by four individuals who have earned a Certificate in Human Trafficking training provided by the National Network for Youth and the McCain Institute of International Leadership. They are the only people to have earned this certification in the state of California.
“Helping a young person have a fresh start is just the beginning,” says Anita Maldonado, SAY’s Chief Executive Officer. “Once their basic needs are met, our focus lies on helping that young person to rebuild. SAY offers resources that provide a safety net for our youth.”