Our willingness to ignore the issue of human sex trafficking in the United States speaks to our ethical and moral values as a country. Having first handedly experienced the realization of how human sex trafficking can be present within our own backyards, while we have no knowledge of it, now is a time to call for change. Prior to transferring to University of Richmond, I was a student at Bucknell University. Unbeknownst to me, Route 81, which is the main road connecting New York City to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania is one of the largest human trafficking routes in the country. A senior came into my Women and Genders class to discuss this issue because it was the topic of her senior seminar and ever since her lecture I have been very interested in how domestic policy addresses this issue. In fact, right behind the Walmart right next to Bucknell, a small store covering as a nail salon turned out to be a major prostitution ring. I am a college educated female student, yet I could have easily fallen victim to the ruse human traffickers perform to obtain new victims. These women are not just victims, they are someone's mother, daughter, granddaughter or sister; they should not be reduced to second-class citizens. These women each have their own story. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that there are between 18,000 and 20,000 people trafficked every year in the United States. While this social issue has long been present in American society, it often gets pushed under the rug and is in fact neglected when discussing domestic policy. While legislators should address this issue and provide support for human trafficking's victims, the victims of these unspeakable crimes are left unheard.
In the United States, sex trafficking is commonly framed as a crime problem. However, in order to address the issue of human trafficking, our government must first examine the issue of prostitution, as the two go hand in hand. Prior to 20th century legislation, the police had little control over prostitution. Prostitution was not criminalized as an act of breaking the law until 1910 with Congress' passage of The Suppression of the White Slave Traffic Act. The act "classified the transportation of women across state lines for prostitution, debauchery or any other immoral purposes is to be processed a federal crime". The explanation to legislature's failure to uphold laws against prostitution lies in the fact that the local enforcement of anti-prostitution laws varied across U.S. states, therefore it was at each states' discretion on how to prosecute these crimes. Approaching the 1980's and 1990's, prostitution law enforcement decreased in priority in many U.S. cities because arrests did little to reduce the number of people engaging in prostitution.
Victims often come from vulnerable communities as runaways or abused children. These victims are frequently lured by false promises of job opportunity, financial stability, education, or a loving relationship. Sex traffickers use violence, threats, lies, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to compel young adults and children to engage in commercial sex acts against their will. Women are taken to houses designated to get them hooked on drugs and to 'break them in' which means they get raped all day until they become numb to the sex act. All victims of human sex trafficking have one thing in common, the loss of their freedom. In the news, we hear a lot about the European sex slave network. However, we never talk about sex slavery within the U.S., we address the issue as a problem that doesn't apply to us because it cannot exist in a country that prides itself on the values of freedom. The general public is under the impression that it is poor European women being trafficked to the Middle East to work as sex slaves. But sex trafficking is extremely present in America as well. You would think people would pay attention when they see young girls at hotels who do not seem to have parents. These are women who are vulnerable American citizens.
Legislators turn a blind eye towards this national epidemic. The neglect to address this issue is rooted in sexism and misogyny. People justify ignoring human trafficking by assuming the fate that befalls these women just is what it is. Ultimately, the victims inherently are turned into second class citizens by the government as they fail to put a stop to human trafficking. The issue of human trafficking is one that can be found in every state. It has the potential to affect female students of my age who could possibly fall victim to this horrible underground business. This issue must be put at the forefront of our policy-making agenda.