January is Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Human trafficking is a huge problem happening all around the world every day, but can often go unseen, especially for Black women

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.

Sexual exploitation and forced labor are the most commonly identified forms of human trafficking but it can also be domestic servitude, forced marriage, organ removal, etc. Some victims are people you may interact with on a daily basis and are forced to work under extreme circumstances in exotic dance clubs, construction, health and beauty services, or restaurants.

“They are hidden from view. You don’t recognize them in the back kitchens, shops, gas stations, and in hospitality. They are also tucked away in fields. They don’t come out and ask for help. It’s a different kind of slavery than long ago,” says Dr. Lucy Steinitz, Catholic Relief Services senior technical advisor for protection. “They are beaten, violated, and told they are worthless—that no one else wants them anymore.”

Millions are forced into this modern-day slavery, and research shows that African-American women are the most vulnerable. 

Although African Americans make up 13.6  of the population, 40% of sex trafficking victims are black women, the highest percentage of any race, according to the National Black Women’s Justice InstituteRights 4 Girls, reports that Black children comprise 53% of all juvenile prostitution arrests—more than any other racial group. 

Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) reports that in an interview with the Urban Institute, traffickers admittedly believed that trafficking Black women would land them less jail time than trafficking white women if caught.

It’s clear that Black women and girls are being trafficked at alarming rates, but why?

1Lower Socioeconomic Status

According to the U.S. Department of State, “U.S. and global data show human traffickers disproportionately target those in positions of socioeconomic or political vulnerability due to discriminatory policies, who are often people of color or part of a racial minority.” Because of the historic systematic oppression of African Americans, they are more likely to experience poverty than their racial counterparts. Black girls are more likely to experience family instability, poverty, and disconnection from the education system, according to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Dr. Kisha Roberts-Tabb, Ph.D., Human Trafficking, Gender Responsive, and LBGTQ Specialist at Cook County Juvenile Courts, said because of social inequalities present in America for many years African Americans often find themselves in “…situations of poverty, of absentee fathers and incarcerated parents,” contributing to their lack of resources. The disparities in access to economic means or opportunities for African Americans make it easier for traffickers to exploit or compel victims into sex trafficking or forced labor. “Predatory and exclusionary practices that keep certain racial communities from attaining financial stability and building generational wealth provide traffickers ample opportunity to offer tempting alternatives,” said the U.S. Department of State

2The Sexualization and “Adultification” of Black Girls

The Center on Poverty and Inequality conducted a study that found that adults viewed black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than white girls. “What we found is that adults see black girls as less innocent and less in need of protection as white girls of the same age,” said Rebecca Epstein, lead author of the report and executive director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at the Georgetown University Law Center. When compared to white females, the people supposed Black females “need less protection,” “know more about adult topics,” and “know more about sex.” The hyper-sexualization of Black women dates back to slavery as they were stigmatized as overly sexual, seductive jezebels to justify the white man’s assault on their bodies. The stereotype has carried on to today and contributes to the racial bias and criminalization of Black girls, rather than seeing them as victims. The unfair racial bias of the justice system may allow traffickers to get away with their crimes, and victims not to receive the justice they deserve. Law Professor Cheryl Nelson Butler says “Hyper-sexualized stereotypes about minority teens continues to drive their prostitution and sexual exploitation. Lawmakers presume that minors have consented to prostitution even when the minor is below the age of consent.”

3Inequalities in Foster Care   

Reports indicate that a large number of child sex trafficking survivors in the US were at one time in the foster care system. According to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), Black children make up twenty-three percent of the foster care system despite making up fourteen percent of children in the U.S. Black children are overrepresented in the foster care system and are sexually abused twice as much as their white counterparts with the system, according to CBCF. Furthermore, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange reports that “despite the claim that children placed in the child welfare system are there for their protection, 86% of suspected sex trafficking victims were children and youth who were reported missing from child welfare and foster care services in 2016. Many Black girls go unprotected in the foster care system and are “structurally disadvantaged by systematic racial disparities within the foster care system.”

4Sexual Abuse

According to Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), sexual and physical abuse are two of the top contributors in increasing the chances of sex trafficking. The Institute For Women’s Policy Research reports that Sexual violence affects Black women at high rates. “More than 20 percent of Black women are raped during their lifetimes—a higher share than among women overall.” Women who experience partner violence pose a higher risk of being sex trafficked, according to CBCF. Many women are trafficked by their partner or someone they know. “Of women who called the National Hotline, 36.9 percent were trafficked by their partners,” the Polaris Project reported.  Along with psychological and economic abuse, sex traffickers are likely to employ physical and sexual violence over women to maintain control.

5What Can We Do?

Help prevent human trafficking by spreading awareness, supporting anti-trafficking organizations, and educating yourself about the red flags and indicators of trafficking. Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline to connect with services and support for human trafficking survivors, or to report a tip: call 1-888-373-7888, text 233733, or chat online.