With all the events happening in the world right now, the world is too occupied to notice things that are happening in the shadows. Trafficking has now become an invisible crime because of the limits the pandemic has set up. Traffickers are coming up with more creative ways to exploit their victims with the advantages they have in their hands.
During the pandemic, attention is diverting away from crime. Unemployment, lockdowns, financial crises, homelessness are all making people more vulnerable. “If you are a trafficker this is a boon to your illicit operations. Traffickers are not shutting down; they are innovating and capitalizing on this chaos,” says John Cotton Richmond, United States Ambassador to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The virus has killed parents or guardians of children. Without any adults to supervise these orphans, traffickers can take advantage of the children. Unemployment tends to make people struggle with financial problems. The unemployed may struggle to pay rent, struggle to make ends meet, or deal with homelessness. All of this makes people more vulnerable, an easy victim for traffickers.
Traffickers tend to target the vulnerable.” It isn’t just someone from central America being trafficked up here, from Asia being trafficked over. It’s really about our young adults being identified as having other needs that aren’t being met. Whether they’re financial needs, needs of housing, other types of resources. But some of it is just that engagement—that sense that young adults don’t have a caring adult in their life that the trafficker, the pimp, the exploiter will leverage that and actually befriend them or reach out to them online, on their phone, in the mall, or just on the street.” says Paul Tan, the program director at KYFS’s Watson Manor Programs. In southeast Asia, migrant workers are being exploited, forced to work against their will. Workers have to keep working, despite their health at risk. These people are excluded from governmental support, health care, and social security because they’re either undocumented or unauthorized. Migrant workers are also another target for exploitation and trafficking because of their financial state. Victims in the US have reported being contacted again by their traffickers during the pandemic. Knowing that trafficking during the pandemic has its advantages, many traffickers are going to use that advantage. The health of trafficking victims is also at risk due to their chances of being exposed to Covid-19.
During the pandemic, teens and children are more active on the internet due to online learning. Research has shown that the amount of time that screen time for children has surged by 60 percent. The risks of online and sexual exploitation have escalated. Online predators are spending more time on the internet, grooming children, taking advantage of them, and using them for their purposes. Teens have a chance of becoming exposed to trafficking because teens are spending more time on the internet. They have a chance of being a victim of trafficking; the McMahon Ryan Child has seen an increase in child trafficking by 21 cases in the U.S. referred to them since 2019. Teens use social media during this time to connect with friends or find new friends. Predators often pose as another identity to gain the trust of the victim and take advantage of them. Posing as someone else through the internet is easy because the person who is talking to you is behind a screen. Experts tell people to be warier and more cautious when talking to people on the internet.
Lockdowns have made it even harder for victims of trafficking to reach out for help. Victims of trafficking are unable to contact the police and labor investigators. Many programs that help victims of trafficking are shutting down during the pandemic. Homeless shelters no longer operate. Before the pandemic, victims could’ve gone to homeless shelters to find shelter, but with the pandemic, they can’t. Non-profit organizations are struggling because not many people are funding money. Without money, these organizations can’t use many resources to help victims. It seems that not only are many victims of trafficking struggling with financial problems, but organizations that help victims as well. Court closures have made many victims distrust the legal system. Their distrust may make them not want to testify in court. Without their testimonies, their cases may never get justice.
In Washington, there have been a couple of cases of human trafficking during the pandemic. In Pierce County, two men have arrested. They’ve been allegedly indicted for forcing a minor into sex trafficking and other crimes. The men are 38 years old and 31 years old. Both of them are charged with promoting commercial sexual abuse of a minor(the 38-year-old man is charged with two accounts of human trafficking). The 38-year-old’s second crime was forcing a 28-year-old woman into prostitution, offering her a place to stay, then proceeding to abuse and rape her. Two men have been arrested at a hotel in Bellevue on drug charges and sex trafficking after their victim, a 16-year-old girl, reached out for help. The two men are Micheal Ulrich, a 37-year-old of Mountlake Terrace, and 50-year-old Quentin Hamilton of Seattle. Micheal and Hamilton are arrested for Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor, two counts of Violation of the Uniform Controlled Substances Act, and Identity Theft in the Second Degree. After their arrest, they remained at the King County Jail.
You can make a difference. You can help the victims of trafficking and help fight this horrific crime. You can learn the red flags and signs of human trafficking. If you know any victims of human trafficking or are a victim, call 1-888-373-7888 or 9-1-1. Next time you go shopping, think of the people who could’ve worked to get that product. Be more considerate of the products you buy. Inform your friends and family of human trafficking and spread the word. Donate to non-profit organizations near your area. A lot of organizations are struggling to help victims, so donating to organizations would be funding victims. Even small amounts can make a difference. Email the state representatives to get their attention on trafficking. Give them your ideas to help put a stop to trafficking. You’re never too young to make a difference, whether big or small. I’ve often been told that you have to be older to make a certain change in society, but that was wrong. Age doesn’t matter when you’re trying to fight for a cause. My older sister is on the SAS Youth Leadership Board and she always tells me what she does as a Youth leader at SAS. It sparked my interest when she told me that she was helping victims of trafficking because I knew that it is an issue in society. My sister told me that I could become a writer for SAS because she knew I had a passion for writing. Using your talents to help raise awareness helps the fight to end trafficking.
Local Organizations in the area of Seattle:
National Hotline for Human Trafficking:
Local Resources for Help:
Trafficking in Seattle: