Many people believe that slavery in America ended with the Civil War, but thanks to the global industry of human trafficking this is not the case. As the second largest illegal industry in the world, human traffickers bring in an estimated $150 billion every year by exploiting others for labor or sex.
Miss. Republican Senator Roger Wicker is an advocate for policies fighting human trafficking. He backed the “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act” in 2015, inspired by his own “End Trafficking Act,” which he introduced in 2014. Senator Wicker calls the fight against trafficking “a daily war fought by young women robbed of their freedom, their dignity, their childhoods, and often their very lives.”
According to the Department of Homeland Security, the “Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act” exists to “combat trafficking in persons, especially into the sex trade, slavery, and involuntary servitude.” There have been three amendments to the Act, all presented by Senator Wicker.
Young women are not the only potential victims of human trafficking, however. While the average age that girls first become victims is 13 years old, the average age for boys is 11. Louisiana-born Mississippian Julie Cantrell is the author of The Feathered Bone, a fiction novel that realistically portrays the world of sex trafficking. Cantrell met with many human trafficking survivors as part of her research, all ranging from age four to age 42.
“I think many people believe that people work in the sex industry (only) by choice or that those who are trafficked are lost causes who will do anything for drug money,” Cantrell said. “Most of those trafficked are lured into the trade at very young ages. By the time they realize the danger they’re in, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, for them to find their way back to freedom.”
Human trafficking is a rapidly increasing problem here in America. Polaris, an anti-trafficking organization based out of D.C., reported that in 2016 there were 7,500 cases of human trafficking reported in the United States. In 2015 there were just under 2,000. The International Labor Organization estimates that hundreds of thousands of the approximately 20.9 million worldwide trafficking victims are in America.
Many Americans don’t know that it is happening, making them unable to look for warning signs when trafficking occurs. Additionally, many victims are unable to help law enforcement catch traffickers, so even when some are saved their abusers continue trafficking new victims.
Often times survivors who make it out of a trafficking ring are traumatized and want no more to do with it. Other times they are scared of what the trafficker or pimp will do to them or their families in retaliation for speaking to police. Survivors are also hesitant to seek help from the law because before they are rescued, they are technically committing the crime of prostitution. This, as well as a general lack of awareness among the public makes it hard to prevent trafficking in the United States. Unfortunately there is no way to know how many cases of human trafficking are not reported, but many believe there are more cases not reported than cases reported.
This crime is especially increasing in the South. Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Louisiana were all in the top 20 worst states for human trafficking according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. However, police are aware of several routes that are used to transport victims of human trafficking. I-10 and I-55 are two of these routes. New Orleans and Memphis are both national trafficking hubs, so it is no surprise that these highways are used by traffickers regularly.
In February of this year, Darnell Davis, 31, of Hernando was arrested on I-55 for abducting a Memphis teen and transporting her five hours from home to Natchez, Miss. Police believe he was en route back to Memphis with the girl at the time of his arrest.
“It’s very disturbing,” a neighbor (identified as “Zipper”) of the girl told Fox13. “You don’t realize the stuff is going on around you. You never know.”
Just a few weeks later in March, Pierre Braddy, of Jackson, Miss. was sentenced to 20 years in Jefferson Parish, La. after he plead guilty to forcible rape, human trafficking and obstruction of justice. Braddy was being tried for crimes he committed in April 2015 against a 25 year old woman who was found severely beaten after being forced into prostitution in New Orleans.
The woman tried to escape multiple times, and every time Braddy beat her, even forcing other women to beat her until she was unconscious. The victim was rescued by an undercover officer who answered an online ad hoping to catch a prostitute. When he got to the arranged meeting place, he found the woman with extensive injuries.
This woman met Braddy after he responded to her online advertisement. She had become a prostitute to support her drug addiction. However, many victims are trafficked by people they know, sometimes even their own parents.
The act of exploiting humans for money is not a new idea, but as awareness for human trafficking spreads many are calling for harsher and more specific laws to be put into place to deter traffickers from continuing their trade. In her research, Julie Cantrell had the chance to interview a trafficker, or pimp.
“This particular pimp did not mind the idea of his daughters being sold, but he could not tolerate the idea of the same happening to his son,” Cantrell said. “That is something to consider. Why are we more tolerant of sex abuse when it is happening to girls?”
End Slavery Tennessee is a Christian-based nonprofit dedicated to spreading awareness for and combating trafficking in Tenn. One girl they rescued was sold multiple times a week by her parents from the time she was five years old. The family appeared to be an average, middle class family. Her parents were active in their church and community, so no one ever suspected what was going on.
“If you think it can’t happen to you or your friend, sister, cousin, etc. you’re wrong,” Cantrell said. “If you think it can’t happen in Oxford or at Ole Miss, you’re also wrong.”