We must educate our young people about human trafficking

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and you may think this is a problem unique to other countries around the world, but you would be wrong. This epidemic knows no national boundaries – imprisoning millions of people each and every year to a life of indentured servitude, sexual exploitation, violence and fear. Human trafficking doesn’t just take place in foreign countries, dark alleyways, or on Hollywood movie sets. It’s happening right now in the neighborhoods where we all live, where we send our children to school and where we go to work.

Human trafficking refers to the sexual or labor exploitation of people by threat, force or coercion. According to the United Nation’s International Labour Organization, there are over 40 million victims of human trafficking globally, with the vast majority of them being women and girls. While victims live in isolation and deplorable living conditions, perpetrators of this abuse rake in millions of dollars. In fact, forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion industry worldwide, and the United States is not immune.

In the United States, 8,759 cases of human trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in 2017 – a 13 percent increase in cases compared to 2016. In Pennsylvania, roughly 200 cases of human trafficking were reported to this hotline in 2017, up from 157 in 2016 and 109 in 2014. In 2017, an estimated one out of seven endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children were likely child sex trafficking victims. While these figures are alarming, this data does not represent the full scope of trafficking because of a lack of awareness and underreporting.

Given the severity of this problem across the United States and right here in our own backyards, it is important people know the warning signs for this type of abuse, understand the myths surrounding this problem and report suspicious behavior when they see it. While meaningful strides have been made recently in Pennsylvania, it is obvious more work needs to be done to raise greater awareness of human trafficking and end these truly heinous crimes against our most vulnerable.

I am the prime sponsor of legislation that would require schools to implement a human trafficking informational program into their existing health curriculum. This program would include the dangers and signs of human trafficking that young people can recognize and report, internet safety and what students can do to help fight this epidemic. Under my legislation, students in junior high and high school would learn about human trafficking. Far too often, survivors share a common theme of becoming trapped into this horrible cycle unknowingly.

By supplying the necessary tools and resources to our young people, they can share this vital information with others to not only increase awareness, but also to protect themselves from becoming a victim. Together, we can fight to bring an end to human trafficking in Pennsylvania.