Trafficking occurs wherever there are people. If you looked at a map of trafficking referrals, major highways, and human population density, you’d find they are often closely aligned. Where there are more people, more children are likely being exploited. So yes, big cities could be “hotspots” for trafficking, but more accurately, they’re hotspots of human population. Period.
Spikes in reported trafficking may also be influenced by an increased focus in that region on research, training, law-enforcement efforts, or an awareness campaign promoting the national hotline – and though the increased numbers may not seem like it at first, that can ironically be a good thing. Those efforts are needed in our communities to uncover the reality of trafficking and help protect current and potential victims.
However, trafficking may remain unseen or ignored in other places, and that could be due to a lack of awareness regarding human trafficking among service providers, fewer resources to fund training on the issue for first responders, or even simple assumptions (e.g., the belief that trafficking doesn’t happen in my community).
Having data on the number of trafficking related investigations, victims’ identified, calls to national hotlines is important. However, misunderstanding what these numbers might actually indicate (e.g., increased attention on the issue vs. increased population or victimization) could lead to ill-informed decision-making. Ultimately, our fixation with a “hotspot” or “hubs” of trafficking may lead us to ignore the areas with high rates of trafficking that are not being reported or identified due to lack of awareness among community members or barriers to reporting as a result of community dynamics (e.g., victims may be more hesitant to report victimization in smaller communities where people know each other). The bottom line is, trafficking is happening in every community, no matter where we live. That’s not to say that all communities are impacted equally, they’re not. For example, we know that children in communities that lack economic opportunities are more at risk for trafficking. However, it is important for us not to get complacent or assume that trafficking doesn’t happen in our own communities.
It only takes people for trafficking to occur. There isn’t one type of trafficking location, person, or exploitation. Large cities may have researchers, educational institutions, and organizing groups to publish data on trafficking. However, trafficking also happens in small towns. They simply may not have the resources to report and educate the population on what trafficking looks like.
This is why we all need to take into account how we can address trafficking in our own communities. With more education and awareness, people can better see what is going on in their own lives and the lives of others in their communities. Love146 Social Workers report that the youth worked with often didn’t know they were being trafficked until someone told them what trafficking was. Some don’t even know what was happening to them was wrong or a crime; others blamed themselves.
We believe that making the world a safe place for children is only possible through a bold, broad vision that cannot be achieved by only one organization or approach. At Love146, we connect the dots to understand how vulnerability operates in the lives of children, and intervene both to care for survivors who have been harmed and ultimately to prevent harm from happening in the first place. Our work is achieved through the power of relationships and collaboration, listening to those with lived experience and diverse backgrounds, scaling proven practices, and challenging the systems that leave children vulnerable. Our core commitment is to do what is best for children – no matter where they live.