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January: Human Trafficking Awareness Month

Graphic created by Liza Zoellick 2023

Most people have a basic understanding of what human trafficking means, but they aren’t aware that it could be happening right next door in their suburban neighborhood. Here is the best definition I found, which also includes the methods typically employed by traffickers: Human Trafficking is the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit. Men, women, and children of all ages and from all backgrounds can become victims of this crime, which occurs in every region of the world. The traffickers often use violence, fraudulent employment agencies, and fake promises of education and job opportunities to trick and coerce their victims.1 The five types of human trafficking are: trafficking for forced labor, trafficking for forced criminal activities, trafficking in women for sexual exploitation, trafficking for the removal of organs, and people smuggling. We tend to only hear about the trafficking of women for sex and people smuggling. This includes coyotes trafficking in immigrants over the border, or smugglers cramming trucks, boats, box cars, or virtually any other mode of transport, full of people, without proper ventilation, food, or stops, and who regularly “abandon migrants in the desert or mountains with no food or water, leaving them for dead.” 2

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Photo by NEOSiAM 2021 on Pexels.com

This is a tragedy, and yet, there are other, equally tragic forms of human trafficking that happen right under our noses. Some of which could be happening right in your neighborhood or at your favorite restaurant or bodega, and you would not know. Traffickers frequently operate under the radar because of the complexity of the crime, and people who are trafficked are unlikely to identify as victims, frequently blaming their circumstances on themselves. Because victims rarely reveal their circumstances, it is harder to pinpoint the crime in this context. Frequently, victims are re-categorized as criminals or unauthorized immigrants and treated as such. They may be concealed behind doors when working as domestic labor in a house. In other situations, victims interact with people regularly, live in public places like restaurants, factories, and exotic dance clubs, and are subjected to forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation under harsh conditions without being recognized because of a lack of identification training and awareness. 3

It is critical to understand that human trafficking is the modern equivalent of slavery. It is people who are being held against their will, who are being violated or are in danger of violence, and who are unable to leave (even if they initially decided to leave, as is the situation with coyotes and immigrants trying to cross the border). They might not be paid or compensated in a timely manner. It could come in the form of food or a sum of money that is far less than the minimum wage and just provides for basic needs. They are imprisoned in farms, factories, mines, brothels, and a variety of other businesses. 71% of the victims of human trafficking are women and girls. As a result, one in every 130 women and girls is subjected to this atrocity. 4 The majority of the time, somebody they know—such as a family member, caregiver, romantic partner, or employer—recruits trafficking victims. This is called “familial sex trafficking,” when a relative (the trafficker) trades pornographic access to victims for another item of value on the market. Children and teens are “deliberately used by family members searching for payoff in the form of drugs, money, or something else of value” in 36% of human trafficking cases, according to the CTDC (Counter Trafficking Data Collective). 5

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I decided to write a blog post about human trafficking this month for two reasons: 1.) to raise awareness of human trafficking among those who read it, and 2.) because I am a lifelong crime junkie and a HUGE fan of the Crime Junkie Podcast. https://crimejunkiepodcast.com/missing-natanalie-perez/ They recently did a podcast focusing on Natanlie “Naty” Perez. Naty disappeared in Miami in June of 2012. She was 19 years old then, 5’1″ and 130 pounds, and she was last seen at Burke’s Motel on Southwest 8th Street. She graduated from Sebring, Florida, but moved to Miami to chase her singing dreams. Instead, she was ensnared in a violent sex-trafficking ring that catered to wealthy men in fancy suits. There are many reasons why Naty was unable to break away from this ring, as well as why her family was powerless to help her. It really highlights how someone can be caught up in this horror and be unable to escape it. Please listen to learn more about Natanlie Perez. You might be the key to learning what happened to her. 6

Natanalie “Naty” Perez Blog Miami Trafficking CST

How You Can Spot Human Trafficking

[Most Common Signs] 7

  • Someone is living with their employer.
  • Someone is under 18 and involved as a sex worker.
  • Someone has very poor living conditions and/or there are multiple people living in a very confined space.
  • You are unable to speak to that individual alone.
  • Someone’s employer has confiscated and is holding their passport or other identity documents.
  • There are signs of physical abuse, like bruising or other injuries.
  • The individual seems submissive or fearful.
  • The individual is underpaid or is paid very little money.
  • The individual’s response seems to be rehearsed or scripted.

If you suspect that you’ve come across human trafficking, you should seek help immediately. If you are in the United States, call (1-888-373-7888) or text (233733) the National Human Trafficking Hotline and explain the situation. If the situation is urgent and you think someone is in immediate danger, call 911. If you are in another country, contact the authorities there right away.


  1. “Human-Trafficking.” United Nations : Office on Drugs and Crime, //www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-Trafficking/Human-Trafficking.html. Accessed 10 Jan. 2023.
  2. “Eight Indicted in Joint Task Force Alpha Investigation and Arrested as Part of Takedown of Prolific Human Smuggling Network.” Eight Indicted in Joint Task Force Alpha Investigation and Arrested as Part of Takedown of Prolific Human Smuggling Network | OPA | Department of Justice, 13 Sept. 2022, http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/eight-indicted-joint-task-force-alpha-investigation-and-arrested-part-takedown-prolific-human.
  3. “Human Trafficking.” Human Trafficking | ICE, 12 July 2022, http://www.ice.gov/features/human-trafficking.
  4. “What Is Modern Day Slavery? – Voices4freedom.” What Is Modern Day Slavery? – Voices4freedom, http://www.voices4freedom.org/what-is-modern-day-slavery/?gclid=CjwKCAiAwc-dBhA7EiwAxPRylDsvQX_af0GBmohaZl9lANnYBqUCtRZ12Wsm1yCiN8R97uQ_tYCpCxoC8n4QAvD_BwE. Accessed 10 Jan. 2023.
  5. Powell, Mara. “Familial Sex Trafficking: Victims Hiding in Plain Sight – Face It.” Face It, 9 Jan. 2020, faceitabuse.org/2020/01/09/familial-sex-trafficking-victims-hiding-in-plain-sight.
  6. “A Family’s Heartbreak: ‘We Just Want Her Home.’” National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 1 June 2020, http://www.missingkids.org/blog/2020/a-familys-heatbreak.html.
  7. McKissock. “Do You Know the Signs of Human Trafficking in a Home? They Might Help You Save a Life – McKissock Learning.” McKissock Learning, 8 Jan. 2019, http://www.mckissock.com/blog/real-estate/human-trafficking-signs.

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