Bringing Awareness to Human Trafficking

With it being Human Trafficking Awareness Month, the Gauntlet takes a deep dive into awareness and safety in regards to this horrible reality.



Art done by the Gauntlet’s Creative Director, Sarabeth Wester.

Reese Williams, Associate Editor

40.3 million men, women, and children have been victims of human trafficking. Florida ranks third in the United States for the highest trafficking rate. Manatee County ranks third in Florida. These are the often forgotten, tragic facts of Human Trafficking.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month, and it’s often the only time the subject is discussed. Do you even know how vast an issue it is? Human trafficking is a 150 billion dollar industry. Two of the top five cities in the US ranked for the highest human trafficking are Orlando and Miami, both cities in Florida. It’s closer than you might think.

So what is human trafficking?

According to the Department of Homeland Security, human trafficking is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. It is the illegal exploitation of a person. There are three types of trafficking. Sex trafficking, forced labor, and debt bondage. Out of 738 trafficking cases in Florida since 2007, 517 cases were specifically for sex trafficking.. 

Sex trafficking is when a person is illegally transported from one part of the country to another for sexual exploitation. This is the most well known of the three types of trafficking and is often one of the most common types, especially for women. 

Forced labor on the other hand is when a trafficker takes a person and forces them to work. Unfortunately, when you are basically involved with forced labor you are a slave to the trafficker. 

Debt bondage is similar to forced labor, except the motive is a bit different. With debt bondage, the person being trafficked is being forced to work for the trafficker because they “owe” something to them. In this case, the person being trafficked will be told that if they can “pay off” their debt by working, then they might be able to be set free. However, in most cases freedom never actually comes.  

When a person is trafficked there is a high chance that it could have been prevented by avoiding suspicious people or bystander intervention. The problem is, not enough people are educated on the subject and they may find themselves caught in situations they cannot get out of. It is so important to be aware of your surroundings, especially in public places. So, how can we prevent it?

Here are some of the most common ways that people, especially women who are alone, find themselves in situations where they are being trafficked. Out of 738 cases, 608 of the people who trafficked were women in the United States in 2021.

One way is that the traffickers will mark your door with a plastic bag tied on a handle or on the front of your car. The plastic bag on your door is a sign to other traffickers that you are alone and an easy target. If you see this on your car, remove it immediately and leave the area. Also be cautious because the traffickers might follow after you leave, so going somewhere with other people that you trust is in your best interest. If that is not possible for you, go to a crowded store and alert an employee or drive to the police station. 

Traffickers may also stick napkins in your door that are laced with things that can poison you or make your limb feel numb. If you see this, remove the napkin without touching it and leave.

Lastly, one of the most common ways traffickers take people is by hiding under your car. They might grab your leg or even slice your heel so that you can’t get away. 

Unfortunately, many of the people who get trafficked are often women and young girls. It may be to your benefit to carry some sort of self defense tool, like mace. One option is to buy a miniature mace and hang it on your car keys so that is is easily accessible. During the 2020-2021 year 2,289 cases of trafficking were reported. 1,750 of those were children, especially young girls.

There are ways you could help those in these situations. Here are the top signs that someone could potentially have been or currently be trafficked according to the Nebraska Attorney General:

A person appears mal-nourished or has bruises and appears abused. These are some of the most common signs that someone is being trafficked. 

Another tell tale sign that someone could potentially be a victim is if they avoid eye contact or interactions with others, especially authority. If people who are being trafficked talk to you and it seems scripted or rehearsed, it’s important to stay alert in order to recognize any of these signs. 

Lastly one of the biggest signs a person is being trafficked is if they don’t have any form of identification. 

Human trafficking is  an important issue, and not enough people are educated about it. It is not only important to watch out for yourself and be aware of your surroundings, but also to watch out for others in public.