January is my least favorite month of the year. There are so many gray days and more darkness than daylight. However, January is a month to turn on the lights and expose the evil of human trafficking with the designation as “Human Trafficking Awareness Month” and “National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.” This is an important time for all of us to educate ourselves about human trafficking and what we can do as individuals to end this world-wide epidemic.
We know the statistics are staggering, and never precise. Polaris estimates that the total number of victims in the United States reaches into the hundreds of thousands; less than 4% of law enforcement agencies across the United States have dedicated human trafficking personnel, and 20 % of law enforcement officers have no form of human trafficking-specific training. Looking at statistics alone is a discouraging exercise. What is encouraging are the stories of those who escaped the slavery of human trafficking.
One sad, but encouraging story of survival is that of Flor Turcio, a woman in north Florida who works with survivors of human trafficking. Flor lived in poverty and a verbally and physically abusive home in a small Central American mountain town. She fled her home, lived with friends and later worked in a home that provided shelter. At 17 she met a man who spoke to her of love and groomed her with gifts. She was trapped by his words of love because she never experienced true affection and caring before. Soon, Flor was his “sex worker” and was taken to bars and introduced to alcohol. For years she worked as his slave and became pregnant four times. Her children were taken away from her and went to the United States.
Flor’s life began to turn around when a man befriended her, contacted the police, and had her trafficker arrested. She came to the United States, and with the help of the FBI, was reunited with her children. Despite two attempts on her life, Flor has a new life with the support of Catholic Charities of North Florida. She was provided with counseling, English classes, completion of her GED, and a job. Now, this “wounded healer” is helping other survivors of human trafficking get their lives back.
Change can happen when concerned individuals and organizations make it happen. What can we do to be part of the solution? We can support legislation that addresses human trafficking with concrete actions to prevent or reduce the opportunities for trafficking. Many become involved with local organizations that distribute information on trafficking to hotels before a major athletic event. Others are active in human trafficking prayer vigils, or host panels and speakers on human trafficking. For some, it may be as simple as keeping your eyes open on the street and offering assistance when we see a need. The practical opportunities are many and the need is great.
We can brighten the many gray days for victims and survivors with actions that make a difference.