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In our opinion: Ending human trafficking is a group effort

Published: Thursday, Oct. 18 2012 12:09 a.m. MDT

Three Thai workers who were victims of human trafficking in Utah are now free, thanks to help from Utah Legal Services.

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For many people, the phrase "human trafficking" conjures up images of barbaric nightmares from long ago and far away. But tragically, human trafficking is still with us and remains a modern source of misery. President Barack Obama, in a speech to the Clinton Global Initiative, announced that "[America's] fight against human trafficking is one of the great human rights causes of our time." It is a very real and very vexing 21st century problem, one that requires more attention than it receives.

Those who are aware of the practice often have misconceptions about it. For example, those who are ensnared in its clutches are not just mail order brides from foreign countries. Indeed, 83 percent of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are American citizens. And while women constitute the overwhelming majority of victims, labor traffickers trap men as well, forcing them to work for little or no pay under horrific conditions in arrangements that vary between some form of indentured servitude and outright slavery.

It's no surprise, then, that victims are often in poor health, both physically and mentally. As a recent story in the Deseret News reported, they suffer tremendously at the hands of the traffickers, and malnourishment, sexual abuse and dehydration are common.

Observers should watch for telltale signs such as broken bones, bruises or poor hygiene. Victims also show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, avoiding eye contact in social situations and crying easily.

Other indicators may be harder to notice. Over time, it might become clear that an individual has an unusual and unhealthy control over other adults. Other victims may not be able to come and go as they please. Friendly, nonthreatening conversations may yield crucial information that can help lead trafficking victims out of impossible situations.

Law enforcement officials have announced they are going to step up training of professionals in the travel industry to spot the signs of human trafficking, but they also maintain that public participation in anti-trafficking efforts is essential. In addition, Innocents at Risk, a nonprofit organization with a mission to fight child exploitation and human trafficking, is working to raise public awareness. They have stated that "millions of eyes on the issue" will provide a vital resource in saving lives.

If you suspect someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the Human Trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888. Americans everywhere can help end a practice that should have been consigned to the dust bin of history centuries ago.

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