What Is Human Trafficking?

Every so often when we’re out talking about our anti-human trafficking work, someone says “I thought human trafficking was an international issue, not a domestic issue – what’s domestic human trafficking?”

This. This is domestic human trafficking.

In July 2014, a North Philadelphia man was sentenced to 17-34 years in prison. His crime? Six years earlier, in 2008, a 15-year-old girl – a ninth-grader – ran away from home and was looking for a place to stay. She had nowhere else to go and the trafficker, a 46-year-old man, offered her a ride to his house. For the next month, he threatened to kill her and her family if she didn’t sell her body on the street, over and over and over again, night after night. He made her sleep on a crate in the corner of her room until she finally — and fortunately — escaped.

Human traffickers target runaway and homeless youth, who are particularly vulnerable because they are disconnected from the protection of family and the safety of home. In a study of runaway and homeless youth conducted by Covenant House in New York, of the youth who had been involved in commercial sexual activity, almost half – 48% – said that they found themselves in that position because they did not have a place to stay.

In the summer of 2014, six years after that 15-year-old young woman endured unimaginable trauma, another 15-year-old girl, also a ninth-grader, also ran away from home. She found herself on the street, walking through the night for two days straight, because she had nowhere to go. An older man approached her on the morning of the second day, looked her up and down, and said: “You need to go to Covenant House.” He gave her directions, she came to us, and we offered her a safe place to stay. That’s how we combat trafficking at Covenant House Pennsylvania: we prevent it in the first place by providing runaway and homeless youth with a place to stay that’s safe from the pimps and predators of the street. And we also educate, advocate, and heal. We educate the judiciary, federal, state, and local law enforcement, other public agencies, and social service providers about how to identify trafficking victims; as the Chair of the Philadelphia Anti-Trafficking Coalition and as part of the Covenant House Abolish Child Trafficking campaign, we advocate for the passage of laws that better protect victims and punish traffickers; and we heal trafficking victims by providing trauma-informed, resiliency-based residential care and supportive services.

More than 300 years ago, just two blocks away from our Crisis Center in Germantown, four Quakers wrote the first petition advocating for the elimination of slavery. But the fight for freedom continues: human trafficking is truly modern-day slavery, and we — all of us — must continue this fight to protect our kids. They deserve nothing less.

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