By CAROLYN ULSH and CARISSA HORST
When most people think of slavery, they think of field and house slaves from before the Civil War. They don’t realize that slavery still exists in America, even here in Lancaster County. It just has a different, more vague name: human trafficking.
Human trafficking is slavery. It isn’t as evident as a slave auction in the middle of town, but the case is usually that of a trafficker luring someone in a vulnerable situation. So, why don’t we talk about modern-day slavery in schools? We learn about slavery as if it is history, but no one tells us that the work of abolitionists is not finished.
We can educate about the past, but right now there are an estimated 60,000 slaves in America. Slavery is all around us, but students, sometimes even adults, are oblivious. There were 5,147 cases reported to the Human Trafficking Hotline in 2018. The state of Pennsylvania reported 127 cases to the same hotline. Evidently,
human trafficking is everywhere, so it is important to know the signs of both a trafficker and a victim.
One of the easiest ways that traffickers reach victims is through social media and websites. Always stay safe online and think before posting. If social media asks for your location, turn it off. Don’t text anyone on any website who you don’t know. Parents can even help protect kids by checking their social media accounts at least once a week. These are easy precautions that both parents and kids can take to make sure that they are safe online and offline.
There are also devices outside of social media that traffickers use. For example, a trafficker may suddenly decide to be your “friend” and give you gifts. They may try to separate you from your family and trusted friends. A stranger that offers a better place to live and make money is not to be trusted. Manipulation like this can be hard to identify; traffickers want their victims to think that they have to stay where they are, stuck and helpless. They are looking for those who are ignorant and therefore vulnerable. If we’re all ignorant, then doesn’t that mean they are looking for us?
Being on the lookout for someone who is caught by these fake promises can also change this issue. Often a victim seems weak and bears physical injuries. The victim may not be appropriately dressed. If someone is reluctant to make eye contact and share personal information, that is also a strong indicator. These people are slaves, but the steps you take can free them.
If you see anything that is suspicious or unusual, please contact the human trafficking hotline: 1-888-373-7888. Those involved in this crime need specialized care, so if you think someone you know is being trafficked, please contact the hotline instead of speaking directly to the person.
Our dream is to prevent human trafficking in our community and our country, “the land of the free.” Let’s start this new year with a change. Please help us raise awareness for this cause. It’s scary, and the fear of the unknown is something that we don’t want to face. However, this is is one of the things we need to acknowledge and change in order for our nation to move forward. We need to face slavery before we can have freedom. We are kids acknowledging this global issue that has made it to our community. Knowledge is power. Have the power to end human trafficking.
Carolyn Ulsh and Carissa Horst are eighth-grade students at Elizabethtown Area Middle School.