Addressing Human Trafficking in the United States

July 30 is the United Nations’ annual World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. Its purpose is to raise worldwide awareness to the situation of victims and to advocate for their rights. Human trafficking may bring to mind scenes from films dealing with the issue, such as the popular Liam Neeson film, “Taken.” While much of the focus has been on the immediate recovery of children and persons who have been bought or sold into some form of slavery, policy issues that could serve to reduce human trafficking do not receive as much attention.

I have spent time working with both governmental and nongovernmental organizations in the United States and abroad in various ways in order to address the issue of Child Trafficking. It quickly becomes apparent that an effective weapon by which to fight Human Trafficking is to develop policies and entities by which poverty may be addressed both domestically and globally.

Poverty creates a sense of hopelessness whereby parents may feel forced to send their children away with a stranger who promises a better life, or where a young girl feels like she must turn to someone in the sex industry to make money, or where a man feels as if he must enter a country illegally in order to provide for his wife and children, or where a parent is unable to adequately care for a child who is then snatched up and sold to become a soldier.

We must develop policies to address human trafficking in the long-term, while increasing budgets for law enforcement personnel to be educated in the identification and engagement of trafficked persons. Comprehensive policies must be put in place to offer a better future for the next generations to break out of the cycle of poverty.

If poverty is a main contributor to human trafficking, then the United States should look at developing policies to more effectively allow individuals and families to break free from the cycle of poverty. Easy access to quality educational opportunities in poor communities, increased wages, and increased government-subsidized benefits for those seeking a better life are areas that must be addressed by our elected officials in the near future. After all, the availability of opportunities is worthless if the individual does not have the ability to feed themselves while taking advantage of those opportunities. It does no good to tell a single mother who must work two full-time jobs that she has the opportunity to attend college for a reduced rate or even for free. It does no good to tell a thirteen-year-old girl that she should finish high school when her family has no food at home. It is pointless to tell a head-of-household that a better future is available by pursuing a trade, if s/he is unable to devote the time toward learning.

Our elected officials MUST address poverty and its contributing factors if they are at all serious about fighting human trafficking/modern slavery. Politicizing opportunity is not an option in the United States. We are one of the wealthiest nations in the history of the world, but we are allowing a large portion of our citizens to fall behind.

It is easy to get self-absorbed and to insulate ourselves from the problems our nation is facing. We tend to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us, which only serves to blind us to the reality much of our cities, states, and nation face. Below are some figures regarding poverty in the United States.

Child Poverty

The U.S. ranked 36 out of 41 nations (1 being the best), when it comes to food insecurity among children. Only Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, and Mexico fared worse:

Source: World Economic Forum

Out of the 41 wealthiest nations in the world, “1” being the best, the United States ranked 35th. Child Poverty in the United States is at 29.4%. Only Spain, Mexico, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, and Romania had a higher level of children living in poverty:

National Poverty Rates

Over 44 million people live in poverty in the United States. This number goes up and down by an average swing of 2%, depending on the year. It is expected to grow significantly due to the economic effects of COVID-19 on households:

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