What do COVID-19 and human trafficking have in common? While the similarities may not be obvious, they are significant: worldwide, insidious, indiscriminate, isolating, deadly, and most dangerous to the most vulnerable among us.
However, while COVID-19 has caught the attention and awareness of every single person on earth, human trafficking remains under the radar of most, creating an isolating world for those trapped.
Early in the pandemic, we wrote about the nightmare of isolation for those who were already victims of trafficking. Precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have created a dilemma for those who, prior to the pandemic, were in a position to make a difference in the world of human trafficking. Shelters were (and many still are) closed. Many truck and bus drivers, hotel employees and guests, teachers, and social workers have been trained in human trafficking. But, with lockdowns, these individuals are limited in their movements and, therefore, in their ability to witness unusual activity that may signal trafficking.
So, what do we do? How can we help? One way to help is to prevent more victims from falling into the trap of human trafficking.
Children are spending more time at home and more time online, a known space for predators to meet and begin to groom their victims. So, we turn to parents.
Many parents are working from home and sharing space with their children who are learning online. These parents should educate themselves on the dangers of human trafficking and track their children’s internet usage.
And for those whose parents are essential workers, there are still avenues for help. They can place controls on their children’s computers, check their browsing history, and set up safety checks with their neighbors. It is important to teach children basic online safety rules, such as not chatting with strangers, any picture or video you post will last forever, and never share personal information. The older the child, the more in depth parents should go in these lessons. Open communication between parents and children is key.
In the time of COVID-19, isolation is designed to keep people safe. But, for traffickers, isolation is a form of control, a means to hold their victims hostage without avenues of escape. It is up to each of us to protect life, whether from a virus or from a trafficker.
For additional safety tips and where to go for help, visit The National Center for Sexual Exploitation.