Traffickers Taking Advantage of COVID-19 to Exploit

What are the dangers the coronavirus is creating in relation to human trafficking?

These are indeed trying times as the change in our daily lives has become more and more profound due to the rapid spread of COVID-19. The victims of modern-day slavery are no strangers to lives turned upside down. Now we hear reports that sex and labor traffickers are taking advantage of this current global coronavirus disruption to entrap even more vulnerable youth and young adults with false promises.

In the last NAHT blog post, we informed subscribers of the coronavirus causing the cancellation of two major anti-trafficking Iowa conferences which had been scheduled to take place in April. Since then, the Network Speakers’ Bureau has also had all of its community, college, and faith-based speaking engagements cancelled for the foreseeable future. Only a few of these have been converted into online/Zoom video conferencing opportunities. With all of Iowa’s schools closed, school-based education/prevention programming has totally stopped. However, we have learned that Set Me Free has now started to offer anti-trafficking webinars for school-aged students and their parents.

Staffing in Iowa’s survivor restoration programs is becoming challenging since it is very difficult to enforce social distancing. All residential programs are instituting frequent handwashing and other relevant CDC-recommended precautions. However, fear of the spread of coronavirus has resulted in some programs losing staff and a sudden shortage of willing volunteers.

A special online meeting has been called for all of Iowa’s providers who serve trafficking survivors. The Zoom call will take place on Tuesday, April 14, 10:00-11:30 AM with providers to discuss COVID-19 challenges. Service providers will share how they are coping and any best best practice ideas for keeping everyone safe. Prevention/education providers are also welcome to participate in the video call. If you have yet to be invited and would like to participate, contact Jessica R. at jessicar@familycrisiscenters.org.

Because of the sudden increase in unemployment (41,890 new unemployment claims were filed in Iowa last week), this leads to increased vulnerability for some people who are becoming desperate. Some of these vulnerable individuals may take risks in getting employment, which sets them up as easy targets for traffickers and trafficking online schemes. Both labor and sex trafficking are all about exploiting vulnerabilities.

Children are home from school due to COVID-19 and are now likely spending much more time on the Internet or gaming than during a normal school week. With everyone being encouraged to stay indoors, porn companies are offering free viewing of their content in select countries as a marketing strategy. And according to Google Analytics, porn searches skyrocket by 470% when kids are out of school. The FBI calls the sexual exploitation of children an epidemic and says that at any given moment, 750,000 child predators are online.

Choose WiselyAnti-trafficking organizations such as Shared Hope International are now increasing efforts to counteract traffickers and Internet-based dangers by getting Internet safety materials in as many hands as possible, to help caregivers keep children safe from the lure of traffickers. Prevention and education is the key to diverting Iowa youth from traffickers’ grooming. Shared Hope has asked the NAHT to share their free resources and Internet Safety Video Series. Here is the link. The more Iowans who know how to take action, the less traffickers are able to move in the shadows of the Internet.

The coronavirus health crisis has also resulted in a drop in donations and volunteer service to anti-trafficking non-profit organizations. Survivor service agencies have had to cancel major spring fundraising events. Agencies that depend on the faith community for support have been especially hard hit by volunteer services and fundraising events being cancelled. Donated funds are being diverted to hospital supplies, food banks, etc.

Funding priorities have shifted and human trafficking awareness has also lost the attention of news organizations, government, and the general public. For example, a recent blog post had 15 human trafficking news article links. This blog post has only four news articles: two are from other US states, two are from abroad, and none are from Iowa.

Federal human trafficking grant funding opportunities

The Federal HHS Office on Trafficking in Persons has released a major solicitation for competitive grants. Applications are due mid-May 2020. The NAHT strongly encourages Iowa’s non-profit survivor service providers to apply. If the NAHT can be of any assistance or provide you with letters of support, please contact us here.

The request for proposals has five categories of funding opportunities to support victims of human trafficking. Click here to view all five funding opportunities available.

Webinar to discuss gangs and human trafficking

National Gang Center logoThe National Gang Center has rescheduled its human trafficking webinar for Wednesday, April 29, 2020. The time of the webinar is 2:30-3:30 PM Eastern time. This webinar will focus on the nature of gang involvement in human trafficking; challenges in investigation and prosecution, along with some potential solutions; and resources available to support law enforcement and prosecution efforts throughout the process.

Unfortunately, the registration limit for this event has recently been reached and the NTTAC is unable to register new users. Please note that the webinar recording will be available at NTTAC’s YouTube Channel approximately one week after the conclusion of the event.

Law Enforcement Training/Reporting Tool

This training link for reporting sexual violence and trafficking is recommended for law enforcement by Lauren Camp, NAHT board member and Crime Victims Justice Corps Fellow with Iowa Legal Aid. It helps train law enforcement around trauma informed interviews and also makes victims have more trust in law enforcement to come forward.

Nefarious: Merchant of Souls

Since many of us are hunkered down at home, we are recommending you watch the award-winning documentary Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, which exposes the disturbing trends in modern-day sex slavery.

Human Trafficking articles

  • New York Times opinion columnist and anti-trafficking advocate, Nicholas Kristof, writes that the President is exploiting trafficking to score political points: link here
  • Parent of elite college student accused of sex trafficking on campus of Sarah Lawrence: link here
  • In fight to stop human trafficking, nuns take to the street: link here
  • Suspect Held in South Korean Crackdown on Sexually Explicit Videos and Human Trafficking: link here