January was Human Trafficking Awareness Month but the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) urges health professionals and laypeople to remain alert throughout the year. Dr. Joseph Zanga, a past President of ACPeds, has spent the past 6 years working to end this scourge, a companion to his 40 years of effort to end the abuse of children in our nation. Sadly, as explained in our position statement on Child Sex Trafficking, this is a pediatric problem as the average age of victims is 14 years.
Dr. Zanga states “The United States has been ranked among the top three nations of origin for victims of human trafficking in 2018, according to a recent report by the State Department and is the number one consumer of sex trafficking worldwide. Human Trafficking is an industry taking in more money each year than many Fortune 500 companies. This is a crime hidden in plain sight, aided by the addiction our children have to their tablets and, especially, their smart phones. Because their brains aren’t fully developed until their mid-twenties, they are easy prey for the traffickers who are professional social media recruiters. Because of the “toxic stress” and the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that many of our children live with, the bait that professional traffickers dangle is hard to resist.“
The American College of Pediatricians believes that we can put an end to Human Trafficking, as well as Sex and Labor Trafficking, if we work to prevent ACEs, identify the victims, aid them in exiting and creatively enforce demand reduction. This is the task before us. Each of us has a role to play individually and as a community. Each of us needs to look beneath the surface of the children and adolescents passing before us. We need to partner with law enforcement and the judiciary, with parent groups, schools, and other child connected agencies where we live and work to identify children at risk. We can then help many avoid becoming slaves to the traffickers and aid others in their exit from bondage.