USA (MNN) — Human trafficking is growing in the U.S. According to The Polaris Project, over 9,000 potential cases of human trafficking cases were reported between 2007 and 2012.
A report published by The Polaris Project last week analyzes data from 49,301 calls made to the group's National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) hotline, 1,735 online tip reports, and 5,251 e-mails. From this information, The Polaris Project found that 41% of all sex trafficking cases and 20% of labor trafficking cases reported U.S. citizens as victims.
Amy Richey of EFCA ReachGlobal says now is the time for the U.S. Church to act. "If we can identify and meet people in their vulnerability…we can actually intersect and make the biggest difference in preventing human trafficking," she says.
Richey helps churches in Ukraine get involved in the fight against human trafficking. The 2013 U.S. Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report describes Ukraine as a "source, transit, and–increasingly–destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking."
John 10:10 reads, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Richey says her work against trafficking in Europe proves this Truth over and over again.
"I'm very familiar and I understand that the enemy comes to steal and destroy, and I also understand that we serve the Life Giver– the One who gives hope and peace and a future," she states.
"There certainly are some organizations doing great work to fight human trafficking worldwide that don't share that same hope. But, it's that hope that separates us."
The idea that human trafficking is an overseas problem, faced only by places like Ukraine or Nepal, keeps people blind to the scourge within the U.S.
"It's harder, quite honestly, to process when it's something that's happening right next door to you in your gated community…as opposed to…helping a country or a region of the world fight something like human trafficking," Richey notes. "It's an 'us versus them' issue."
According to The Polaris Project, over a third of all sex trafficking cases reported to the NHTRC hotline involved minors. Many victims reportedly had some prior interaction with the child welfare system.
Richey admits that there are no easy solutions for the problems presented by this report.
"If we look at the child welfare system and try to figure out how we can intersect, and how we can make children less vulnerable, it will have a great impact," she says. "But how does that happen? I don't know."
It starts with awareness.
The following ten states had the most reports of potential human trafficking between 2007 and 2012: California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, District of Columbia, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, and Georgia.
"This is a good report for churches to look at and say, 'How can we engage in the child welfare system in our location?'" notes Richey.
"One of the greatest points of vulnerability also is teenage runaways. I've encouraged many churches to engage with the at-risk youth in their area."
In at least 50 cases reported to the NHTRC hotline, the minor victim first came in contact with the child welfare system after running away from their place of residence. In at least 49 cases, a child was reportedly being trafficked by a parent or legal guardian.
When building relationships with the vulnerable, Richey lists some signs that could point to trafficking activity:
Tattooed numbers or names on a child under the age of 18 could be a mark of "ownership."
Other signs: kids "carrying around hotel keys, large amounts of money, or no money at all. Sometimes they'll even openly refer to someone as a pimp, or a 'lover boy,'" says Richey. "Sometimes they will not make direct eye contact with you because they're ashamed or concerned."
"One of these indicators may not necessarily mean that someone is trafficked, but it never hurts to alert authorities or ask questions of parents," Richey says.
Don't try to tackle the problem by yourself, though, she warns. "These rings are very strong and usually much stronger than any one individual," Richey says.
"So I would encourage people to alert authorities and to contact their local government, as opposed to going in by themselves and thinking that they're going to stop something."
If you believe you are a victim of human trafficking or may have information about a potential trafficking situation, please contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC).
"There are laws in place in many states: law enforcement that is capable and that is willing to help, and get engaged in the problem," shares Richey.
The next step.
ReachGlobal's anti-human trafficking initiatives take different shapes in different locations. You don't need a degree in counseling or psychology. Click here for a list of opportunities in Europe.
"Exactly how God has wired you gives you abilities that He can use in the fight against human trafficking," says Richey. "Web designers, filmmakers, logistic specialists, artists, teachers — everybody can get involved in this fight."
There's an easy way to start right now. "Pray for the victims themselves, especially during the holiday season; this is a very hard time for them," shares Richey.
"Pray for strength for them, and the courage to try and leave."
Pray also for the ReachGlobal team as they fight human trafficking around the world.
"Personally, I pray for strongholds to be broken, and for us to have insight, for us to understand what the strongholds are, how we can intercept," Richey shares.