June 30, 2020
As the country and the world begins to ease restrictions on movement, borders, and businesses, we are experiencing a small level of the freedom that our lives have been built on. For victims of human trafficking, the risks are still the same. The lockdown may have even worsened their situation as they are faced with challenges that are threefold.
While the restrictions and border closures have decreased access they have also increased police presence leading to a reduction of some crimes but criminal behavior in human trafficking has shifted to take advantage of the situation. These criminals are moving underground and to online platforms, taking advantage of the increased time people are spending on digital channels at home. There has been a sudden surge in demand for protection at a time where the victims are less visible to law enforcement. Hotlines are the primary resource for victims and with the sudden surge in demand, these resources are challenged to meet the demand. Access to phones is also affected as the lockdown has eliminated travel in some cases.
According to the UNODC, a new study shows how lockdowns, travel restrictions, work limitations, and cuts in resources are dangerously dangerous affecting the lives of these victims.
“With COVID-19 restricting movement, diverting law enforcement resources, and reducing social and public services, human trafficking victims have even less chance of escape and finding help. As we work together to overcome the global pandemic, countries need to keep shelters and hotlines open, safeguard access to justice and prevent more vulnerable people from falling into the hands of organized crime,” says UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly.
Vulnerabilities reported by Partners working with UNODC
“At the same time, new opportunities for organized crime to profit from the crisis are emerging,” says Ilias Chatzis, the Chief of UNODC’s Human Trafficking Section. “This means traffickers may become more active and prey on people who are even more vulnerable than before because they have lost their source of income due to measures to control the virus.”
A bigger picture discussion surrounding the recovery from the pandemic provides an opportunity to look at the inequalities in our economic development as a source that feeds marginalization, gender-based violence, exploitation, and trafficking. Addressing the needs of this vulnerable population should be addressed with mindful consideration of the most effective strategies. Some of the recommendations outlined by UNODC are as follows:
How Trucking Can Help
Identifying a victim is challenging even outside of a pandemic. Because trafficked victims are exploited through illegal and unregulated sectors like petty crime, sex industry, domestic settings, and drug trafficking, the crime is difficult to prove. When organized crime is involved well-established operations make it even harder with victims who are fearful or unwilling to report.
Because truck stops have continued to operate throughout the pandemic, they are still susceptible to traffickers. The trucking industry should remain vigilant in their awareness of the crime and even quicker to respond. It is worth repeating that because of the rising statistics and broader awareness, several organizations have stepped up to help in a remarkable way that has proven successes. Polaris is one of those organizations. They operate the National Human Trafficking Hotline which provides survivors of human trafficking support and options to get help and stay safe. The Hotline (1.888.373.7888) can connect callers to emergency support systems like emergency shelters, transportation, trauma counselors, local law enforcement, and others. This hotline is also a good resource for truck drivers when alerted to a potential victim.
To report a tip: call 1-866-347-2423, text HELP or INFO to BeFree - 233733, or chat online. To connect with services and support for human trafficking victims or survivors: contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888