Covid and Human Trafficking: How the Covid Pandemic Continues to Change Human Trafficking

Image for post
Image for post

Between 20 million and 40 million people world wide are victims of human trafficking a modern form of slavery that involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain labor or sex.

As Covid continues to grip the nation, and world, human trafficking and child predators are changing their methods in order to lure more victims. The Coronavirus, or Covid 19, is not only resulting in an increase in child abuse and neglect, there are also fears that the pandemic will also result in a future increase in child pornography and child sex trafficking.

“We are seeing a big uptick in the amount of predators online, you know, talking to children,” according to the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Ariana, Fajardo-Orshan. “Parents are preoccupied, getting their work done, and kids are being left off to kind of fend for themselves and this is a predator’s dream to have these kids home on the computer all day.”

The number of children being contacted by sexual predators online during Covid is disturbing and astounding at the same time. Approximately one out of every seven children is sexually contacted, or solicited, by a predator while online. Furthermore, many of these children are seriously pursued online by these predators, singling out these children in an attempt to lure them in.

The danger lies in that when Self Containment and Social Distancing end after the worst of Covid 19, many of these children who have been abused and neglected at home during the time of isolation will run away, and seek out the predators that formed relationships online with them.

What some might find shocking is that between 100,000–300,000 children are exploited commercially in the United States for purposes of sex each year. Many of these children are shipped, or trafficked, across international borders each year. For these thousands of children, a life of horror and danger is forced upon them as they serve as prostitutes for local and global criminal organizations. Thousands of other children are sold into slavery by those who profess to love them the most; their family members. How large is the problem? Disturbingly, human trafficking generates more than 32 billion a year, which is third only to drug and arms trafficking. Roughly 2 million children are exploited in this manner across the globe.

Image for post
Image for post

According to The Polaris Project, in 2018, the United States was ranked one of the worst places for human trafficking. Indeed, the National Human Trafficking Hotline receives roughly 150 phone calls per day. Furthermore, some studies suggest that roughly 50,000 people are trafficked into the United States each year, with most coming from Mexico and the Philippines.

Indeed, as more people are spending time indoors and at home during this time of self containment, pornography online sites have seen an increase in viewership. In the United States, which has a quickly growing number of reported coronavirus cases, has seen a 6.4% increase in site activity as of March 17. New York, one of the leading states of Covid 19 cases, has seen a 24% increase coronavirus-related porn searches, while Washington D.C., which also has seen large numbers of Covid 19 cases, has seen a 33% increase.

Every two minutes, a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation, according to a report from Unicef. Perhaps more disturbing, according to Shared Hope International, is that child victims might be raped, or used for sex for money, by 6,000 men over the course of a five-night-per-week schedule.

It is not something that we as a society want to recognize, want to acknowledge, and to fight. It is horrifying and depressing. It makes us feel uncomfortable. Yet, child sex trafficking is all around us. It is in our cities, and even in our neighborhoods. And it is happening to our children, with the average age of a child being trafficked at only 12 years old. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn put it wisely when she said, “They’re not even old enough to go to a prom, not even old enough to get a driver’s license and yet we still are seeing more and more of it on the Internet.” The number of children being contacted by sexual predators online is disturbing and astounding at the same time. Approximately one out of every seven children is sexually contacted, or solicited, by a predator while online. Furthermore, many of these children are seriously pursued online by these predators, singling out these children in an attempt to lure them in.

Image for post
Image for post

Yet, human trafficking is a large business. World wide, the International Labor Organization estimates that trafficking is now a $150 billion industry. Roughly $99 million of that is from commercial sex trade according to an ILO report, while the remaining $51 billion is from forced labor. Indeed, it has surpassed the illegal sale of arms and weapons, and is soon expected to eclipse the sale of illegal drugs. 2 million children are victims of child sex trafficking each year across the globe. The number is staggering, and hard to believe. Yet, the numbers are true, and society as a whole seems to look the other way. Some reports indicate that human trafficking generates more money in the United States each year than the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball combined.

Most youth who fall victim to prostitution today come from environments where they have already been sexually abuse. To be sure, the majority of children in America who are exploited sexually have already endured a life of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Indeed, the contributor to a child entering into a life of child sex trafficking is a prior life of sexual abuse. Along with this, many of these children who have already been exposed to sexual abuse have problems with low self-esteem, and do not receive the educational opportunities they deserve. For some teens who have suffered abuse from the hands of family members, they may seek escape by running away from home. As a result, they are more likely to end up homeless, and may choose a life style of prostitution in order to “make ends meet,” financially, so to speak. These youth are more inclined to be placed into foster homes or group homes, and are also more likely to run away. Pimps also attract children by targeting them in group homes, promising them gifts, a sense of belonging, and a place where they will be loved, as well as encouraging them with presents and gifts, all while grooming them for a life of prostitution.

Many of these victims are children from the foster care system. In 2013, 60 percent of children who victims of child sex trafficking rescued from a FBI nationwide raid conducted over 70 cities were children from foster care or group homes. These children were found in hotel rooms, truck stops, and even homes.

Tragically, for so many children in foster care, the search for love leads to a road of sexual exploitation. Foster children often are in need of love, yet do not know what a healthy and loving relationship is. With no one to show them early in their lives what true unconditional or healthy loving relationships are, children in foster care mistakenly seek it out, often times online. What many foster parents do not know, though, is how easy it is for foster children to encounter sexual predators online. These sexual predators know that foster children are particularly vulnerable to this kind of assault.

Most prostituted youth today come from environments where they have already been sexually abused. To be sure, the majority of children in America who are exploited sexually have already endured a life of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. Indeed, the contributor to a child entering into a life of child sex trafficking is a prior life of sexual abuse. Along with this, many of these children who have already been exposed to sexual abuse have problems with low self esteem, and do not receive the educational opportunities they deserve. Foster children often come from environments of these forms of abuse. Teens that age out of the foster care system are also more likely to end up homeless, and may choose a life style of prostitution in order to “make ends meet,” financially, so to speak. These youth are more inclined to be placed into foster homes or group homes, and are also more likely to run away. Pimps also attract foster children by targeting them in group homes, promising them gifts, a sense of belonging, and a place where they will be loved, as well as encouraging them with presents and gifts, all while grooming them for a life as a child prostitute.

“Children in crisis are targets for sex traffickers,” said Irene Clements, the Executive Director of the National Foster Parent Association. “Children/youth in the foster care system become easy targets, particularly when they are under extra stress and experiencing fear and vulnerability. COVID-19 has created chaos within the foster care systems across this country and those being served are most affected. Houston, we have a problem!”

The internet, and social media, has made it easier for traffickers to exploit these children, as the audience can be easily reached through social network sites, websites, cell phones, and other online venues. During this time of Self Containment amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, it is even easier for child predators to find their next victim.

Dr. John DeGarmo is an international expert in parenting and foster care and is a TEDx Talk presenter. Dr. John is the founder and director of The Foster Care Institute. He and his wife have had over 60 children come through their home. He is an international consultant to schools, legal firms, and foster care agencies, as well as an empowerment and transformational speaker and trainer for schools, child welfare, businesses, and non profit organizations. He is the author of several books, including The Foster Care Survival Guide and writes for several publications. Dr. John has appeared on CNN HLN, Good Morning, America, and NBC, FOX, CBS, and PBS stations across the nation. He and his wife have received many awards, including the Good Morning America Ultimate Hero Award. He can be contacted at drjohndegarmo@gmail, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at The Foster Care Institute.

Leading foster care expert and international empowerment speaker

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store