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FunTimes Magazine

COVID-19 and Human-trafficking: Living in Both Worlds

By Beverly Chandran and Bahati Phoenix

The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has changed our lives and rocked the core of the United States with over 1.5M cases and more than 90,000 deaths by the month of May, 2020. Given the dire circumstances, Women Against Human-Trafficking in Philadelphia (#WAHTPhilly) contemplate the dreadfulness of a COVID-19 relapse in the coming months for three reasons: a) individual states will re-open their economies too early without testing and quarantining enough people appropriately, b) victims captured in the sex slave business do not have access to test and treatment unless they are dropped off at a hospital’s emergency ward, and c) victims of sex traffickers have “no voice and no choice” regarding how and when they are engaged in sex.

COVID-19 is the biggest health crisis since the wave of the Spanish Flu in 1918 and sexual human trafficking together poses enormous health risks to every person who is in contact with victims and the johns of human traffickers. Not only are the victims at great risk of contracting the virus, so are the johns who are likely to spread the virus to their families, friends, co- workers, and others. COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that spreads via airborne and touch, but not proven to be the only way the disease is transmitted. Since the coronavirus spreads easily from person-to-person and can be a deadly disease, WAHTPhilly is concerned about the large number of sex trafficked victims (girls, boys, and women) that are raped daily by multiple customers and are at risk to contract, and spread the disease like wildfire.

The sex trade industry moves around in society at full throttle during both good and bad economic times. For instance, during good economic conditions when people have large amounts of disposable income to spend on entertainment – concerts, restaurants, night clubs, and private parties – sexual human trafficking activity thrives under these conditions. At the other end of the spectrum, when the economy moves towards a recession, and economic factors negatively affect employment and income opportunities for the working class, sexual human traffickers grow their business exponentially and flourish, under these circumstances, too.

There are fears expressed by professionals in the human trafficking field that the economic effects of the virus will make more women susceptible to being trafficked, as well as, force those who have escaped to return to the life of victimization out of financial necessity. Given that millions of people across the nation are without income, people have real fears about food and housing stability.

These dynamics are the perfect gateway for young girls, young boys, and women to be at amuch higher risk than ever before; providing the opportunity for them to be lured into the life seeking food, shelter and companionship.

The week of April 19-25th was crime Victim’s Rights Week and the FBI put special focus on victims of human trafficking. It was reported that the impact of the coronavirus has worked its’ way into marketing and advertisements citing ‘protection is available’ for the women who are being sold for sex. These pop-up ads prove that trafficking activity is hard to stop and contributes even more tension, trauma and anxiety during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the downturn in the economy.

In the United States, our core structural foundation has been broken as it relates to the government being unable to change the trajectory of human trafficking for an exceptionally long time. According to Rochelle Keyhan, Esquire who helps gather data to help police departments better prosecute traffickers, “Last year the federal National Human Trafficking Hotline logged 14,000 calls from victims. Many callers were referred to agencies that potentially could help; however, there were no data confirming they did. The hotline has no follow-through component, no feedback loop that makes sure a social worker checks on the caller after a referral, and no check- ins with agencies to see if the caller was indeed served.”

WAHTPhilly is not surprised about the data around human trafficking and the need for more safeguards to help prevent children and women from being forced into such life. There are so many loose-ends to tie-up as it relates to the prevention of sexual trafficking that it has become a national crisis. It is time for a more vocal and collective response to this crisis and members of WAHTPhilly are committed to facilitating the process.

From a female’s perspective, if we will not stand up for the rights and equality of our own lives who do we expect to do it? It should not be okay for any one of us to not have a voice or a choice in the 21st century, so this sentiment should ring true for every trafficked and missing person there is. In this spirit, WAHTPhilly will host the first virtual global Human Trafficking Town Hall Meeting on Tuesday, May 19th at 7:00pm EST. Like our FB Page to participate in this important conversation or e-mail us at [email protected] for additional information.

The mission of WAHTPhilly is to provide victims of human trafficking essential services i.e., counseling and therapy, security and protection, rehabilitation and medical care etc. and to assure the victims do not return to bondage and enslavement thus ending the “Once a Human Trafficking Victim always a Human Trafficking Victim dilemma,” as newly appointed board member Francine Elizabeth Natal passionately expressed. She gets it and we are hoping you will too.

National Human Trafficking Hotline

1-888-373-7888 or text “Help” to 233733

Texting “BeFree” (233733), via live chat

Email: [email protected]

Services are available toll-free 24 hours a day, 7 days a week