Last week, I detailed some key facts and statistics regarding human trafficking. With the conversation going on surrounding the release of the movie The Sound of Freedom, I wanted to share some essential information that hits close to home for our state with this terrible crime.
Oklahoma law defines human trafficking as modern-day slavery that includes, but is not limited to, extreme exploitation and the denial of a person’s freedom or liberty for the purpose of deriving benefit from that person’s commercial sex act or labor. (Okla. Stat. Tit. 21 § 748). The crime is a felony in Oklahoma and is punishable by five years to life in prison, or a fine of up to $100,000, or both.
If the person trafficked is under the age of 18, the offense is punishable by 15 years to life in prison, or a fine of up to $250,000, or both. The court may also order the perpetrator to pay restitution to the victim.
A 2019 report from the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women noted that many believed that only children are victims of human trafficking; but it is even worse that that. The reality is many current adults who are trapped in human trafficking were first exploited as children, often by their mothers or fathers. This ties in with research done into generational trauma and the impact of how children are raised, carrying on actions into their own adult lives.
Often lacking education, employment history, and/or severe physical and psychological traumas, these individuals tend to face enormous barriers to escaping human trafficking to start lives in the kind of freedom most of us take for granted. Victims of human trafficking are often afraid to come forward and unable to leave traffickers because of trauma, physical violence, threat of harm to their families, having nowhere else to go, or a distrust of authority figures.
Another common misconception is that most victims’ entries into human trafficking occur through random abductions from front yards or big box store parking lots. This misconception dangerously ignores a far more common tactic that reaches potential victims right in their homes – recruitment through the internet.
It is vitally important for families to monitor who is contacting their children through the internet, texting, or phone calls, especially with the increased prevalence of youth owning their own devices.
Finally, one misconception that I also held is that Oklahoma has a human trafficking problem because of our highway system. This mistaken belief ignores the fact that for many human trafficking victims in Oklahoma, they were born and/or grew up in Oklahoma, were trafficked right here in Oklahoma, and were even purchased by Oklahomans, often without leaving the state or their hometowns.
Why are youth vulnerable to human trafficking? Specific vulnerabilities of minors make them targets of traffickers. These include emotional vulnerabilities (feeling lonely, desperate to belong, or in need of love); poverty (needing work in order to take care of family or pay for education, sometimes needing to move or migrate to find work); aspects that make minors different and outcasts within their community (sexual orientation, disability, or being new to a setting); lack of family or community support (being a runaway or throwaway, lacking parental supervision, being neglected); and presence of violence in the home (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse).
Next week, I will share some of the warning signs to identify human trafficking.
If you think someone’s life or safety is in immediate danger, call 911. If you suspect someone is the victim of human trafficking, then please contact the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Human Trafficking Hotline at (855) 617-2288.
— The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy was established in 1983 by a group of citizens seeking to create a strong advocacy network that would provide a voice for the needs of children and youth in Oklahoma, particularly those in the state’s care and those growing up amid poverty, violence, abuse and neglect, disparities, or other situations that put their lives and future at risk. Our mission statement: “Creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.”