In the rather ordinary manner of an ordinary girl, Danielle Douglas, 17, left home to start college at Northeastern University in Boston. One night, she arrived at an address for what she thought would be a party, yet there she found only one man. He didn’t look like another student and appeared to be in his mid-forties, but he apologized for any misunderstanding and offered her dinner. For the next two weeks, they casually kept in touch and then she agreed to have dinner with him again. At this moment everything in Douglas’ ordinary life departed from the status quo: In Chinatown, the man shoved her out of his car and told her to make money for him. Although surprised by his actions, she saw other women strolling the block and clearly understood what he meant, yet she had no intention of doing as he told her. Without her phone, purse, or even I.D., Douglas ducked into an alley to quickly sort out what to do next, but the man came after her. He beat and threatened her. Scared for her life, she followed his directions and remained under his control for the next two years.

Douglas tells her story in a documentary, Tricked, which highlights the issue of human trafficking in North America and focuses on sexual exploitation. (The FBI cites the average age at which girls first become victims of prostitution is 12 to 14.) Now 31, the New Jersey mother may be surprised to see the launch of “Traffic Report,” a new campaign meant to reach not only the general public but also the 500,000 football fans arriving in the New York-New Jersey region for Super Bowl XLVIII.  The intent of this unusual campaign undertaken by the most unlikely of teammates — an international media company and a non-profit organization — is to raise awareness of human trafficking. “This form of modern slavery occurs at large sporting events, in suburban brothels, and in farms and factories across America,” said Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project, an organization working against human trafficking and named after the North Star that helped guide escaping slaves along the Underground Railroad.

The highly strategic campaign, executed by Clear Channel Outdoor, makes use of 26 digital billboards located in New York and New Jersey to make more than 11 million impressions throughout the next two weeks. Three marquee locations in New York City — Times Square, Port Authority, and Penn Plaza — and 23 digital billboards along the I-95 corridor in New Jersey and Westchester County will run messages that highlight the size and scope of sex and labor trafficking, a $32 billion multinational business. “Despite the enormity of the problem, most people don’t even realize that human trafficking is happening in their own back yards,” Myles said in a press release.

Trafficking, in which profits are derived from the organized exploitation of children, women, and men, is too often viewed as an international problem rather than something that is happening right now in every state within the U.S., according to the sponsors of the campaign. Suzanne Grimes, president and COO, Clear Channel Outdoor-North America, said, “…we felt compelled to use our power to … help draw attention to the issue in the biggest way possible — both to affect change and to send a ray of hope to those who are being exploited.”

Children

The Global Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012 sheds some light on the patterns and flows of this form of modern slavery. Certainly, the most disquieting trend exposed within the hundred-plus pages of the United Nations report is the increasing number of child victims. Between the years of 2003 and 2006, one out of every five victims (20 percent) were children. Yet in the span of three years following that period, the percentage of child victims increased by seven full points to 27 percent. One of every three of these victimized children were boys.

Throughout the Americas, most victims are female. Forced labor is common, accounting for 44 per cent of cases, though a larger percentage are trafficked for sexual exploitation (51 percent). Authorities in North and Central America mainly detected victims from North and Central America who had been trafficked either within the country or across borders, though victims from South and East Asia were widely detected across all regions of the Americas, accounting for about 28 percent of total victims in North America. One-third of all victims in North America are from outside the region with Asian victims being prominent in the U.S. 

… And the Women Who Enslave Them

Of those prosecuted for this ruthless crime, two-thirds are men, commonly a national of the country where the exploitation takes place. Yet women participate as well and few other criminal activities record such a high level of female contribution. “It is not surprising that a crime for which 75-80 percent of detected victims are female also involves a higher rate of female offenders,” the authors of the UN report wrote. Because they can more easily deceive children, women traffickers tend to participate in the exploitation of girls. Women are also more likely to fill positions that have a higher risk of detection within the chain of organized criminal activity.

Other Key Findings

  • Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation accounts for 58 percent of all trafficking cases detected globally, while trafficking for forced labor, which has recently doubled, accounts for 36 percent.
  • Trafficking for the removal of organs has been detected in 16 countries in all regions of the world.
  • Domestic trafficking accounts for 27 percent of all cases of human trafficking worldwide.
  • The Middle East, where two-thirds of the victims were children, has the highest proportion of victims trafficked from other regions (70 percent).
  • Victims from the largest number of origin countries were detected in Western and Central Europe.
  • East Asian victims were detected in large numbers in many countries worldwide. Eastern European, Central Asian, and South American victims were also detected in a range of countries within and outside their region, although in comparatively lower numbers outside their region.