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January 11th is Human Trafficking Awareness Day

The following editorial was written by Jennifer Durant, Public Policy Specialist. Click here to learn more about human trafficking.

Jan. 11 is nationally recognized as Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Human trafficking is modern day slavery that involves the sexual and labor exploitation of millions of men, women and children worldwide.

Human trafficking has no borders. Victims can be abused within their own communities or moved throughout the world to avoid detection, forced to live a life of servitude.

It is estimated that about 800,000 to 900,000 individuals are trafficked across international borders worldwide. In the United States alone, 18,000 to 20,000 victims are trafficked into or within this country every year. Sadly, approximately 80 percent of these victims are children.

New Hampshire is certainly not immune to human trafficking. While human trafficking is very difficult to quantify or count, there is evidence that New Hampshire has experienced both labor and sex trafficking. In fact, all 50 states have reported seeing some form of human trafficking.

New Hampshire was the location of the second labor trafficking case in the nation brought under federal law in 2003. Timothy Bradley and Kathleen O'Dell, both of Litchfield, were convicted of human trafficking for withholding promised wages and refusing to release passport and legal travel documents of four Jamaican men.

There has also been evidence of sex trafficking in New Hampshire. Over the past few years, New Hampshire's domestic and sexual crisis centers have worked with several victims of sexual exploitation, who have been forced into street prostitution or forced to work in brothels.

Almost all of New Hampshire's border states have experienced human trafficking, indicating that this crime clearly exists in the northeastern region of this country. In Vermont, police invaded a brothel where Asian women were forced to work as sex slaves. Experts say the Vermont case fits the pattern of a problem that is reaching into the smallest corners of the country.

In Kittery, Maine, Gary Reiner, a former lawyer and one-time chairman of the Kittery Town Council, was convicted in 2005 of operating a brothel that was disguised as a health club where women and children, as young as 13 years old, were forced to work as prostitutes.

In East Boston, Brighton, and Allston, Mass., police made nearly 100 arrests in 2006, posing as johns and then arresting suspects allegedly operating brothels in apartments and houses tucked away on quiet residential streets.

If this problem is prevalent in our border states, then New Hampshire is certainly vulnerable to such activities. These highly publicized cases serve as examples of trafficking taking place in our area, but it is important to remember that many cases of trafficking go unnoticed. Most are invisible victims because of their uncertain position of either being undocumented immigrants or seen as social degenerates who voluntarily enter the sex industry.

What can you do?

  • Become familiar with our laws. In August 2009, Gov. John Lynch signed HB 474 into law, the first comprehensive human trafficking law in New Hampshire. Human trafficking is now defined in New Hampshire's Criminal Code, making it a Class A felony with enhanced penalties for trafficking someone under the age of 18.
  • Talk about human trafficking in your community and ask others to educate themselves.
  • Invite a speaker from a local organization to talk to your group.

While the term "human trafficking" is fairly new, the act itself is clearly not. Until we effectively identify victims and provide them with the services they need; until we hold traffickers accountable in a meaningful way for their unspeakable crimes; and until we adequately prevent human trafficking from happening in the first place, the fight will continue — throughout the world, throughout the nation and throughout the state of New Hampshire.

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