Slavery was legally abolished in the United States by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in December 1865.
But today — just over 154 years later — a different form of slavery continues to exist amid the shadows right here in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
In 2011, former President Barack Obama issued a presidential proclamation designed to illuminate the crimes occurring in these dark and often unnoticed corners of society.
As a result, January is now National Human Trafficking Awareness Month, a time for all of us to learn more about how some people use things of value — such as money, food, shelter or drugs — to manipulate vulnerable victims — often women and children — into forced acts of sex or labor.
Learning how these crimes are committed helps us spot signs of victim abuse or distress and report them to authorities.
In cases involving adults ages 18 and over, the law requires evidence that the victim was forced, coerced or defrauded. For victims under age 18, all forms of exploitation are illegal and no evidence of force or coercion is necessary.
Victims of human trafficking come from all walks of life, but women and girls make up the majority of reported victims, according to information published by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
People who are perceived as vulnerable are at the greatest risk of exploitation, the Coalition notes. These often include children and adults who are homeless, children or youth in foster care, LGBTQ people, people of color, those who have experienced physical or sexual abuse in the past, people struggling with self-esteem, those who live in poverty, refugees, undocumented immigrants, migrant workers, those battling addictions and those with intellectual disabilities or mental illness.
“Traffickers manipulate their victims to strategically build relationships of trust and dependence,” the Pa. Coalition Against Rape writes. Tactics include threatening deportation, using drugs or addiction to control the victim, providing money or gifts, isolating the victim from family and friends and making promises of love, fame or fortune.
Red flag signs of human trafficking include controlling or abusive relationships, lack of access to important documents, signs of malnourishment or abuse, tattoos or branding, chronic runaways, absences from school or work, changes in appearance, mood or behavior and isolation from family or friends.
In the first five years since Pennsylvania enacted a comprehensive human trafficking law, there have been 586 offenses charged, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts reports. About 48 percent of these offenses involved involuntary servitude to the demands of the trafficker.
National Human Trafficking Awareness Month encourages all of us to be aware of the red flag indicators and report suspicious circumstances.
Reports of sex trafficking involving children in Pennsylvania should be made immediately to ChildLine, either online or by calling 1-800-932-0313.
Reports of suspected human trafficking can by made by calling 911 or reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888, or text to “BeFree” (233733) to issue a report.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.