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Human Trafficking Victims even more Vulnerable during Pandemic

April 24, 2020

Since 2002, officials with the Washington-based Polaris Project have worked to combat and prevent modern-day slavery and human trafficking. In their latest update, Polaris officials report that the crime thrives on chaos and desperation. That means in times like these, vulnerable populations are even more susceptible to violence, abuse and exploitation. Here are some of their observations:

 

 

 

 

One of the major needs we are hearing from victims and survivors is safe shelter. With states under stay-at-home orders, it has become more challenging to connect victims who contact the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline with in-person resources in their communities. Many shelters are no longer accepting new clients, or have limited space as a result of the crisis. The Trafficking Hotline will continue to be an important social safety net to connect survivors on the ground to the best resources in their area and to support them in navigating the COVID-19 landscape.
States are reporting a disturbing trend where landlords are pressuring cash-strapped renters to trade sexual services in return for keeping a roof over their head. Make no mistake – this is human trafficking – using coercion in the form of threats of eviction to pressure people into sexual activity.
As much of the country is now working at home – if at all – the very people we trust to care for those homes, and for our loved ones, are facing economic devastation. Domestic workers experience conditions that make them extremely vulnerable to labor trafficking like isolation, informal working arrangements, and a near total lack of protection under U.S. labor laws. Those same conditions mean that the help the government provides for other sectors of the econony as a result of the pandemic will leave many domestic workers behind. That in turn increases vulnerability that can lead to trafficking and exploitation.
Family members who struggle to keep food on the table and the lights turned on could turn to desperate means to provide for their loved ones. People will take jobs that may be exploitative, off-the-books, or less than minimum wage with no legal or health protections. For people in dire economic straits, or without legal documentation to work in this country, traffickers will find ways to keep them trapped in this situation.