By Jenny Seo
For many, John F. Kennedy International Airport serves as a port of a connecting vacation flight or as the warm welcoming gateway to home, but for some, it serves as the entry point in their enslavement into the sex trafficking industry. In the midst of bustling tourist ventures, ethnic neighborhoods, and busy lives, New York City stands to be one of the biggest trafficking hubs in America. According to the U.S. Justice Department, John F. Kennedy Airport is the biggest port of traffickers in the United States.
Many Americans tend to have a disillusioned perception that trafficking only occurs in poverty stricken countries, far from the realms of our freedom land. It wasn’t until 2010 that the United States was included in the Trafficking and Humans report published by he U.S. Department of State. Sex trafficking in America is a huge controversy. People are saying that numbers are exaggerated and the issue is overlooked.
“I would say that trafficking as a whole, both labor and sex trafficking, is not a problem, but it’s a crisis in America,” says Gabrielle Tang, a Policy staff member for Restore NYC, a non-profit organization located in New York City providing counseling, housing and other services to survivors of sex trafficking. Unfortunately, many Americans fail to address this issue, and politicians alike are responding in the same manner, as they will address what their constituents are concerned about.
Among the few, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is making efforts to combat human trafficking. Last year, she released the State Department’s 10th annual review of efforts to combat human trafficking. The assessment showed that between 14,500 and 17,500 people are trafficked into the U.S. each year. “As this report documents, cases of trafficking of persons are found in our own communities,” said Clinton.
Everyone’s story is a little bit different. Many foreign women are lured and smuggled to America with the prospects of a well-paying job but then are struck with reality when the job was actually just a form of bait. The smuggled women are often beaten, isolated, and manipulated until they consent to prostitution as a means to pay their traffickers the debts they ensued for their travels to America.
“It’s okay that it happens in other countries so shame on Thailand or shame on India for this happening, but never does the U.S. want to point a finger at themselves as a perpetrator of this issue,” says Michelle Koh, a New York University student adamant about spreading knowledge about the cause.
“Foreign workers drawn by the hope of a better life in America are trapped by abusive employers, and there are Americans, unfortunately, who are held in sexual slavery,” says Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.
Enslaved sex workers are treated as criminals and are labelled as prostitutes. Foreign trafficked sex workers are punished as illegal aliens. Apart from the lack of protection for victims, America is overlooking the core issue. This is modern day slavery and the scale of the issue varies immensely. There is no clear solution in stopping this growing problem, but acknowledgement of the matter is one step in finding a cure.
“No one should have to go through this abuse of exploitation,” says Gabrielle Tang. “Some people think that not many people are being trafficked in America, but one person being trafficked is far too many.”