Spread the Word

Human Trafficking does affect students in Liberty.

Photo+by+Kayley+Twenter

Photo by Kayley Twenter

Regan Johnston and Sarah Blankenship

In the last 10 years, there have been almost 50,000 cases of human trafficking reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the United States, according to the Polaris Project. Worldwide, there are approximately 40.3 million victims. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. It is critical to educate students about the growing dangers of human trafficking and how it affects our community.

What is it?

Photo by Kayley Twenter

Human trafficking is human slavery. According to the FBI, this includes, but is not limited to, forced labor, domestic servitude and commercial sex trafficking.

“Every country has some version of human trafficking,” ELA teacher Brenda Parker said. Parker teaches her junior students about human trafficking every year and has them research to educate others. “People are selling their daughters for sex trafficking, they’re selling their sons to be slaves and there’s drug trafficking that’s coming into play.”

Many of Parker’s students were surprised to find out how much human trafficking activity there is in Kansas City.

“It made me realize how serious the problem was,” senior Wendy Tan said. “Even though it is serious, the world doesn’t seem to notice it.”

In countries that are less fortunate, poor families use human trafficking as a way to get money to survive.

“The sad part on why it happens, and the number one reason it happens is poverty,” Parker said. “These people are poorer and are unfortunately willing to do whatever it takes in order to feed their family.”

Though that’s what human trafficking looks like in other countries, Officer Bill Keeney of the Kansas City Missouri Police Department explains that in Kansas City, human trafficking is a lot more subtle.

“The form of human trafficking that people picture is the big huge truckloads of immigrants being imported or exported,” Keeney said. “Or they picture the person driving around in cars and abducting kids or women getting taken and sold into sex slavery and the reality is, in Kansas City, it’s different.”

How Does it Affect Our Community?

Our community is one of the biggest human trafficking locations in the country.

Graphic by Ashley Tindall

“Kansas City is a hub,” LHS’s Internal Security officer Kim True said. “Most of whatever comes from the East Coast comes to us to go to the West coast. They transport [people] a lot from this Midwest area.”

According to a poll sent to students at LHS, nearly 29% of 133 students, did not know that human trafficking happened near them.

One of the main forms of trafficking Kansas City police deal with is sex trafficking.

They monitor sporting events closely for signs of prostitution.

“Believe it or not, the number one event where we see an increase in sex trafficking is NASCAR,” Keeney said. “The second event would be a football playoff game, so we’ll have a task force that will work that heavily. We have task forces that monitor online activity, go undercover at these events and try to solicit, and things like that. Generally, when we have big events like the playoffs, we’ll have detectives work at things like that. A lot of the numbers in the stats that say Kansas City is a major hub for human trafficking come from things like that.”

What Students Know

Photo by Kayley Twenter

The students from Parker’s class have gained more knowledge on human trafficking because of the human trafficking project she’s had her students do in the past. The project starts with students picking one of the top 50 countries affected by human trafficking, then base their project on that certain country and explain the major problems faced there.

“I definitely learned more,” senior Isaac Letsch said. “At the time, I did not know that Kansas City was the human trafficking place to be in the United States. I didn’t know it was such a problem so close to home. You always figure it’s in a different state, that it won’t happen to me, but it happens here quite a bit.”

It was eye-opening to the students how often human trafficking occurs in Kansas City. Senior Bella Cordero said the problem is all the different branches of trafficking happen in the metro area.

“Before the project, I already had some prior knowledge on human trafficking,” Cordero said. “I attended a few Kansas City sex trafficking awareness events so I kind of knew about the Kansas City problems, but doing the project really helped me understand all the other problems affecting the different countries and different states around the world.”

The students from the project now know the effect human trafficking has on people.

“It made me notice what’s going on in other parts of the world and how it affects people’s lives,” senior Gillian Litten said. “How they cope with what they are going through and how it affects people’s families, children, and all parts of their lives.”

How to Protect Yourself

When students were asked in a poll if they ever felt unsafe or in danger of being a victim of human trafficking, 18% of responders said yes. With that in mind, it’s important for more students to become aware and protect themselves against human trafficking.

Photo by Alyssa Griffith

“Like anything else, know your surroundings, know if something happens, how do I get away, and know how to protect yourself,” True said. “I mean just the simplest of things if you’re going to an area that isn’t the easiest of areas, you need to be aware. If you are remotely suspecting that could be happening, call your local law enforcement. We can always be wrong, but that one time we are right, we could save someone’s life.”

Cordero takes True’s ideas to heart when she is in the metro area.

“I always try not to be downtown when the sun goes down, I always have my keys in my hand, I also have my phone on dial if I need to call someone,” Cordero said. “You should be with a friend, be with a group of people if you can. Try not to walk alone.”

Letsch believes there are safer ways to travel to be safer in public places.

“The most effective way to be safe is if you’re going to go somewhere, travel in a group of three or more people,” Letsch said. “Bringing a buddy just doesn’t do that much anymore, they will end up taking both of you. So travel in a group, make sure you have a cell phone and tell someone where you are going.”

Cordero’s knowledge of human trafficking has made her more aware of her surroundings so she is prepared for anything that could go wrong while she is downtown.

“I spend a lot of time in Kansas City which unfortunately is, statistically, really high when it comes to human trafficking,” she said. “So when I’m down there I have to be a little bit more aware. Whether you are a girl, boy, adult or kid, no matter who you are, you should always be aware of your surroundings.”

Technology is another factor of human trafficking, as it provides a new way of tracking potential victims and is a major distraction. An example includes cell phones and headphones.

If students are wearing headphones, they aren’t able to hear their surroundings which puts them in danger. Along with that, if they are looking down at their phone they become preoccupied and aren’t conscious of what’s happening around them.

Solutions

One of the reasons students can become victims of human trafficking is because of a lack of education and awareness.

The most effective way to be safe is if you’re going to go somewhere, travel in a group of three or more people. Bringing a buddy just doesn’t do that much anymore, they will end up taking both of you. So travel in a group, make sure you have a cell phone and tell someone where you are going.”

— Senior Issac Letsch

“We need to start educating our kids as young as 6th grade,” Keeney said. “That’s when we need to start slowly introducing it. When you look at the D.A.R.E program, I don’t think it’s very effective. I think we need to have honest and open discussions.”

Keeney explained that people (especially teenagers) try to deal with stress and may turn to the wrong coping mechanisms, which can lead to becoming a victim of human trafficking. He suggested a way to get ahead of the problem is to have good mental health.

“Human trafficking is not the big picture,” Keeney said. “We’re looking at it as if it is the big picture because it is so grotesque. The bigger picture is the inability to cope. Human trafficking is a by-product of that. We have a traumatic issue that is happening within our high schools of the inability to cope. We have to make sure we are protecting ourselves by doing preventive maintenance to make ourselves mentally healthy.”