by Abigail Wheeler

Slavery, “a condition in which individuals are owned by others, who control where they live and at what they work,” has existed since the beginning of time, in almost every culture and in every form of empire (The Abolition Project, n.d.). Slavery endures as underlying assumptions that some human beings can be objectified and controlled as property are perpetuated. It brings about economic gain to the oppressor and to the system, while the costs foregone are externalized onto human lives. The 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and indentured servitude in the United States in January of 1865. Yet, slavery is alive and well today (Our Documents, n.d.). Human trafficking is modern-day slavery, pure and simple. The systems that uphold human trafficking today are complex – fueled by demand for cheap labor and the belief that sex can be bought, driven by a number of industries, facilitated by traffickers who prey on people throughout our communities and in neighborhoods across the world.


The Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services to Victims of Human Trafficking in the U.S. (2014) describes human trafficking as “a crime that strikes at the very heart of the American promise: freedom.” It involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for the purpose of compelled labor or a commercial sex act. Where a minor (a person under 18) is induced to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of how it was accomplished – a child cannot consent to such acts. As organized crime flourishes, so does human trafficking in its many forms. Human trafficking is a global health issue – a form of psychological, emotional, and physical violence, one of the largest human rights violations of our time. And it’s often happening under our noses, whether we are aware of it or not.


There are many reasons why it’s impossible to obtain data that accurately and precisely reflects the issue. For one, many victims are hidden, held out of sight. Others, who remain in plain sight, might not know that they are victims – their current experience may be all they’ve ever known. Still, we can take a guess based on what we know of the industries that facilitate the trade of human life. The International Labour Organization (ILO) (2016) estimated that 40.3 million victims are trafficked globally at any given time. Of those estimated numbers, 24.9 million are believed to be trapped in forced labor, including agriculture, factories, domestic workers, nail salons, athletic performance, you name it. 15.4 million are believed to be the victims of forced marriage. 25% of those estimated are believed to be children. 75% are estimated to be women and girls. The ILO additionally estimates that $150 billion dollars in profits worldwide are generated annually from these industries.  According to Polaris, victims are difficult to identify because of factors such as:

  • Captivity and confinement
  • Strict and frequent vigilance
  • Isolation
  • Threats of violence and revenge against family members
  • Tricks and false promises
  • Servitude caused by debt and sense of obligation
  • Distrust of law enforcement
  • Language barriers and lack of social and cultural familiarity
  • No ID or documents
  • Fear
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Desperation and resignation


The way to end any system of oppression and, in this case, modern-day slavery is to shed light to the darkness. As a leading agent in this fight, Polaris – named for the North Star which guided people held in slavery in the U.S. to freedom – has done extensive research on the labor and sex trafficking industries. While we can’t know about everyone, we can obtain numbers and a great deal of information from those who have contacted the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. Since 2007, the hotline has handled 51,919 cases (a case may involve more than one individual). Based on these calls, we can now identify what the forms of human trafficking are, where human trafficking is taking place, how victims are making contact, and who the victims are.  According to Polaris, people most vulnerable to traffickers:

  • Have an unstable living situation
  • Have a history of domestic violence
  • Has a caregiver or family member who has a substance abuse issue
  • Are runaways or involved in the juvenile justice or foster care system
  • Are undocumented immigrants
  • Are facing poverty or economic need
  • Have a history of sexual abuse
  • Are addicted to drugs and alcohol


Kern County is located at the crossroads of major North/South and East/West transportation routes.   The Kern County Department of Public Health Child Services Commercially Sexually Exploited Children (CSEC) unit reported 816 trafficking victims in the Central Valley between 2010 to the middle of 2019. 139 have been victims of labor trafficking, 630 have been victims of sex trafficking, while 38 can be considered a victim of both labor and sex trafficking. At their recent HT proclamation this month, the number reported was over 1,000. In Kern County alone, 200 victims have been identified and approximately 200 referrals alleging exploitation of children in the last two years were investigated, with hundreds more children being identified as at-risk of trafficking/exploitation. Further, they say they’ve worked with victims from every part of Kern County, from every race/ ethnicity, both male and female, aging from 11 to 17. The Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault is just one of the agencies fighting the cause locally. We actively partner with the Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking to better serve trafficking victims in Kern County.


Start by learning more about the issue.

Be familiar with labor laws.

Be aware of recruitment tactics used by traffickers, such as flyers that advertise large sums of money for part-time work to youth.

Report suspicions to law enforcement.

Support and follow organizations advocating on behalf of victims – internationally, nationally, and locally.


Watch this video for more insights on how human traffickers prey on those who dream of a better life.

Debunk the myths and uncover the facts of human trafficking at





HelpLine of Delaware and Morrow, Counties, Inc. (2018). January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Retrieved from:

IOMX (2016). What is Human Trafficking. Retrieved from:

International Labour Organization. (2016). Forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking. Retrieved from:–en/index.htm

OurDocuments.Gov (n.d.) The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Abolition of Slavery (1865). Retrieved from:

Office for Victims of Crime (2014). The Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services to Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States 2013-2017. Compiled in partnership by the DOJ, HHS, DHS. Retrieved from:

Polaris (2018). How to Identify Potential Victims of Human Trafficking. Retrieved from:

Polaris (2018). 2018 Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Retrieved from:

The Abolition Project (n.d.) What is Slavery? Retrieved from:

ZOE Staff in Education (n.d.) 5 Ways You Can Help End Human Trafficking. Retrieved from: