17 Aug 2020

Human Trafficking: Impact of COVID-19

Human trafficking is defined as a form of modern-day slavery that involves the exploitation of persons for commercial sex and/or forced labor. During Covid-19, numerous reports have shown that human trafficking is on the rise. The U.S. National Trafficking Hotline indicated that “crisis” trafficking cases increased by more than 40 percent following the shelter-in-place orders in April of this year compared to the prior month. “Crisis cases” are those in which some assistance – such as shelter or law enforcement involvement – is needed within 24 hours.  

More information and statistics on the prevalence of human trafficking can be found here.

On July 28, ALSO hosted the webinar “Human Trafficking and the STOP Grant Program: Impact of Covid-19.” The webinar was presented by Robin Hassler Thompson, who consults with ALSO on the STOP Formula Grants Program and has worked in the policy arena on issues related to violence against women for over two decades.

The webinar addressed both sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sex trafficking is, by definition, sexual assault. Labor trafficking often involves sexual assault.

STOP Grant

Human trafficking overlaps with four STOP grant areas funded by the Office on Violence Against Women – domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. ALSO’s work with state and territory STOP grant administrators and subgrantees often focuses on systems change and responses that can help build protections for victims of trafficking and ensure offender accountability.

The STOP program can address human trafficking in a range of ways, including training, data collection, victim services, and multi-disciplinary efforts. Human trafficking can be incorporated into currently funded programs for law enforcement, prosecution, courts, and victim services when it involved sexual assault as well.

Covid-19

Victims of trafficking can be in an even more difficult situation at this time because of Covid-19. “Any vulnerable person is at risk of being trafficked, “ says Thompson. “When there is a national disaster – including Covid-19 -  it is going to make the vulnerable more vulnerable. In this kind of situation, there is greater isolation of people who could be trafficked or are already being trafficked. People are isolated from help, from law enforcement, from social services, and even from their neighbors being able to see them.” During Covid, Thompson points out, many other factors have also come into play – including the presence of fewer mandatory reporters for children and youth.

Data shows deep economic challenges faced by survivors during Covid-19. For example, almost all (98%) of the 608 direct service providers surveyed said the “survivors they talked with mentioned facing economic challenges due to the pandemic” (Economic Impact of Covid-19 on Survivors Survey, 2020)

Meanwhile, communities of color, who are at higher risk for human trafficking and have lower access to health care, have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. For example, Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to die of Covid-19 than white Americans.

What can be done?

The webinar shared how STOP grants can help administrators respond to human trafficking in a wide range of ways. As administrators continue to face challenges related to Covid-19, grants can incorporate safety planning that includes needs that have emerged during the pandemic. States and territories should consider grant programs that can be used to support the economic needs of survivors, including housing, and support for other basic needs, including food, transportation, and mental health services. STOP administrators can look toward supporting law enforcement, prosecutors, courts, victim services and others to incorporate human trafficking into existing programming like training, coordinated community responses, specialized units within law enforcement and prosecution, and overall work that is funded under STOP - as well as create new programs whose sole focus is on human trafficking. It is important to remember that STOP program funding can support domestic and sexual violence, stalking, and dating violence initiatives only, so any human trafficking programs must focus on one or more of these crime areas.

Thompson says it’s important for states to share how their work has made a positive impact in its work on human trafficking – before and during Covid-19. One example is in Oklahoma, where a human trafficking program reported assisting 61 survivors statewide between January and June of 2020.

Resources

There are numerous resources available that can help administrators who are working on this issue. These include:

  • The U.S. National Trafficking Hotline, which provides support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The Hotline provides support in 200 languages.
  •  Freedom Network USA, a national coalition working to ensure that trafficked persons have access to justice, safety, and opportunity.
  • States can also learn about a matrix of state resources through the Office for Victims of Crime, the U.S. Department of Justice.
  • On a local level, the Greater New Orleans Human Trafficking Task Force  offers a multi-disciplinary model that features education, outreach, and collaboration.
  • National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733