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Opinion: Shining light on shadowy world of human trafficking

Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump comforts a survivor of human trafficking at a local safe haven in Atlanta on January 14, 2020. Ivanka Trump toured two facilities on Tuesday that help survivors in downtown Atlanta. President Donald Trump has listed fighting human trafficking as a priority, as has the Kemp gubernatorial administration and Ga. First Lady Marty Kemp. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump comforts a survivor of human trafficking at a local safe haven in Atlanta on January 14, 2020. Ivanka Trump toured two facilities on Tuesday that help survivors in downtown Atlanta. President Donald Trump has listed fighting human trafficking as a priority, as has the Kemp gubernatorial administration and Ga. First Lady Marty Kemp. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

It has been said that sunlight is the best disinfectant; unfortunately, many of the victims of human trafficking spend their days in the shadows. Their captors brainwash them with lies, like no one loves them, and spin a future that holds nothing but fear, pain, and hardship, leading some to believe suicide is the best way out. For those victims who do escape, many are burdened with survivors’ guilt and choose not to tell anyone, hoping their life will just continue as if nothing ever happened.

While our nation celebrates many freedoms, sadly, the United States isn’t free from this horrific crime. More than 40 million men, women, and children are trafficked across the globe every year; and thousands of those victims are from the United States. Additionally, one in four victims of human trafficking is a young child. According to one study prepared for the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, the age of exploitation could be as unimaginable as eleven or younger.

Like domestic violence cases, many of the victims in human trafficking cases begin what seems to be an innocent relationship; but, eventually, the relationship takes a darker turn. Eventually, the significant other in the relationship sells his or her ‘partner’ off into prostitution, or other relationships, without their consent. Many of the victims of sex trafficking are physically abused, forcibly subjected to daily exploitation or given drugs which result in addiction and denied basic freedoms.

Globally, this criminal enterprise generates more than $150 billion annually. Trafficking networks are growing fast, subjecting victims to these unimaginable conditions more than at any time in human history. To combat this scourge internationally, advocacy organizations and NGOs (non-government organizations) extend their help to rescue survivors and help them rebuild their lives.

In the United States, it falls on each one of us to be vigilant; and, local, state, and federal governments must partner together to fight back. On a federal level, the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Office has awarded millions of dollars in grants to organizations combating this atrocity around the world – leading to thousands of men, women, and children being rescued. The Department of Health and Human Services has provided $1.75 million through competitive funding for the National Human Trafficking Hotline – (888) 373-7888. Even in this era of hyper-partisanship, Congress has taken bipartisan action to support these victim advocacy programs, which play a vital role in liberating victims from their oppressors. These programs also exist in our local communities, taking the fight to the local level, and helping to secure better futures for the most vulnerable.

To the victims in this horrific situation: know that you are not alone. You are loved, valued, and appreciated. There is a network of advocates and organizations here for you, and you can have a future without exploitation and violence. We want to make sure what has happened to you doesn’t happen to anyone else.

To those with a voice: learn the ‘red flags.’ As allies, we must take a stand and speak up for victims. Until the number of these atrocities reaches zero, our responsibility is not complete. Evils can only thrive if we choose to ignore them and allow them to remain in the darkness. Neglecting this challenge will only generate more suffering, leaving the most vulnerable unprotected. In the end, we will win this fight.

This February 13th is “Shine a Light on Slavery Day.” Together, we can take a stand and give aid to those trapped in the darkness of human trafficking.

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville, represents Ga.’s 11th Congressional District.