HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal activity in the world. It’s an industry worth around $150 billion. January 11 is dedicated to raising more awareness about this issue that hides in the shadows.
At any given time, 6,000 people are being trafficked in Alabama, according to the Global Slavery Index. It’s a silent epidemic.
“It can happen to anybody,” said Rick Tate. “People you may walk by every day and not pay any attention to.”
Tate is the vice-chair for the North Alabama Human Trafficking Task Force. He says there’s two types: labor trafficking and sex trafficking.
He describes trafficking as having someone doing labor or sex acts against their will through force, fraud, or coercion.
The Alabama Human Trafficking task force reports I-20, I-85, I-10 and I-65 as being major corridors for human trafficking in the state. They add that I-20 has been identified as the “superhighway for human trafficking in the United States.” These interstates bring significant trafficking activity into Alabama.
Back in 2017, 57% of the Alabamians trafficked were minors. Tate says unfortunately, they are seeing a lot of ‘familial trafficking,’ which is when family members traffic children. Though, he adds it can happen to anybody.
“Both in lower-income families and in higher-income families and in medium-income families,” said Tate. “It’s not just something that’s unique to just one group of people. That’s why it’s so difficult to combat.”
Even though it can be hard, Tate says everyone can do their part. It starts by simply paying attention.
“You know what’s normal and what isn’t normal,” he adds. “What looks right and what doesn’t look right. You know, it’s mostly just paying attention. We get focused on our own lives and, like what they call tunnel vision. Just be aware of what’s going on around you.”
The number one thing to remember: If you see something suspicious, say something.
Tate says if you see an emergency, call 911. In other situations, calling the law enforcement non-emergency line could be a better choice. He adds that many times, law enforcement could be aware of certain groups. They’re just looking for more evidence to use against the perpetrators.