Disasters disrupt lives and can often make people feel like they have no one to turn to and nowhere to go. These situations and feelings can make people more vulnerable to exploitation, including human trafficking.
Human trafficking is when people use force, fraud or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women and children are trafficked worldwide. Human traffickers use disaster situations to take advantage of vulnerable survivors. According to the Administration for Children and Families, incidents of human trafficking have been reported after numerous disasters, including hurricanes Katrina, Irma and Harvey.
Disaster can leave people separated from family and friends, displaced from their home, unable to earn an income, without transportation, and severed from support services. Specific communities and individuals may be at a higher risk of trafficking, such as those with physical, emotional or cognitive impairments, LGBTQI+, low income, or survivors of gender-based violence.
The emergency management community, as well as community and faith-based leadership, plays an important role in combating these dangers and helping people in times of disaster and distress. Preventing human trafficking is a team effort that can make a big difference during recovery efforts.
Here are five ways we can work together to prevent human trafficking:
- Take a stand and wear blue. January 11is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Wear blue to help spread awareness. Learn more about the campaign at on the #WearBlueDay DHS website.
- Understand the risk factors. To prevent individuals from being exploited, it’s important to recognize the risk factors and indicators of human trafficking. You should seek to better understand the victim’s perspective. One way to do this is by using the Blue Campaign Resources | Homeland Security (dhs.gov) which includes, a faith-based community toolkit, available in English and Spanish.
- Know what to do and who to contact to report it. Share resources with your community at local events and public gatherings. You can report suspected human trafficking to federal law enforcement by calling 1-866-347-2423. You can get help from the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.
- Expand awareness in your community. Educate yourself and your faith community on what human trafficking is and how to recognize the signs of exploitation of another person. This is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Learn more on the Blue Campaign website.
- Understand how vulnerable communities are impacted. Not every person has equal access to the resources they need. You can help make sure they do. If you don’t know where to start, watch this recorded webinar: Addressing Racial Equity in Communities Vulnerable to Human Trafficking. You can also contact FEMA’s Office of Equal Rights for additional information on how to address inequalities.
Emergency managers, first responders, disaster volunteers and community leaders are in unique positions to play a vital role in human trafficking prevention after disasters. Following these steps is a good start and could help protect survivors and reach the people who most need help. Visit the DHS Blue Campaign website for more information on human trafficking and resources available for your community.