Order up By bruna vieira

Today’s world is one of ease, with anything we need available to us at our fingertips. Food, clothes, and basically anything Amazon has to offer (so, everything) can be delivered straight to our doorstep.

But, recently, a specific business has been on the rise here in the U.S., and the entrepreneurs are selling something much bigger than pizzas and off-brand prom dresses: sex.

Just this past week, Minnesota prosecutors announced the criminal charges regarding a prostitution and human trafficking enterprise that has been going on for the past 2 years. With dozens of phones in use and thousands of ads put out, the traffickers were able to coordinate with men across the country. The crime ring spanned over 29 states and has been coined the “Uber of sex trafficking.” According to Fox 9 News, the sex trafficking victims “were brutally raped and beaten, and forced to work 12 to 14 hours each day with a quota of $800 per day,” and the women had to pay their traffickers a multitude of fees, from cost of transportation to hotel/housing, meaning that, in the end, the money they were offered never ended up in their pockets. As Washington County Attorney Pete Orput described it: “You could order up sex...Ordering a girl was like ordering up a pizza.”

In what kind of world is a human being at anyone’s disposal, treated like an object, and held to the same standards as a home-delivery? Ours, apparently.

Sex trafficking is becoming more and more common, with adults and children alike being targeted and victimized in what has turned into a booming business in the U.S. Women, children, and men are “hired,” often through offers of money and/or threats, and sexually exploited by a pimp, who gradually gains more control over them and increases the number of clients in order to make a larger profit.

Location of trafficking cases reported to the NHTH from 2007-2012 (Polaris Project)

In the last decade, almost 32000 cases of human sex trafficking were reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Yes, 32000. That's more than the capacity of Princeton University Stadium. And that number isn't going down, either. In fact, the NHTH found that there was about a 200% increase in the number of reported cases in 2016 compared to 2015. The vast majority of these cases were from California, with 1300 cases reported in 2016 alone, followed by Texas and Florida with 670 and 550 cases, respectively.

Yet no matter how big the numbers get, it seems like one problem simply won't go away: there aren't enough major steps being taken to alert the American public of this fast-growing issue in our society. People across the nation just aren't aware of how big this “industry” has gotten over the years, and they have no idea what to do should they or someone they know ever be put in that situation. Worst of all, our culture continuously persecutes the victims of sex trafficking, quick to label them as “whores” and “sluts.” This lack of knowledge and widespread negative stigma surrounding the topic is hurting those in danger of trafficking and making it easier for the public to turn a blind eye.

To most people, the words “sex trafficking” and “prostitution” mean the same thing, but that just isn't the case. Prostitution is usually a choice made by the woman herself, most times due to the lack of another option to provide for herself and her family, or as a way to make money without a degree. But being trafficked is never a choice. Traffickers control their victims by offering money they'll never receive, threatening them with violence or deportation, and even taking away passports and IDs. And that is the difference that must be brought to light.

It’s inhumane to stand around and let this happen. Going out and hunting down traffickers ourselves is a bit ludicrous, but there are other options for those looking to help. Organizations such as the Office on Women’s Health and Polaris Project have national and global statistics and more information on human trafficking beyond sexual exploitation. We need to become more involved in the world around us and help protect the victims, both present and future, of sex trafficking.

This is about more than just shutting down an underground enterprise; it’s about ending modern slavery in our country.

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