It’s been a rocky year. Aside from the global pandemic, numerous social issues have been brought to light, bringing people to their knees. For many people, it’s fair to say that 2020 has been one of the most painstaking, eye-opening, and overwhelming years that our generation has experienced. The Black Lives Matter movement brought a much-needed awareness to systemic racism, and as riots for racial equality took over the world, news about human sex trafficking hit mainstream media at the drop of a hat.

At first, information regarding Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender, spread like wildfire. Epstein owned a private island, coined Little Saint James in the United States Virgin Islands, and the alleged horrors of abuse that occurred within the confines of the 70-acre land. Most of Epstein’s victims were merely children, and they will spend years suffering from the exploitation he subjected them to, despite his untimely death in 2019, which was deemed a suicide in his jail cell.

The news of Jeffrey Epstein undoubtedly carried a whirlwind of education, awareness, and information regarding human sex trafficking for unknowing (and ignorant) Americans, Canadians, and human citizens, however, the media wasn’t done there. Shortly after, a large mainstream online shopping outfitter was accused of purchasing, selling, and exploiting missing children and sex slaves. Though the accusations have not been confirmed or denied, the suggestions have resulted in many people seeking more evidence of human trafficking. A network that was once mainly underground has since become widely known and openly discussed.

Blake Lively, a popular American actress and outspoken activist, took the podium at the Power of Women event held by Variety Magazine to discuss sexual exploitation and child pornography. Her speech, which began with, “I’m here as a momma,” was heart wrenching. Lively touched on shocking statistics and the explicit content that these monsters misuse. “The average abuser abuses between 50 and 100 children in their lifetime,” Lively explained, before following up with, “Between 55 and 90 percent of people viewing it are actually hands-on abusers or will become abusers.”

Despite the best efforts of the abuser at keeping the crime underground, the United States is known for being one of the worst countries for sex trafficking. Children are often sold as sex slaves for a significant profit. Supply and demand have made the numbers skyrocket, and the FBI has had a difficult time uncovering the ring. Abusers have been known to take their victims internationally to better allude officials. According to Fox News, a staggering 199,000 incidents of sex trafficking occur in the United States annually.

For victims, it is a difficult lifestyle to escape once trapped, and the future can look bleak. Families may begin to think their loved ones have been murdered. In an effort to rehabilitate victims, emergency shelters and long-term housing placements are available; However, the road to recovery is a long one, should the opportunity even be awarded to them.

With 2020 shedding light on such an excruciating issue, awareness has allowed the general public to raise their voices about an issue that many of us have thought was a myth, or, at the very least, a foreign issue. Despite some of the population turning a blind eye, it’s happening right under our noses, in our communities. Human trafficking poses a risk to our children, sisters, and friends.

To get involved in the solution and eradication of human trafficking, there are several different organizations you can support, including the Polaris Project, Stop the Traffik, and the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women.

By Celina Dawdy