Human Trafficking in Alaska

The number of human trafficking cases reported in Alaska is very small compared to other states with the highest occurrence such as California and New York, however it is important to note that the crime DOES occur in Alaska. According to the statistics provided by the National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH), which recorded the signals that referenced Alaska each year, a total of approximately 277 calls and 63 cases has been reported since 2007 to June 2018; in 2018, 29 calls and 12 cases has been reported in which 80 victims had high indicators of human trafficking, while 47 were moderate (Alaska). The data were then divided into respective categories that reveal the age, gender, type of trafficking, and citizenship of the victims. In their 2015 state report, NHTH ranked Anchorage 78th in the total number of calls (113), 77th for the number of calls per capita (38), 83rd in total number of cases (19), and 85th for cases per capita (Ranking of the 100 Most Populous U.S. Cities). Alaska’s ranking in NHTH’s report indicate that although it’s not on top of the list, the state definitely does not have the lowest rate of human trafficking. A recently published study by Loyola University New Orleans revealed further information regarding human trafficking in Anchorage. Researchers from the study conducted a survey in ten cities across the country and found that of the homeless youngsters that were receiving assistance from the Anchorage shelter, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 5 boys reported being victims of sex trafficking (Boots). With Anchorage having the largest population in the state of Alaska, this statistic indicates large numbers of trafficking cases. Of the ten cities studied, Anchorage ranked the highest in terms of trafficking prevalence. In her interview of 65 teens that utilize the Covenant House in Anchorage in 2016, the author of the Loyola study”Laura Murphy”discovered that of the 65 individuals, 27% of women and 17% of men were victims of sex trafficking, while 43% of LGBT youths faced hiring discrimination for jobs that had pushed them into the sex market (Boots). Criminals force or exploit their targets, but circumstances also play a role in occurrence of the crime”situations forced by our society’s lack of empathy. A wide range of factors including homelessness, mental health disorders, trauma, and time in foster care all contribute to the vulnerability of Alaska’s youths and children to human trafficking. In the Loyola study, a large number of the victims originally lived far from Anchorage and they couldn’t go back home [and] didn’t want to go home (Boots). This caused them to either be homeless or seek refuge in covenant houses, increasing their chances of being a victim due to their lack of awareness about the crime’s nature. Murphy also discovered from her interviewees that 77 percent of youths trafficked for sex were homeless at the time it happened (Boots). Various factors determine people’s susceptibility to human trafficking however it seems that homeless is on top of the ladder. Mental disorders, trauma, and substance abuse also play a role in one’s vulnerability to this crime. Josh Louwerse, a youth engagement program coordinator in Anchorage, claimed that refugees in the shelter experienced trauma in some ways and 40% of youths served by the shelter have a mental health diagnosis (O’Malley). The combination of these two factors reduces a person’s capacity to thoroughly evaluate situations and therefore will most likely become a victim. A separate situation from the study also revealed that the staff of Covenant House worked with 20 teens (all had mental disorders) who had experienced trafficking after traveling to different towns to seek medical assistance only to be soon discharged without a place to stay in (Boots). These individuals become homeless, and in their desperation to meet their basic needs, will fall victim to human trafficking. In an interview with Heidi Ross, a convicted sex trafficker, she claimed that the majority of the youths that sought her shared similar conditions: homeless, substance abuser, emotionally unstable, and had difficult childhood (O’Malley). Assuming the responsibility of and caring for her mother who suffered from Schizophrenia, Ross knew and exploited the weakness of these teenagers for her own profit. In addition to psychological and physical factors, the economy also contributes to the widespread incidence of human trafficking. With Alaska’s increasing popularity as a tourist spot and the demand for sex, the tourism industry incites the sex trade. Some offenders also bring their victims in Alaska and prefer Native Alaskan women because of the high pay for sex in Alaska. Anyone can become a victim of human trafficking, but the most vulnerable includes children (teens), those with devastating past or experienced abuse, and poverty-stricken individuals or from other countries, and Native Americans. Alaska’s excessively high rate of domestic violence contribute to the idea that runaway teens are easy targets for traffickers one in three kids on the street will be forced into prostitution (Pavlakis). To escape the pain that children endure from their abusive parent(s), they tend to run away from home, allowing traffickers to take advantage of their ignorance. Numerous people of all types, both citizens and immigrants, come to Alaska for one major reason: to seek opportunities for a better life. According to Nila Fankhouser, a social service consultant, immigrants and refugees who are unable to speak and understand English easily fall victims to traffickers because they often do not know who to trust or who to contact if they are in trouble (Pavlakis). With the language barrier and their lack of awareness and assistance, these groups will most likely accept any job offers from anyone and fail to recognize the danger that looms nearby. Native Alaskans also face danger in their own home. Most traffickers prey on Native Alaskan women and younger children moving from rural villages to Anchorage, believing that their ethnicity will appeal to more buyers (Pavlakis). Depending on the customer’s background, they may not know the ethnicity of the women and traffickers can advertise them as a different race. Troy Williams particularly targeted teenage Alaska Natives with similar backgrounds:

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