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  • Writer's pictureDiana Fletcher

Humans. For. Sale.

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

The trafficker was sitting with two younger men in the Haikou Airport in China. I watched the three men as they sat drinking coffee. I couldn’t understand the language but I understood the tone. I saw the trafficker watching a young woman he had sent to greet arriving passengers, but no one had gotten off the plane yet. He was keeping a close eye on her. Was a group of men arriving? One man? I didn’t want to think about what they were flying in to experience.

You may wonder how I knew he was a trafficker. I just knew.

However, I didn’t know what I was witnessing years before on the Ohio Turnpike. A young woman approached me as I walked back to my car. She nervously asked me for money, and told me that her friends didn’t have enough gas to get to a family event. It was an obvious lie. I glanced over at the car she had come from. A man, perhaps in his thirties, was sitting in the driver’s seat, and watching us. There were three other young woman in the back seat. Even though I knew she was lying, I felt sorry for her and gave her a few dollars.

I now know that it was part of her training, her grooming. Practice approaching people. Practice asking for money. Practice doing everything I tell you to do, and I will use you.

I relive that exchange often. I could have gotten the license plate number, and called the police. I could have pretended we were having a conversation as I gave her the hotline number. Maybe I could have helped her. But I didn’t know.

As a child, I hated the idea of slavery. It was incomprehensible to me that someone could own another person. I was so impressed by the Underground Railroad and hoped that if I had lived then, I would have been brave enough to do what the abolitionists did. When I read about Harriet Tubman, I was in awe. I’m still in awe of her work.

But, living in my protected world, I thought slavery was over. Done. It wasn’t a problem anymore.

And then at the end of 2012, I was online and I came across a story about a girl who had been kidnapped and trafficked. Sold.

As a slave.

In the United States.

My world tipped sideways. I kept reading and I was horrified. The more I read and researched, the more alarmed I became. This was an awful, terrifying and sick reality. I knew my life would never be the same. I couldn’t unknow what I now knew.

The next year I held an event to raise awareness because I knew that if I wasn’t aware, a lot of people weren’t aware. Barbara Amaya, an amazing woman and a survivor of sex trafficking and abuse, spoke along with Pittsburgh activists. WQED Pittsburgh filmed some of the event and used it in their award winning documentary about Human Trafficking in 2013, Pittsburgh Fights Back. (See below for link to watch)

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, hundreds of Indian men traveled to the US Gulf Coast to work as welders and pipe fitters on damaged oil rigs. They had been promised permanent US residency and a good job. Instead, they became trapped in what advocates are calling "one of the largest labor trafficking cases in US history." The men paid between $10,000 and $20,000 each to their recruiter, some selling all their family's possessions to make the trip. But they never got the green cards promised to them by the recruiter, and were forced to work in horrible living conditions with no money to send to their families.

As soon as I saw the massage parlor open up in Murrysville, PA, I knew they were trafficking people. I KNEW when I saw the covered windows. What business covers their windows like that?

I stood outside the building one day, so frustrated, looking at the covered basement windows in the small building, thinking, how can I get them out? But you can’t just bust into a business and make demands. I knew enough to know that you can’t try a rescue by yourself because the victims could end up suffering even more. I wasn’t the only one who noticed though, and residents and neighbors were contacting the trafficking hotline and the police. I know from listening to the FBI that it can be difficult to prepare a case and gather evidence against a business before you can make an arrest. It was two years before the police finally arrested the owner and the other people involved. There were three more massage parlors in the area that were busted at the same time. I wish it had happened sooner but at least it happened.

By now, everyone has heard about the rapist, Jeffrey Epstein and his terrible behavior. Power and money in the hands of pedophiles and rapists have hurt more people than we can count. I can’t even write about him right now as I am too angry. But that too, was trafficking.

Everywhere in the world, children and women are being prostituted. Men and women are being forced to work with no pay, on farms, in restaurants, and in hotels. This is happening everywhere. In every country, in every state, in every town.

It is estimated that 40 million people are enslaved right now. About 20 million are trapped in labor slavery, about 5 million are exploited in sex slavery, about 15 million are enslaved in forced marriages. Women and girls account for 71 percent of the total; children are about 25 percent of the total. Estimates range from 300,000 to 400,000 slaves in the United States.



Ranking behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking, human trafficking is estimated to be the third largest international crime industry, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Human trafficking earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, according to the ILO report from 2014. The following is a breakdown of profits, by sector:

$99 billion from commercial sexual exploitation

$34 billion in construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities

$9 billion in agriculture, including forestry and fishing

$8 billion dollars is saved annually by private households that employ domestic workers under conditions of forced labor

I am encouraged by stories of rescues. Sharon Richard of Toledo, Ohio and her cousin were kidnapped as young teenagers and forced into prostitution. When Sharon approached a truck driver to offer a “date” he noticed she was very young and he felt something was wrong. He alerted the authorities who were able to rescue the girls who had been beaten and threatened. He noticed and he did something about it. You can help, too.

Keep your eyes open for the older guy talking to teenage girls and boys at the mall.

Pay attention to the new older boyfriend of your friend’s daughter who keeps giving her gifts.

Notice the employee who seems to be controlled by someone in an unhealthy fashion.

Pay attention at truck stops, corners, hotels, restaurants and casinos. offer tips to help people recognize when someone is being trafficked.

Don’t try to help anyone escape, but please alert authorities.

1 (888) 373-7888 National Human Trafficking Hotline

SMS: 233733 (Text "HELP" or "INFO")

Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week

Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages

Pittsburgh FBI Trafficking Hotline 412-432-4122

No one should be kept in captivity.

All people have the right to live free lives with dignity and respect.

Let’s help everyone to have the freedom that all humans deserve.

Please share your thoughts and comments by scrolling down to the comment section.

Resources and Information

Amaya, Barbara Nobody’s Girl: A Memoir of Lost Innocence, Modern Day Slavery and Transformation

Fletcher, Diana PDFs and handouts for parents and teens

Flores, Theresa The Slave Across the Street

Murrysville, Westmoreland County, Massage Parlor Arrests

National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Shared Hope Shared Hope International is dedicated to bringing an end to Sex Trafficking.

TraffickCam TraffickCam enables you to help combat sex trafficking by uploading photos of the hotel rooms you stay in when you travel. Traffickers regularly post photographs of their victims posed in hotel rooms for online advertisements. These photographs are evidence that can be used to find and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. In order to use these photos, however, investigators must be able to determine where the photos were taken. The purpose of TraffickCam is to create a database of hotel room images that an investigator can efficiently search, in order to find other images that were taken in the same location as an image that is part of an investigation.

Trafficking Statistics


U.S. Gulf Coast Trafficking

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