With the election fast approaching, birth certificates and tax returns seem to take precedence over serious issues, including sex trafficking. However, it’s still a major problem in the United States. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, at least 100,000 children are trafficked annually in the United States. On Sept. 25, President Obama specifically addressed the issue, calling on more people to act against this “modern slavery.” Obama’s speech, though promising, was a small push in the larger war against sex trafficking. This is an unsung issue in our country, and everyone from the president to the average citizen needs to step up efforts to put an end to such an atrocious industry.

At the Clinton Global Initiative on Sept. 25, President Obama announced plans to issue an executive order implementing a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to trafficking in government contracting. He emphasized proper training for police, judges and educators when dealing with victims, and the need for fundraising efforts to help victims. He also called on Congress to reauthorize the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which aims to combat trafficking both domestically and globally. The president rightfully designated human trafficking as “one of the greatest human rights battles of our era.”

Here in Michigan, we’re not so far removed from incidents of sex trafficking. In May 2012, a Detroit man was sentenced to three years in prison for “conspiring to lure Eastern European women to the U.S.” and forcing them to become strippers. In 2001, this same man lured two young Ukrainian women to the United States and forced them to serve as exotic dancers in Detroit. This is happening in Michigan, yet the state isn’t taking sufficient initiative to put an end to it.

One of the largest forums for online trafficking advertisements is Backpage.com, which has 70 percent of the market share in prostitution ads. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has spoken up against the website, condemning the escort ad listings as a front for sex trafficking in the United States. The website doesn’t validate age in its advertisements, nor does it make sure the person is willing to provide the sexual services posted.

Sex trafficking is deplorable and a preventable form of solicitation that we can greatly reduce and eventually eliminate completely through community and federal efforts. Backpage.com needs to remove their personal ads and follow in the steps of other websites, such as Craigslist, which is escort free and still successful.

Awareness needs to be raised to help prevent trafficking, aid victims and arrest those profiting from this industry. It’s the second largest and fastest growing criminal industry in the world, yet largely passed over by the media. By taking steps to prevent sex trafficking from happening, we, as a society, may be able to release the chains and finally become free from this modern form of slavery.

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