• GHT

In honor of African American History Month

Trafficking of African Americans in the United States


By Nicole Caldwell, Undergraduate Student: B.A. in French with a minor in Political Science, University of Missouri in St. Louis (UMSL); Gateway Human Trafficking Intern


A 300+ year history of institutional racism in America has created economic and social inequities that heighten the likelihood that African Americans could become victims of human trafficking. In honor of African American History Month, this article will provide information about the vulnerabilities to trafficking that African American members of our community might face. Ⅰ. Trafficking Risk Factors There are a variety of factors that can increase someone’s likelihood of being trafficked. These factors include: substance abuse issues, living in poverty, past incidents of sexual trauma, time spent in foster care or the criminal justice system, and a lack of social support systems. Traffickers often use these vulnerabilities to manipulate, coerce, and threaten trafficking victims. For example, a trafficker might exploit someone’s substance abuse problems by providing them with drugs in exchange for sexual or labor services. Sadly, African Americans-on average-are exposed to more of these risk factors than other ethnic groups which increases their likelihood of being trafficked. In 2019, The Pew Research Center estimated that 31% of African American children (under the age of 18) were living in poverty. In comparison, 10% of White children were living in poverty[1]. African American children also made up 26% of the American foster care system in 2012[2]. The Sentencing Project discovered that African American adolescents are 5 times as likely to be sent to a juvenile correctional facility than white adolescents[3]. This statistic is especially concerning because many trafficking victims might engage in criminal activity while being trafficked. African American trafficking victims engaging in prostitution are more likely to be treated like a criminal rather than a victim. African American students might not even feel safe at school, depriving them of important social connections and support systems. African American girls represented 43% of arrests at school despite accounting for only 17% of the total female school population[4]. A survey also reported that 67% of African American girls reported being touched or grabbing inappropriately at school[5]. African American LGBTQIA+ students expressed discomfort at school as well with over 50% expressing that they felt unsafe and/or were verbally harassed on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. Students without strong support systems are at a higher risk of being manipulated by a trafficker. Ⅱ. Stereotypes and Racism Harmful stereotypes about African American can prevent trafficking victims from being identified and treated like victims. For centuries, African American children and adults have been villainized and deemed as sexually promiscuous or aggressive. These stereotypes influence the way that members of the community might interact with African American trafficking victims. A survey found that 7 out of 10 African American teenagers believe that African American characters in television were portrayed as aggressive and over 70% thought the media sent a message to African American girls that their sexuality was the most important quality about them[6]. These deeply ingrained biases and stereotypes promote narratives that dehumanize African American, increasing the likelihood that social service providers might not treat African American victims of trafficking as real victims. These stereotypes can also erode social connections and positive self image, making African American youth more vulnerable to trafficking. One of the most crucial professions in identifying trafficking victims is the medical profession. One study suggests that over 88% of trafficking victims came into contact with a medical provider at some point while being trafficked. An attentive medical professional could potentially save a life. Unfortunately, institutional inequality and stereotypes about African Americans can influence the ability to visit a medical provider and the medical care they receive. In 2019, approximately 13.6% of African Americans did not have health insurance. Although the Affordable Care Act has improved coverage for all ethnic groups, African Americans are still more likely to be uninsured than White or Asian Americans. Individuals without health insurance are less likely to seek out medical care due to the financial burden. Uninsured trafficking victims might not have the necessary resources to seek medical care. African Americans, regardless of socioeconomic status, still might face inferior medical care compared to White Americans. The American Association of Medical Colleges revealed that 40% of white medical trainees believed at least 1 falsehood about African American patients, such as the belief that African American people have physically thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings. African American patients were also 22% less likely to receive pain relievers than white patients[7]. A medical professional with racial biases or myths might not be able to recognize signs of trafficking and would fail to help the victim. Ⅲ. Local Community It is imperative to recognize the societal prejudices and institutional racism that could prevent our community from preventing, recognizing, and solving the trafficking crisis. In St. Louis region alone, 59.6% of trafficking survivors were African Americans. African Americans account for 25% of trafficking survivors in Missouri despite representing 11% of the population[8]. Educating social service providers and citizens in our community about trafficking signs and risk factors can help save many victims. As a Missouri community, it is crucial that we all evaluate our own biases and strive to eradicate racism from our community in order to ensure the well-being and success of all of our residents.

Resources: [1]https://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/unlocking_opportunity_for_african_american_girls_report.pdf (p.7) [2]https://rights4girls.org/wp-content/uploads/r4g/2015/02/African-American-Girls-and-Trafficking.pdf [3]https://www.sentencingproject.org/publications/black-disparities-youth-incarceration/#:~:text=African%20Americans%205X%20More%20Likely,October%202015%20and%20recently%20released.&text=This%20fact%20sheet%20addresses%20black%2Dwhite%20placement%20disparities. [4]https://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/unlocking_opportunity_for_african_american_girls_report.pdf (p.16) [5]https://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/unlocking_opportunity_for_african_american_girls_report.pdf (p.25) [6]https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2655840 [7]https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/how-we-fail-black-patients-pain [8]Human Trafficking in Missouri and Metro East St. Louis: Provider Based Needs Assessment and Demographic Snapshot, 2019

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