Since 2010, January marks a national, month-long awareness event to educate Americans on the realities of human trafficking. Often, people are unexposed to the fact that trafficking is a prominent global problem, and this situation allows perpetrators to excel. Even for those who know about modern slavery, it is hard to believe a crime of its magnitude occurs in an industrialized county.

A History of Awareness Month

To combat the international crisis, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime created the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking in 2007. This year signaled two hundred years since the abolishment of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Activists used the anniversary to recognize slavery still exists in the modern world, and the international community must work together to eradicate the human rights violation.

To take part in the Global Initiative, the United States Congress put forth a bill naming January 11th as the National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness in June 2007. The resolution’s purpose is to educate Americans and promote anti-trafficking efforts. Since the approval of the bill, January 11th is a day for the government and organizations to inform the public and reduce the anonymity of the crime.

The color blue represents the solidarity among abolitionists and comes from the Blue Heart Campaign of the United Nations. The blue heart symbol was created to signify the unloving, compassionless behavior of persons partaking in trafficking fellow humans. Most importantly, it is a reminder of the loneliness and sadness a victim experiences while in captivity, and the importance of belonging to anti-trafficking efforts.

Between 2008 and 2010 there was an increase in trafficking cases within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and a one day awareness event was not enough. On January 4, 2010, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation declaring January as Human Trafficking Awareness Month and continued the yearly proclamation for the rest of his presidency. President Donald Trump upheld the tradition, and now Trafficking Awareness Month and January 11th remain annual events in the United States.

The Blue Campaign

The Department of Homeland Security is the federal agency responsible for reducing and preventing instances of human trafficking. The Blue Campaign is the DHS movement aimed at preventing slavery through partnerships with other levels of government, nongovernmental agencies, and private organizations. The three main aspects of the Blue Campaign are public education, training, and immigration relief.

Partnerships, both formal and informal, are used to train communities in industries and locations with a high rate of occurrences. These include airline and other transportation employees, social workers, health professionals, and law enforcement. The DHS provides them with educational resources to recognize trafficking scenarios in a given industry and the appropriate response to suspicions. For law enforcement, online courses are available to understand the issue and the proper method for interviewing survivors. In California, the City of Los Angeles is the only formal governmental partner of the Blue Campaign; however, the DHS regularly conducts training to state and local agencies.

One agency with specialized training is the United States Border Patrol. Transnational traffickers often attempt to enter the United States undetected and travel to high-market counties, while also using the immigration status of victims as a means of control. Providing training to border agents is crucial to prevent further exploitation of an individual. Immigration relief is a necessary tactic to promote a sense of security for victims to come forward. The DHS offers short- and long-term immigration relief for non-citizens without any potential charges.

What Happens After Awareness Month Ends?

Human Trafficking Awareness Month is a small step in the movement against modern slavery. For real progress to be accomplished, people must continue to teach and learn about human trafficking throughout the year. Sharing educational tools on social media, shopping from fair trade organizations, advocating for beneficial policies, contacting government representatives, and volunteering with a local organization are all ways you can help during the year.

Make a difference locally by sponsoring a room in our safe house for a survivor of sex trafficking. Learn more on our Guardian page.