The U.S. State Department estimates that 800,000 human trafficking victims cross international borders each year. The United States is often a destination for many of these victims, where they are held in what many human rights activists consider modern day slavery.
Some of those activists participated in the Human Rights Accords in Dayton Ohio, a two-day conference to help raise awareness about the problems victims face. The conference occurred this week as U.S. law enforcement agencies are engaged in a nationwide crackdown on human trafficking.
Sharla Musabih has watched the Emirate of Dubai transform from a small town into one of the largest and fastest growing cities in the Middle East.
Dubai's growth has made it an attractive destination for people from poorer areas looking for work. According to Musabih, it has also attracted criminals looking for victims in the dark underworld of human trafficking.
"A lot of women are coming in victims of agents that go out to rural areas and promise them wonderful jobs," said Musabih.
But according to Musabih, those wonderful jobs often lead these women into forced labor and prostitution.
Musabih has led a sometimes solitary effort to help fight for the rights of victims of human trafficking in Dubai. Her job became increasingly difficult as Dubai's population grew. Her work has recently attracted unwelcome attention in Dubai and she is now living in the United States.
"I think I was a very loud voice for the victims," said Musabih. "I was basically exposing things that were going on. I was kind of pushed out and then slandered in the media."
These are some of the experiences Musabih shared with U.S. law enforcement and social agencies gathered at the University of Dayton, Ohio for the Human Trafficking Accords. Director of the University's Human Rights Program Mark Ensalaco says one of the targets of the conference is to shed light on a growing problem in the United States.
"It would be a terrible misconception on the part of Americans to think that this crime of human trafficking, or modern day slavery, is confined to the Third World. It's everywhere, and it's in the United States as well," said ensalaco.
Polaris Project, one of the largest anti-trafficking organizations in the United States, estimates as many as 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year. They also estimate as many as 244,000 American youth are vulnerable to exploitation.
To combat the growing problem, Ensalaco said in late October the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initiated Operation Cross Country IV, a nationwide crackdown on human trafficking.
"They arrested dozens of pimps and freed more than fifty sex slaves," he said. "Many of them children in Ohio, the youngest was 10."
Ensalaco says the recent arrests reinforce the reality that human trafficking is not just an international problem, but also a local one affecting every community in the United States. Ensalaco said he hopes the conference is the first of many would help educate the public as well as law enforcement to reach the goal of ending human trafficking.