Modernized Slavery

Veronica Haywood, NLC San Antonio

In 2002 Elizabeth Smart, at the age 14, was kidnapped from her Salt Lake City home at knifepoint by religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell. She was held captive for nine months raped repeatedly by Mitchell and his wife, Wanda Barzee.

Smart stated in interviews following her rescue that she is often asked why she didn’t run from her captors. She explained most don’t understand the fear and manipulation in those situations.

Like Smart, there are many horrific child abductions and human trafficking cases daily. In Texas, a father was booked into the Rockwall County Jail on a $1 million bond after he was charged with purchasing or selling a child for sex. In 2017 Operation Cross Country XI, a collaboration of the FBI and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, rescued 84 children and arrested 120 individuals involved in the sex trafficking crackdown.

Human trafficking is the most common form of modern-day slavery. Estimates place the number of its domestic and international victims in the millions, mostly females and children enslaved in the commercial sex industry for little or no money. According to UNICEF every two minutes a child is being prepared for sexual exploitation.

Elizabeth Smart

The reality is slavery is strong and continuing to grow. In 2016, Human trafficking in the United States rose 35.7 percent from the previous year, according to data from the National Human Trafficking Hotline. In 2017, California was the number one state with 705 cases followed by Texas with 433 and Florida with 329[1]. Iowa, Wisconsin, and Indiana reported the fewest cases with 42, 47, and 50 reported cases. “Human trafficking happens everywhere, and people think, ‘Oh, well, I live in a nice neighborhood, I live in a nice city, it doesn’t happen here,’ but it does,” said Smart.

Human trafficking and human smuggling are two differents terms that are not interchangeable, but often misused. Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. It includes any act in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age. Human smuggling is defined as the importation of people into the United States involving deliberate evasion of immigration laws. Individuals consent to being smuggled. The transaction is mutual and ends upon arrival at desired destination[2].

There are many organizations around the country to include Safe Horizon, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and Not For Sale. “We need to help make sure we have resources in place, so that when we are able to rescue these victims of human trafficking that they have somewhere to go, and they can receive the support and help and the therapy and counseling that they need,” said Smart. “If you don’t have support, if you don’t have somewhere safe you can go, if you don’t have someone to talk to, if you don’t have that, the chances of going back into trafficking I’d say are pretty high.”

Recognizing potential red flags and indicators can help you act on your gut feeling that something is wrong and report it. The following list is provided from National Human Trafficking Hotline:

Common Work and Living Conditions:

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior:

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health:

  • Lacks medical care and/or is denied medical services by employer
  • Appears malnourished or shows signs of repeated exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or of what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is a national anti-trafficking hotline serving victims and survivors of human trafficking and the anti-trafficking community in the United States. The toll-free hotline is available to answer calls from anywhere in the country, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year in more than 200 languages. The National Hotline can also be accessed by emailing, submitting a tip through the online tip reporting form, and visiting the web portal at

Veronica Haywood is a registered nurse,lactation consultant, women’s health nurse practitioner student, and co-founder of her nonprofit Latched Support. She is also a member of the New Leaders Council-San Antonio Executive Board, a 2017 NLC San Antonio fellow, and a NLC Life Entrepreneurship trainer. She can be reached at