I had just gotten off of my closing shift at work and headed to the local Wal-Mart to pick up some cereal to satisfy my late-night cravings. I was driving a 2007 Ford Focus that continuously was always dying on me, partially because I hadn’t yet mastered how to drive a manual transmission. As I arrived at Wal-Mart, I chose to park underneath one of the lights about halfway through the parking lot and picked up my phone to call my mom to see if she needed me to pick up anything for her. While the phone was ringing, I noticed a white van, rusting along the corners with the windows blacked out and the sliding door or the right pull up directly in the parking spot to the left of me and four middle aged Hispanic men got out. I knew that something wasn’t right, and uneasiness engulfed my entire mind and body. As they surrounded my car, my mom answered the phone. My heart pounded and my adrenaline began to rush through my veins like lightning. They surrounded my car when who appeared to be the oldest began to speak to me. “Hey beautiful, you got a lighter?”. At this same time, he reached for my door. I quickly pushed the clutch down, shifted my car into reverse and prayed that my car didn’t die on me. My mom answered the phone at the same time and said, “hey honey, what’s up?” and I stumbled for my words. “Mom, I almost got kidnapped”. Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the United States and is one of the most popular reasons why somebody can go missing. Millions of people go missing year and hundreds every day. We are presented with an immense problem that devalues each and every single last drop of our own self-worth and many of us are completely unaware that the problem even exists. I myself was only placed in this situation for a couple minutes, but this is a memory that is and forever will be engrained within my memory until the day that I die. 

            How would you like to be forced to do whatever somebody tells you to, never being able to tell somebody no and not having the right to think- or much less act for yourself? The Oxford dictionary defines human trafficking as “the action or practice of illegally transporting people from one country or area to another, typically for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.” According to the International Labor organization, forced labor creates an annual amount of $150 Billion in a year through illegal profits. Those who are forced into labor suffer extreme and inhumane work conditions, most frequently in agriculture, mining or manufacturing jobs. Victims are threatened if they show any disagreement with the traffickers and can be physically abused or even killed if they do not comply. The victims of human trafficking have no say as to whether or not they are trafficked and have no freedom to oppose such abuse. They themselves become the victims of modern-day slavery. Studies now show that oftentimes traffickers are motivated because human trafficking is extremely profitable, and it is very low risk because many people are unaware that they might be trafficked (NHTH). 

            I myself was one of those people who had no idea that sex trafficking was as popular as it is. Growing up, I would watch a lot of crime shows occasionally seeing episodes based off of sex trafficking rings and would think to myself “Man, I’m so happy that doesn’t happen anywhere around here.” I have never been more wrong. In 2018, 14 people were rescued in Hemet, CA from a sex trafficking ring. The three traffickers would physically, emotionally and sexually abuse their victims and forced them to endure horrific sexual exploitation. Of the 14 people who were rescued, 10 of them were minors (Riverside County News). Upon finding this out, I was completely shocked and disgusted. But what surprised me more was that the average age somebody enter human trafficking is between the age of 11-14 (AHC). I thought of myself at the age of 11 when there seemed to be no cares in the world- no bills, no drama or no work to go to. All I cared about was finishing up my homework in enough time to go play outside with my friends. How is it fair that children, in the most innocent years of their lives are forced to sell their body’s out to other people when they should be having the time of their life? Without a doubt, the answer to the question is that it isn’t fair. Nobody should be stripped of the right to tell people no and nobody should be forced to do something that they don’t want to.

            Never would I have ever realized that craving a bowl of cereal would open my eyes to the world that we live in as much as it has. I was one of the many people in the world who didn’t realize how common and local human trafficking really is. Traffickers don’t value their victims’ lives- and much less their opinions. They will devalue you in any way that they can as long as it benefits them in any way possible. Anyone, including yourself can be forced into human trafficking- whether it be through sexual or forced labor. Even though human trafficking is as rampant as it is, we still can’t live our lives in fear. It is important that we all pay attention to our surrounding environments while enjoying the life that we have. We’re only given once chance- so let’s make the most of it while we still can.