The rate of human trafficking cases in Kansas increased by about 69 percent from 2011 to 2012.
The Kansas cases increased from 26 cases in 2011 to 44 cases in 2012.
Lara Vanderhoof, a teacher at Tabor College, presented information on human trafficking and modern-day slavery during a lecture Monday at The Well.
Vanderhoof as a social worker worked for the federal government dealing with Chinese human trafficking cases. She was forced to leave that job after threats were made against her life by the Chinese mafia.
She is now studying Kansas human trafficking for her doctoral dissertation.
Vanderhoof stressed the 44 cases are only the cases that have been reported. Many more instances of human trafficking go unreported.
Vanderhoof attributed the dramatic rise in reported cases to more education and awareness about the human trafficking problem.
An estimated 14,500 to 17,500 individuals are victims of human trafficking in the United States today, most of which are women and children.
Because human trafficking is cheaper, easier and more profitable than the drug trades, many gangs are turning to human trafficking to make money.
Although none of the Kansas cases during the last two years were reported in McPherson County, McPherson's proximity to Interstate 135 means that human traffickers are likely moving victims of human slavery through McPherson County, Vanderhoof said.
Human traffickers prey on both native-born Americans and those from impoverished areas of the world.
Forty-six percent of modern day slaves are involved in the sex trade, but individuals are also forced into labor in domestic service, agriculture, factories and the restaurant and hotel industry.
Most human trafficking victims are first pressed into service between the ages 12 and 14.
Some of the leading contributing factors to individuals falling prey to human traffickers include poverty, abuse and a poor home situation.
“Some kids think it is easier to run away. They think where they run to there will be someone to talk to. Someone offers them this, and they think, ‘OK, I'll try this.’ Then they are stuck,” Vanderhoof said.
Vanderhoof said a community effort will be required to address the human trafficking issue.
She said local residents need to ask the right questions, such as “Are you being paid from your work?” and “Can you leave your job?” “Where do you eat and sleep?” and “Have you or family been threatened?”
Concerned individuals also can look for signs of physical abuse, a subject being controlled, and a person who is depressed, fearful and overly submissive.
The federal government has kicked off a Look Beneath the Surface campaign in attempts to get more cases of human trafficking reported. Victims can call a toll-free anti-human trafficking hotline - 1-888-3737-888.
Under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, the federal government offers financial support, education, legalization assistance, language assistance, job training, education and counseling.
“Individuals might happen to see a poster and the number and know they can escape.
They can know 'I can get away finally,'” she said.