The Meaning of Blue

Raising Awareness about Human Trafficking


The color blue represents human trafficking prevention chosen by the Blue Heart Campaign to protect and defend human dignity.

“Human trafficking is an open wound on the body of contemporary society, a scourge upon the body of Christ. It is a crime against humanity.” —Pope Francis

Human trafficking is defined as the action of illegally transporting people from one area to another for the purpose of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. These are the two main forms of human trafficking.

U.S. law defines sex trafficking as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for a commercial sex act that’s induced by force, fraud, coercion, or if the person is under 18. 

Labor trafficking is the same except its purpose is subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.

For many, the idea of human trafficking is something that we watch in the movies or something that takes place in developing countries. It is this ignorance that has allowed this crime against humanity to grow.

The United States was ranked as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking alongside Mexico and the Philippines in a 2018 report. Through  information sourced from the Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2019, the United States had 11,500 human trafficking cases reported, meaning that the actual number is higher. The most common type of trafficking was sex trafficking (8,248 reports), with the most common venues being illicit massage/spa businesses and pornography. 

California consistently has the highest human trafficking rates in the United States, with 1,507 cases reported in 2019. 1,118 of these cases were sex trafficking cases, 158 were labor trafficking, and 69 were both sex and labor. The remaining cases were not specified. Most of the sex trafficking cases reported in California were illicit massage and spa businesses and hotel or motel based.

Millions of people, men, women, and children– are trafficked each year both domestically and abroad. Globally, the International Labor Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking. It occurs anywhere and to anyone so it is imperative to be vigilant about this issue. 

Traffickers use violence, manipulation, or lie about well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to trap victims into dangerous situations. They take advantage of people using force, fraud, or coercion to obtain a form of work from them and rob them of their dignity and freedom. 

The Blue Heart Campaign is an organization working to combat human trafficking. The Blue Heart symbolizes the sadness of victims of trafficking and reminds us of the cold-hearted inhumanity of those who commit the heinous crime. All proceeds go toward the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children which helps and protects victims of human trafficking all over the globe. 

Victims often don’t seek help due to language barriers, fear of their traffickers and law enforcement. Traffickers find victims with psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability. They target people who are likely to become extremely dependent on them which forces them into tough situations. 

Noticing signs of human trafficking can help identify victims and essentially save lives. Various signs include: 

  • Disconnection from family, friends, organizations in the community
  • Unexplained absences, attendance from school dropping
  • Sudden behavioral changes
  • Signs of mental or physical abuse, as well as being disoriented or confused often
  • Bruises in various stages of healing
  • Malnutrition, water, sleep deprivation, or lack of medical care
  • Unsuitable or unstable living conditions
  • Living with unreasonable security measures resulting in lack of freedom of movement
  • Lack of personal possessions and official identification documents
  • Seemingly scripted or rehearsed responses with social interactions

(Sourced from Department of Homeland Security)

While not all of the indicators stated exist in every human trafficking situation, it’s important to be mindful and pay attention to those around you. It is also important to know that these signs can be present in situations where trafficking is not present. 

Notre Dame actively works towards raising awareness about human trafficking and informing its students. It is one of the topics covered in their Ethics and Morality class taught during sophomore year.

“It is one of the largest and [highest] grossing industries in the world. That’s why we talk about it in Ethics because it is a moral and ethical issue that is both global and domestic. Students should be made aware of how close to home the issue really is. The gravity of the issue even in Los Angeles makes it an important issue to talk about,” said Ms. Hayley Murphy, one of the Ethics teachers at Notre Dame. 

Common traps include sex trafficking disguised as texts from dating apps and Instagram messages claiming to be from the fashion industry and offering modeling gigs. “We want to make the students aware,” said Ms. Alvarez,Director of Campus Ministry and World Religions teacher. “We are trying to figure out how to bring up that topic in Immersion, especially because there is a misunderstanding of what human trafficking is an consists of. A lot of the time we think it’s about someone living in a developing country, when in fact it is very much alive in the United States.”

But awareness is not just about staying safe personally. Ms. Murphy said, “We understand the statistics of moral and ethical issues and also how we as moral agents approach these topics. As students get older, they have a clear understanding of these issues that they get an opportunity to vote on or be engaged in political discourse.”

“Even as students, you can advocate. Our community can be more aware of that so we can help somebody. You just never know,” Ms. Alvarez said.

Some of the populations most vulnerable to human trafficking in the U.S. inlcude American Indian and Alaska Native communities, the LGBTQ community, individuals with disabilities, undocumented migrants, runaway and homeless youth, as well as those in the welfare or juvenile justice system, temporary-guest workers, and low-income individuals. 

However, anyone can be a victim of human trafficking regardless of race, color, national origin, disability, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, education level, or citizenship status. 

The United States raises awareness of human trafficking through the State Department with U.S. embassies and consulates. 

The State Department started monitoring human trafficking in 1994 following the Soviet Union’s fall and migration flows that resulted from it. 

According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, human trafficking increased global concern over transnational criminal organizations and their use of trafficking. Growing TOC (transnational organized crime) activities in Mexico made the border of the United States vulnerable and enabled illegal causeways for crossings that could be used by other dangerous organizations.

The US State Department ranks nations by their efforts to combat human trafficking. They are categorized into Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 with Tier 1 being the best out of the three. Countries in Tier 1 fulfill all the Trafficking Victim Protection Act’s minimum requirements and continue to make efforts to eliminate trafficking in their nations. 

As of 2021, the countries labeled Tier 3 were Afghanistan, Algeria, Burma, China, Comoros, Cuba, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Iran, North Korea, Malaysia, Nicaraqua, Russia, South Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela. 

In 2010, President Obama dedicated January as National Human Trafficking Prevention month. January 11 marks National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. 

10 years before, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act was amended which created ways of prosecuting traffickers, preventing human trafficking, and protect victims and survivors of trafficking. The Trafficking in Persons Report that was released for 2010 was also the first time the United States was included. It was ranked alongside all the other countries evaluated in the world and represented the U.S.’s efforts to combat human trafficking. 

The TVPA added new prohibitions of forced labor, debt slavery, and sex trafficking as well as criminalizes all participation in those offenses, all of which are common in human trafficking. 

In following years, more legislation was added targeting specific trafficking schemes. 

In 2012, the Executive Order ‘Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal Contracts’ was issued. It prohibits federal contractors, subcontractors, and their employees from misleading recruitment scams, charging recruitment fees, and destroying identity documents of employees. In 2014, the Preventing Sex Trafficking and Strengthening Families Act combatted sex trafficking in foster care systems. 

In 2016, the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking convened for the first time. It was established by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act and is made up of survivors of human trafficking. It gives them an official platform to advise the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The council also makes recommendations to federal government policies and programs and gathers information to release an annual report on trafficking in the U.S.

The State Department launched its largest anti-trafficking program called the Program to End Modern Slavery in 2017.

Just last year, the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking was updated and released. 

With the emergence of COVID-19, human trafficking got worse during the pandemic. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime published a red alert report detailing the effects and stating that the rate of sex trafficking increased by 40%. Traffickers took advantage of the distress and instability that COVID caused both emotionally and financially. 

Your role in helping to end human trafficking is more significant than you may think. Know the signs and correct the myths about human trafficking by being educated. Think before you shop and research where your products are sourced and exactly who created them. Inform others and volunteer with anti-trafficking organizations in your community or figure out ways to support them.

Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Other options include texting HELP to BEFREE (233733), or emailing [email protected].

Raise your voice to save lives.