Even if you don’t live near our nation’s southern border, you undoubtedly hear frequently about human trafficking. So often, in fact, that many people must question just how pervasive the problem really is.

The answer is a disturbing one. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a child goes missing or is abducted every forty seconds in the United States. By the time you finish reading this, four or five children will be taken from their guardians.

The problem is likely far worse near our nation’s border. Exactly how bad is difficult to say due to inadequate statistics and a common misunderstanding of the issue. What we do know is that Center for Disaster Philanthropy data indicates unaccompanied children crossing the border soared from 30,557 in 2020 to 144,834 in 2021. That increase is, undoubtedly, accompanied by an increase in human trafficking.

But human trafficking is not just a border crisis. Our country’s second-biggest illegal enterprise affects every state, county, and city. Though it can stem from migration, other factors often include homelessness and a lack of economic stability.

When it comes to combatting human trafficking, it can all too often feel as though the problem is simply being shifted from community to community instead of being addressed at its root. Truly addressing it will require every citizen and community to commit themselves to fixing the problem once and for all. Simply put, it requires grassroot efforts.

The first step is to raise awareness that this crisis is real and widespread. As a committed voice against trafficking, I often hear that “it’s not happening in my community, so why should I care?” Too many Americans are, unfortunately, oblivious to the fact that it almost certainly is happening in their communities in some way, shape or form. We need more community-wide awareness campaigns and school programs.

The ultimate goal of awareness is to transform passivity about human trafficking into action against it. It’s time for individuals to ask themselves, “What am I doing to help those children, women and men who cannot help themselves?” That question drives the work of those actively combatting human trafficking and, quite frankly, it is the core question that separates good, decent, and honorable people from those whose indifference contribute to this crisis.

We must also recognize that we have a responsibility to hold those accountable who commit such heinous acts against humanity. There are areas of our country where state and federal laws are not being enforced for a multitude of reasons.

This makes it hard to trust that tougher, future policies will be realized if we are not enforcing laws on the books today. Furthermore, if there are laws that are not being enforced because they are not working, it is essential that we find out why. This is especially true when it comes to ignoring the brute force of coercion and not holding the powerful and influential accountable for their involvement in trafficking.

This also goes hand-in-hand with electing the right leadership that is fully committed to the issue. Our elected officials should have to prove – not just talk about – what they are actively doing to protect our children. Even if you agree with candidates and officeholders on other issues, they don’t deserve our support if they aren’t doing anything to protect the innocent from trafficking.

Additionally, we implore the media to use its collective power for good. It’s imperative for media outlets to commit themselves to telling every last story of those who have been trafficked in the communities they serve.

The opportunities for these platforms to educate, assist and raise awareness are endless and we are, sadly, left questioning why they aren’t taking advantage of their ability and responsibility to amplify the voices of victims.

Our children and nation cannot afford for us to remain passive. The time to act is long overdue. What will you do to better your community and combat human trafficking?