SEATTLE, Washington — In March, the world seemed to stop spinning. Clothing stores, museums, and many restaurants shared one commonality: the word “closed” written across their front doors. The COVID-19 pandemic brought a drastic halt to normalcy. While life for many people pressed paused, others hit fast-forward, including those in the sex trafficking industry. However, organizations like the Hard Places Community are working to combat sex trafficking.
The Hard Places Community
The Hard Places Community is an NGO that fights against sex trafficking. The organization spoke with The Borgen Project about the rise in cases of sexual abuse during COVID-19. After nearly three months in quarantine, the Hard Places Community has been back on the ground for the past two weeks and has already seen 14 cases of sexual abuse, more than they typically see in a month. A large percentage of perpetrators are tourists from either America or Europe. Unfortunately, many families who rely on tourism are without income, sending children begging on the street. This has brought new children into the local sex trade.
Due to the pandemic, there has been an ever-increasing gap between sexual abuse cases and the absence of non-government and government aid. Alli Mellon, the founder of The Hard Places Community, touched on this topic saying, “On a local level, pedophiles who were already on the ground in Cambodia have been free to abuse children without the presence of NGO’s and investigators around, as we’ve been in quarantine.” Estimates show that 75% of humanitarian aid groups are temporarily unable to provide services. Consequently, children who once relied on organizations like The Hard Places Community to provide them with daily food and protection have been left standing alone.
Increased Risk During COVID-19
There is a high threat of COVID-19 exposure for victims of human trafficking. Additionally, the virus poses a deadly threat to victims because many sexually exploited people do not have access to proper healthcare or the ability to find help should they contract the virus. Asylum is also not guaranteed during this time as a number of safe houses have shut their doors to newcomers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Since sex trafficking victims cannot find shelter or turn to sex trafficking to put food on the table, some organizations, like The Arise Foundation, have created emergency funds to provide relief. It has helped support more than 24,000 people who are victims of modern-day slavery. The Arise Foundation provides food and sanitation supplies to those who must beg for survival and are often stuck far from home.
While there is no perfect answer to combating this ever-evolving virus, there are ways the government and non-profits can help. Those who are at risk for becoming part of the sex-trafficking industry need temporary funding to keep them out of the sex trade as the world gets back on its feet. Those who are already involved in sex trafficking need to have resources readily available at all times, even during a pandemic, that provides a way out. Thankfully, many NGOs, like The Hard Places Community, are now able to put their boots back on the ground, creating life changes with each step they take.
– Chatham Kennedy