Twenty-nine million people around the globe are victims of human trafficking and an alarming number of them are right here in the United States.
For James Kofi Annan, the memories are painful. "Boys and girls are being abused in manners that are unthinkable," said Annan.
Annan is from Ghana. When he was six-years-old, he was taken by a fisherman and forced into child labor. Annan recalls, "It's really hard work and you're not fed properly and you're denied access to medical care, you're denied education."
At age 13, he managed to run away. He went on to receive an education and made it his life's mission to rescue other children through his organization, Challenging Heights.
"It provides a program of recovery and counseling for those children and then we re-integrate the children into our community," explained Annan.
Of the 29-million trafficked worldwide, 57,000 to 63,000 people are victims in the United States.
Laura Murphy, Associate Professor at Loyola University, heads up the Modern Slavery Research Project at the school. Murphy explains, "When we're talking about human trafficking, we're talking about people that are compelled to do work through force, fraud or coercion."
Murphy and her team work closely with state lawmakers to raise awareness about the issue. "Some people who maybe have immigration status issues, people who maybe have worked in the sex trade, are often considered criminals," said Murphy.
Together, they've seen new laws be passed directly addressing survivor's needs. "The laws are trying to make it so that people who may have made it into the criminal justice system have a way to get out if they're actually victims and that wasn't the case, to a great extent, before," said Murphy.
Because of their hard work, Louisiana was recently recognized as having some of the best responses to victims of human trafficking.
James Kofi Annan says it's a positive sign that the issue is being taken more seriously. Through his visits to the United States and other parts of the world, Annan hopes to continue to spread the word, so that there is help and hope waiting for those who can get away.
In the ten years since it's existence, Annan's organization, Challenging Heights has helped rescue over 1,200 children in Ghana.