It’s Human Trafficking Awareness Day, so I decided to share a research paper written for my college class a while ago. In my study of the book of Proverbs last year I noticed how frequently and passionately God commands that we advocate for the poor and oppressed, and victims of human trafficking are some of the most voiceless sufferers in the world. This year one of my goals is to take the steps – small though they may be – that I can to help in the fight for the rescue from and prevention of this horror. My first step is to share this paper in the hope that it will educate and inspire others to do what they can as well. Human trafficking is a huge problem, but the thing I find encouraging is that there are so many accessible ways to help. After you’ve read the post, I would love it if you would take the simple first step of sharing it to raise awareness of the needs of those affected by trafficking.
Human trafficking. The words bring to mind dark figures silhouetted against neon streetlights, violence in alleyways, parties full of alcohol and drugs, and unspeakable acts that happen behind closed doors. These mental images cause those whose lives are far removed from such a reality to respond with recoil, sadness, and perhaps a compassionate sigh or a solemn shake of the head. Few know they may have stood next to a victim of trafficking in line at the grocery store or passed one in the doorway of a gas station, or that they can play a vital part in helping those who are trapped in this hidden network of crime. The fact is, human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the world (Barnato and Schlotterbeck 3) and the fastest growing (U.S. Cong. Sec 102). The International Labour Organization estimates that at least 21 million people exist as slaves today, most of whom are women and children (ILO). Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states and in every country of the world (Office of Safe and Healthy Students, UNODC). However, increasing awareness, rescue, and rehabilitation efforts are producing positive effects for those who have been victimized by this crime. Although human trafficking is an issue of overwhelming proportions, individual-led organizations and grassroots movements can make a profound difference in the lives of human trafficking victims.
The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000, which was the first comprehensive law passed against human trafficking (Sec 102:14), defines severe forms of trafficking as “(A) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (B) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery” (Sec 103:5).
Victims of trafficking may be of any gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, but those most susceptible have been identified as “Primarily women and girls disproportionately affected by poverty, lack of access to education, chronic unemployment, discrimination, and lack of economic opportunities in countries of origin” (U.S. Cong. 102:4). Many of these victims have previously experienced sexual abuse. 27 percent of trafficking victims worldwide are minors, with two girls trafficked for every one boy (UNODC). The average age of entry into trafficking for young girls is 12-14, and for boys, 11-13, but many exploited children are even younger. In the United States, runaways are among the most vulnerable for trafficking. Of the estimated 450,000 young people who run away from home each year, 1 out of 3 are trafficked within 48 hours of leaving home (U.S. Cong. House.). Although these characteristics are common among victims, they do not indicate boundaries for those who are at risk. The only universal factor among victims is vulnerability. Anything that makes a person vulnerable makes them a potential victim of human trafficking.
Once a person has entered the underground world of trafficking, traffickers use physical and psychological abuse to strip them of their identity and convince them that they have no rights and no way of escape. Trafficked individuals are subjected to long hours and backbreaking or disturbing work, with victims of labor trafficking sometimes forced to work for 20 hours a day (Belles, ch.4) and victims of sex trafficking forced to serve as many as 30 “clients” a day, seven days a week (Romo). One common ploy that is used to keep victims in captivity of both labor and sex trafficking is debt bondage. Victims are promised pay for their forced labor, but traffickers take any pay that the victims might receive and then charge extravagant fees for the workers’ expenses, such as food, clothing, or housing, all of which may be barely adequate for their survival. Malnutrition, sexually transmitted diseases, extreme exhaustion, and drug addiction are also conditions that affect victims. Several of these factors are among the leading causes of death for victims, for whom the average life expectancy is only 7 years (Ark of Hope).
The intense abuse that victims endure puts great traumatic stress on them and causes deep emotional damage. As a result, survivors face struggles such as depression, suicidal tendencies, and post traumatic stress disorder even after they are rescued. Clearly, human trafficking creates a wide spectrum of needs that must be addressed. At every stage, from awareness and prevention to rescue and rehabilitation, the work of individuals is crucial to provide the help needed by victims of trafficking.
Prevention is the most ideal avenue for dealing with the problem of human trafficking. If those who are at risk for trafficking can be prevented from becoming victims, it will save a considerable amount of resources, including human lives. One Minnesota study estimated that the return on investment for every $1 spent on prevention was $34 in benefits (Martin, Lotspeich, and Stark 4). Since the risk factors for human trafficking vary greatly, there are many ways that it may be prevented.
One organization, known as Sew Powerful, engages seamstresses from around the world to sew purses that hold reusable feminine hygiene products for girls in Zambia. The founders of this organization, Jason and Cinnamon Miles of California, learned that because of the lack of reliable feminine hygiene products available to them, it is normal cultural practice for girls in Zambia to stay home from school during their period. Because of this, the girls miss an average of 6 weeks of school per year, which in turn makes it more difficult for them to pass the tests necessary to enter secondary school (high school). If they cannot pass those tests, their education is over. In addition to helping girls stay in school, the model of the Sew Powerful Purse Program also provides work for local Zambian women, and therefore addresses both risk factors of education and poverty (Sew Powerful).
Another project that indirectly addresses human trafficking is Little Dresses for Africa, founded in 2008 by Rachel O’Neill. This organization collects dresses made by home sewers from all over the world for impoverished girls in Africa. Not only do these dresses provide for the girls’ simple need of clothing, they also provide protection. As O’Neill stated,
“Lives are really saved because of these dresses. When a little girl is wearing a new dress they’re much less likely to be messed with because someone knows they’re being taken care of” (Blanchard).
Perhaps the most dangerous phase of aid necessary for human trafficking victims is rescue. Operation Underground Railroad was started by former CIA agent Tim Ballard, who performs undercover sting operations to rescue exploited children and bring traffickers to justice. In an interview with Glenn Beck, Ballard commented on the difficulty of going undercover and what it looks like to see children rescued from trafficking:
One regret that I often have is that I get taken away in these operations in handcuffs, and the kids see me, and they think he’s that monster, I’m so glad he’s leaving. And I want to tell them no, we were here for you, but I’ve never been able to do that. And as we were walking out and marching out to the boats to be taken away, the kids, we were alerted that they knew who we were, and it was the first time I’d seen this. And these kids come running to the window, and they put their little hands up on the screen of the window, and for the first time in my life I got to see this, see them really experience their liberation…The jump team member behind me just started weeping, just sobbing. He grabbed me, and said Tim, this is the sound of liberation. The kids were cheering and singing, and I put my hand up against this little girl’s hand, and we both smiled at each other. It was a tender mercy. It was a gift, I think, because this was the last time I’m going undercover, and we got to witness emancipation. (Beck)
A21, a nonprofit organization started in 2008 by Australian Christine Caine, addresses the full span of needs caused by trafficking. They provide awareness education to the public and to those who are at high risk for trafficking, such as refugees, as well as offering support to law enforcement officials for rescue efforts, aftercare to survivors, and more. This organization’s website provides many specific ways that individuals can be a part of the solution to human trafficking. The suggestions range from writing a letter to a survivor, donating gift cards purchased from major department stores to help furnish rehabilitation houses, to organizing “Walks for Freedom” to raise awareness (A21).
In addition to supporting these types of organizations with donations and volunteer services, individuals can play a key part in rescue by educating themselves on how to identify people who may be victims of trafficking, and if they believe they have seen someone who could be a victim, by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) or texting “HELP” to BeFree (233733). It is noted that untrained individuals should exercise caution when evaluating and interacting in such situations to prevent additional trauma to the victim and danger to both the victim and the individual (Belles, ch.4).
After victims are rescued, their first immediate need is safe housing. Amirah Boston is an organization that focuses on addressing this need and the reintegration of survivors of trafficking into society. They engage the community to help survivors find healing and receive the vocational training and assistance they need to rebuild their lives. Volunteers can contribute in a variety of ways, from working directly with the women, to taking care of the house where they live, encouraging the staff with notes and small gifts, or assisting with social media or website maintenance. Amirah also partners with local businesses in the community to provide healthcare, therapy, addiction recovery, and career placement aid, allowing them to give survivors a variety of high quality services (Amirah).
Among all of the arenas of battle against human trafficking, one of the most accessible for all people to help with is awareness. The more people there are who know about human trafficking, how to identify victims and where to direct them for help, the more effective the fight will be. One mother and her four daughters devised a creative plan for spreading awareness about human trafficking to a sector of people ideally positioned to identify victims: truck drivers. Together these women started Truckers Against Trafficking, also known as TAT. This organization seeks to train those in the trucking industry on how to recognize and offer help to victims of trafficking. Through the efforts of TAT an entire industry has been educated and mobilized to aid in prevention and rescue (Belles, ch. 10).
Awareness can also be spread by utilizing traditional and modern methods of word of mouth. Activist artist Molly Gochman has initiated a movement to raise awareness of trafficking through the mediums of public art and social media (Gochman). Her project, known by the hashtag #RedSandProject, invites people from all over the world to participate in the fight against human trafficking by pouring red-dyed sand into cracks in the ground in public areas. The art produced is not only eye-catching, but also symbolic. As explained on her website, “These interventions remind us that we can’t merely walk over the most marginalized people in our communities — those who fall through the metaphoric cracks” (Gochman). Anyone can take part in this project by visiting Gochman’s website and requesting a free Red Sand Project toolkit.
The problems caused by the crime of human trafficking are enormous, and the damage it has inflicted on countless human lives is incalculable. Upon consideration of this vast issue, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and to question what significant influence any one person or group of people could have against this daunting tide of evil. However, as A21 founder Christine Caine stated in a CNN interview:
Often, I think, because we think, ‘I can’t do it all,’ we end up being paralyzed. So we do nothing,” said Caine. “But if we understand we can’t do everything but we all must do something, and we all find the one thing that we can do, then we’ll find that together we will all make such a huge difference and we’ll be able to put a stop to this. (Kavanaugh)
The inherent worth and dignity of human life is one of the most basic values that those who are willing to sell, abuse, and mutilate other human beings for their own greed and lust completely disregard and violate. The victims of human trafficking have had their dignity and identity stripped away, and they have no power to reclaim that for themselves. They need others to reclaim it for them: to recognize their plight, rescue them from it, encourage them as they heal, and empower them to reintegrate into society.
Just as there are no insignificant lives, there are no unimportant tasks in the fight to end modern slavery. The network of crime is vast and the numbers of victims are overwhelming. Yet the efforts of individuals like Tim Ballard, Jason and Cinnamon Miles, Christine Caine, and Rachel O’Neill, who saw the need and took action with the skills and resources available to them, are making a difference for at-risk individuals, victims, and survivors of human trafficking. If one human life has worth, then saving even one person is worth the fight.
“Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously, and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy.” Proverbs 31:8-9
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