An Article by Sarah Leech
Each year, criminals around the world collect billions of dollars in profits by compelling the service of other human beings through fraud, force and coercion in order to exploit their labor. Their victims are slaves, who today number somewhere between 10 million and 30 million people across the globe. The victims include people like Tola, a toddler in Southeast Asia who was sold to beggars to redeem a debt his father could not pay, and forced to beg on the busy streets of a Cambodian border town at the age of two; freckle-faced, blonde, blue-eyed American teenagers who’ve run away from bad home situations, only to find themselves pimped out at truck stops and street corners across America; Latin American families hoping for work who get tricked out of their property rights back home, transported to “el Norte” and trapped by debt into working for no pay in construction companies, in domestic servitude, on farms or in factories.
Worldwide, slaves harvest and process the cacao that goes into much of the chocolate we eat. They mill rice, bake bricks, mine precious metals, assemble electronic devices, labor on fishing boats and farms. They are domestic slaves, sweatshop workers, and restaurant workers. Some have been forced to become child soldiers, mail order brides, even organ donors. And multitudes have been forced into prostitution.
How did these who bear God’s image become enslaved?
Some were abducted – snatched from their families or schools. Some were deceived. A reliable-seeming stranger – or even a trusted relative or friend - came with a job offer, a promise of education and better life. They took that offer, and found themselves trapped. Some were sold or sent away to help their family survive. Many were lured or taken from their own country or region by recruiters, deprived of identification papers, sold, isolated from family and community support, kept under constant watch, trapped by ever increasing debt for their food, transportation and lodging, and forced to work under threat of injury or death, for no pay and with no way of escape.
All of these people were enslaved through human trafficking, which the UN defines as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, or fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”
Global Scope of Human Trafficking
Each year traffickers smuggle 600,000 to 800,000 people across international borders and traffick millions more within their own countries. Approximately 80 percent of those trafficked trans-nationally are female, and half of these are children. The majority of these victims are forced into the commercial sex trade. Forced or bonded labor awaits most of the males and females trafficked within their own countries’ borders.
This tragedy is happening in every country in the world, including the United States. The United States is a destination country in the slave trade. About 17,500 people get trafficked into the US each year. They come largely from poor countries, mostly from Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe, with a smaller percentage coming from Latin America. There are US citizens trafficked within US borders as well. Worldwide, trafficking typically moves people from poorer countries in the global South and East, and Eastern Europe, to richer industrialized nations in the West, the Pacific and the Middle East. Within countries, traffickers typically move their victims from poor rural areas to prosperous urban areas.
If it is illegal, why does it persist?
Trafficking is illegal in every country of the world, but it persists because it is profitable. The UN estimates the slave trade generates $32 billion in profits globally each year, bringing in more than the illegal arms trade. Because human trafficking is so profitable, there is a huge black market in human beings. They are cheap, in ready supply and endlessly renewable. Slaves cost the traffickers very little – about the price of a pair of athletic shoes. They can be resold many times, and everyone who handles them profits. Potential slaves are in ready supply because so many people around the world are desperate for work and opportunities to improve their lives. Such people are likely to migrate, and their desperation and naiveté feed the trafficking industry.
Trafficking is part of the economic systems of the countries where it operates. This is especially true of Southeast Asia, where tourism accounts for 8.2% of GDP and sex tourism is an openly promoted part of the industry. It’s also true in consumer cultures like those in the West. The goods slaves make are in high demand because they are cheap. Things consumers eat and use every day, from coffee to cotton underclothing to electronics, may have involved slave labor. The demand for cheap products fuels the demand for cheap labor, incentivizing traffickers to trade in human beings.
Other factors that enable human trafficking to persist include: cultural attitudes toward girls and prejudices about minorities that make it a low priority to protect victims; community tolerance or ignorance about trafficking, and government corruption, or ineptitude - or simply lack of resources - that make it easy for traffickers to operate with impunity.
Who is vulnerable, and why?
People from all walks of life are vulnerable, but overwhelmingly it is people who are poor, desperate, undereducated and marginalized, who are in the most danger. Poverty and lack of economic opportunity make parents and young people susceptible to offers of jobs or education in faraway cities. Gender discrimination plays a role, for girls are less likely to be educated than boys and first on the list to be sold or sent off to earn money. Marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, who often live outside the protection of the law, and can’t gain access to services, are easy prey for traffickers. And youth suffering from domestic abuse, parental drug use and alcoholism who are desperate to get out of a bad situation, are vulnerable as well. Such people are easy targets for traffickers. Their lives can be destroyed, and chances are high that nobody will notice, or do anything to stop it.
What can we do?
There is a great deal faith communities can do to combat human trafficking and the damage it causes its victims. Grounding our actions in faith, we can:
· Educate ourselves about the issue of human trafficking, how it plays out in our own communities as well as around the world, what the red flags are that indicate a possible trafficking situation, how consumer choices may support trafficking, and how to report a suspected trafficking case or obtain confidential help and information (contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline, 1-888-3737-888).
· Advocate for laws that protect and restore victims and make it easy to apprehend and prosecute traffickers; urge corporations to adopt policies and practices to keep slave labor out of their supply chains; boycott products produced by slaves; use websites and smart phone apps to empower justice-based consumer choices.
· Serve trafficking victims directly or through local agencies to provide medical advocacy, translation, counseling, housing, job placement and similar services; reach out to migrant communities in our area; educate doctors, nurses, hospitals and schools in our area about the signs of trafficking, and raise community awareness through op-ed pieces, events and campaigns.
· Pray for trafficking victims & survivors, perpetrators, law enforcement, corporations, and governments, and for abolitionists, grassroots organizations and NGOs that work to prevent, protect and restore victims or to prosecute traffickers.
· Team up with others in our communities and denomination who are working on the issue of human trafficking; work together and share resources; develop relationships with organizations doing global and / or local anti-trafficking work, including those providing services to victims; find out what their needs are, and explore partnership with them
· Give as generously as we can and raise funds to support local & global projects that combat trafficking.
· Believe that God cares and is already at work, and that we are invited to join God in proclaiming release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and in letting the oppressed go free.
Human Trafficking: Freeing Women, Children, and Men, a booklet from Anglican Women’s Empowerment that provides a concise overview of human trafficking, suggestions for a Christian response, and information about trafficking-focused initiatives and resources across the Anglican Communion. www.anglicanwomensempowerment.org
Trafficking in Persons Report 2011, US Department of State – a snapshot of what’s happening related to human trafficking in 184 countries around the world, including the United States. http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2011/index.htm
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC), a service of Polaris Project, is a national, confidential, 24-hour, toll-free hotline, available to answer calls from anywhere in the United States. 1-888-3737-888 The hotline is not a government entity, law enforcement or an immigration authority. It is a safe place to call and report a tip, access resources, request training, or receive referrals. The resource center website offers downloadable materials to help individuals and groups learn how to identify, prevent and combat human trafficking in the United States. Items available include educational handouts and presentations, information on legislation, materials for public awareness raising and direct outreach to potential victims, educators, professionals, and public servants. http://www.polarisproject.org/resources
The Not for Sale campaign offers and creates tools to engage grassroots groups (including churches), businesses, and governments “in order to incubate and grow social enterprises to benefit enslaved and vulnerable communities.” One of these tools is the Community Abolitionist Network. http://www.notforsalecampaign.org
The Freedom Registry, a web resource to “share and discover what advocates and organizations are doing to address human trafficking and exploitation across the United States.” http://freedomregistry.org/
World Concern’s Women of Purpose Human Trafficking Resources, a list of books, films, discussion guides, training resources, prayer resources about human trafficking, its causes and solutions, and of some organizations working to combat human trafficking. For a free copy of the resource list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Leech, volunteer, is Director of World Concern’s Women of Purpose program, Shoreline, Washington.
For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, WA