Trafficking in Humans: Capitalism at Its Worst
In 2013, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation ending legal slavery in the United States. But slavery isn’t only a painful and tragic fact of our national history; it persists even today in the U.S. and around the world. Now we call it trafficking. Human trafficking is a big, global industry. It generates at least $32 billion per year worldwide—more than Nike, Google, and Starbucks combined. The U.S. is both a source and a destination for human beings who are trafficked.
In 2013, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation ending legal slavery in the United States. But slavery isn’t only a painful and tragic fact of our national history; it persists even today in the U.S. and around the world. Now we call it trafficking.
Human trafficking is a big, global industry. It generates at least $32 billion per year worldwide—more than Nike, Google, and Starbucks combined. The U.S. is both a source and a destination for human beings who are trafficked.
The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” [The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, (2000), supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Organized Crime].
Almost 60% of trafficked victims into the United States are females and almost 50% are children. Women and girls who are trafficked are often sexually exploited, forced to work in domestic services, factories, farm labor, or as mail order brides or workers in the pornography and commercial sex industries.
Although this is an international problem, it is also a local problem here in the U.S. Traffickers recruit or abduct victims wherever they find vulnerable children or adults: large shopping malls, sporting events, in the aftermath of natural disasters, on the street, online, and in situations of extreme poverty or armed conflict. Immigrants, refugees, runaways, sexual abuse survivors, and LGBT youth are particularly at risk. They are forced and/or deceived into situations of involuntary servitude.
There is a market. There are customers who pay for the labor of enslaved human beings whether as farm or domestic labor or sexual services providers. There are people who hold other humans in bondage in order to profit from their labor. For the procurer or pimp, this business is lucrative: one human being forced to work as a sex slave can make a pimp $250K per year.
Slavery is as old as recorded history. But we must not kid ourselves that slavery is no longer a reality in our enlightened, post-modern world. 27 million people are in slavery around the world today.
Perhaps the notion that one human being can own and control another human being will always be a part of the brokenness of our world. But this is not a reality that we have to accept. The U.S. State Department is actively engaged in addressing trafficking both domestically and internationally. Individual states and municipalities are taking action with local laws and services to help victim/survivors escape and have made efforts to prosecute pimps and customers.
Here’s what you can do:
- Support your elected officials and law enforcement in these efforts.
- Pay attention to your own neighborhood, faith community and family. Support people who are particularly vulnerable in their life situations. Watch for these signs: someone (1) Accompanied by a controlling person or boss; (2) Not speaking on their own behalf; (3) Lack of control over personal schedule, money, house key, I.D., travel documents; (4) Transported to or from work; lives and works in the same place; (5) Debt owed to employer/crew leader; (6) Inability to leave job; or (7) Have bruises, depression, fear, and be overly submissive (U.S. Dept. Of Health and Human Services). If you think someone you know might be a trafficking victim, call the National Trafficking Resource Center hotline at 1(888) 373-7878 or file a report online. http://www.polarisproject.org/what-we-do/national-human-trafficking-hotline/report-a-tip
- Confront your friends, co-workers, or family members who are customers of persons forced to work in the sex trade.
Trafficking flourishes in the shadows in our communities. Don’t think this isn’t about you. Don’t turn your eyes away. Shine a light and speak out to support victims of trafficking.
Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune