As the fastest growing crime in the world today, human trafficking holds an estimated 27 million men, women, and children captive worldwide. Human trafficking is the buying and selling of persons for the purpose of forced labor, prostitution, etc. Since the rescue rate sits at an alarming 1%, prevention work is the key to abolition. While rescue efforts are to be applauded, educating vulnerable people on the warning signs of human trafficking prevents slavery altogether.
Human trafficking follows four typical steps: 1) Tricked, 2) Transported, 3) Trapped, and 4) Used. Anyone can be tricked, whether by a friend, family, or stranger. When tricking, the trafficker offers the potential victim an incredible opportunity. This may include an all-expense paid trip around the world, a good job in another country, or a contract with a professional sports team. The trafficker will offer to pay all necessary fees, ask for the victim’s passport and documents (under the ruse of planning transportation into another country) and tell the victim they must leave immediately. After the trafficker has tricked the victim, he or she transports the victim far from his or her home. Whether the transportation be by plane, bus, or car, the victim is relocated to an area where he or she does not speak the language or know the people.
The victim then becomes trapped in this new place. The term “trapped” has multiple meanings: The trafficker may threaten to kill the victim’s family, the trafficker may hold the victim in debt bondage, or the trafficker may addict the victim to drugs. Since the trafficker has the victim’s passport, the victim cannot leave the country. Once the victim is trapped, he or she is used. The trafficker will strip the victim of his or her rights and use him or her for work or profit.
Over the past three months, I have participated in human trafficking prevention work in South Africa and Lesotho. Along with a team of seventeen others, I have educated locals and vulnerable peoples on the facts and signs of human trafficking. While in the field, my team and I hosted many trafficking-awareness presentations, and interacted with women in prostitution on the streets.
One such woman we met seemed to be in the first stage of trafficking: tricked. She explained that her work on the streets would pay a “registration fee” for a job in Bangladesh. After replying to a job ad, she was instructed that she must raise money for registration and then go to Bangladesh for a few weeks of job training. The author of the ad told her that she was guaranteed a job in Bangladesh after the training. Her reason for wanting the job? To raise enough money to support her child. Traffickers prey on the needs of vulnerable peoples in order to seduce them into slavery. Those who are tricked into trafficking are not the foolish of society. Rather, victims of human trafficking are often wise and ambitious enough to seek a better life for themselves and for their families. While we cannot be certain that this woman was being trafficked, the warning signs were present. In such situations, it is vital for potential victims to ask questions and gather as much information as possible. By doing this, they uncover the truth of the offer and thus save themselves from slavery.
On another street outreach, while we were speaking to a treasure (the preferred term for a woman in prostitution), she informed us that a trafficked girl was working the next corner. She knew with certainty that this woman was trafficked, and thus being held against her will. Still, when we attempted to approach her, she ran away. This is a very clear example of the third step of human trafficking: trapped. Our contact at that particular location informed us that pimps often watch their girls from the apartment building across the street. He warned that the girls may run away from us, as their pimps instruct them not to speak to anyone who is not a client. Pimps often threaten the girls working for them, promising a beating if they try to escape or find help. Because of her fear, this particular girl remained –seemingly voluntarily- trapped in prostitution.
Our team also had the opportunity to speak with a free woman who fell prey to trafficking in the past. We’ll call her Beth. Beth told us her story about growing up on the streets and a close friend who offered her a good job on the other side of the country. Beth agreed to go, feeling no reason to doubt her friend’s word. When they reached their destination, the friend sent Beth upstairs to rest. When she awoke, Beth found herself blindfolded and bound to the bed. She was gang raped and beaten, what traffickers call “breaking a girl in.” She was forced onto drugs to keep her sedated, and for two weeks remained tied to the bed. Then a new girl was brought in, and Beth was thrown out. Due to her trauma and new drug addiction, Beth turned to prostitution for a number of years before escaping the trade for good. Beth’s story illustrates the horrific fourth step of human trafficking: use. The degrading work of trafficked victims not only harms them in the present, but also for years to come. After just two weeks of bondage, Beth suffered many years of prostitution and drug addiction, and now fights HIV/AIDS.
Beth was rescued from her life of prostitution over seven years ago and now uses her story to expose this hidden crime. Because women like Beth are willing to speak out, others are learning the truth behind the traffickers’ lies. When individuals use their voice to share the facts, lives are saved. The fight against human trafficking is not restricted to dark streets and back allies. Rather, it starts with each of us, standing as advocates and raising awareness in our own communities. As the number of advocates grows, so does the span of awareness. There are 27 million slaves in the world today, living behind bars and beneath threats. We are all well equipped to help bring freedom.
“You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.” –William Wilberforce