Human Trafficking: No one is for sale

Human trafficking simultaneously exploits both the best and the worst aspects of globalization. The champions of globalization tout the growing ease of conducting business across national borders. Sophisticated communication tools and relaxed banking laws make it possible to exchange assets internationally with ease. Virtual enterprises can operate everywhere and nowhere, making themselves known only when and where they choose.

Organized crime syndicates take advantage of these tools to create more efficient overseas networks. Although most trafficking originates with local operators, they deftly connect to an international sex industry looking to fill slots in brothels, massage parlors, strip joints, and dance bars.

The critics of globalization point out that capital flows wherever it can most easily exploit cheap labor. The owners of capital will abandon a specific location quickly once one of two conditions occurs:

(1) the assets it exploits are depleted, or

(2) those assets can be obtained more cheaply in other markets.

Young boys and girls in every city on the globe today are forced to serve as sex slaves. Human traffickers target twelve- to seventeen-year-old children as their choice candidates. Looked at from the cold perspective of a slaveholder, adolescents also have a longer shelf life. Any older and they start to lose their youthful appeal. Any younger and they may draw the attention of law enforcement authorities.

Because human trafficking masks itself as prostitution, the general public does not feel outraged. The children are perceived to be criminals or sexual deviants or at best victims of their environment: desperate for survival, the kids “choose” to sell their bodies for profit. The only people who do not reap financial benefits from the sex industry are the ones upon whom the whole network depends: the slaves.

These traffickers know their business inside out and respond to changes in the market with a speed unmatched by even the most competitive corporations. Their expertise and ability to exploit the market are surpassed only by their disregard for human life. Women are bought, sold and hired out like any other product. The bottom line is profit.

Traffickers and brothel owners alike also use this cultural value to manipulate girls. If a new recruit resists the idea of having sex with a paying customer, the slaveholder might rape her himself and say, “Now you are used goods; you might as well give it up for other men.” Tragically, the girl is apt to understand the logic of this brutal indoctrination and resign herself to life in the brothel. She has lost everything–her family will reject her and her neighbors will treat her as a pariah. And each day she stays the possibility of rejoining respectable community life diminishes. She lives in exile.

The threat of violence becomes a ubiquitous force in the life of a sex slave. The child knows that a failed escape attempt would result in a severe beating. Moreover, the slaveholder may threaten to harm the child’s family even if the child does manage to get away. To remind the child of that fact, the slaveholder may occasionally drop some piece of current news about family members, whether real or fabricated, as if to say, “Yes, I am watching them, so don’t do anything stupid.”

Rescuing slaves does not end the moment they are freed from captivity. To abandon the rescued and expect them to fend for themselves would leave them vulnerable to falling back into a forced labor relationship with a different owner. Abolitionists therefore must answer the question “What next?” before they rush into a rescue plan.

That solution probably will not be as simple as “sending them back home.” In some cases, enslaved individuals were trafficked across borders, perhaps from even an ocean away. Even if the brothel owner or pimp can be brought to justice, the victims may be ongoing targets for the original traffickers who extracted them from their home village.

Though social workers throw around terms like reintegration and restoration, the process of aftercare often turns out to be far more complicated. Teenage girls freed from a brothel may decide that a pattern of shame and abuse awaits them in their home village, so they elect to build a new life elsewhere. Because they are likely to experience intense emotional trauma from repeated episodes of sexual abuse, they may need a supportive environment free of recrimination.

Around the world people have taken notice: the breath of freedom is uniting people. No longer can we stand by as 30 million people are enslaved.

It is no longer enough to think about change.

It is no longer enough to talk about change.

It is time to shift gears — marrying movement with intelligent action

Our collective challenge is simple: Stand with those who are enslaved, work together to free them, and empower them in their freedom to break the cycle of vulnerability.

What we are combating is wide-ranging, deeply embedded, and largely invisible (how else could it exist in our own backyards?). A holistic, all-encompassing response is in order. Igniting and aiding this comprehensive response is the Sakina Foundation campaign’s purpose.

Without a doubt, the wall standing against slavery today consists of backyard abolitionists, people like yourself, who are willing to build the bridge to freedom.

With your help, we are working to raise awareness and collective understanding about human trafficking. But we live in a time and place where people are restless to do something. In recognition of this desire to act we will be compiling and distributing handbooks for action against human trafficking.

Sakina Foundation equips and mobilizes Smart Activists to deploy innovative solutions to re-abolish slavery in our own backyards and across the globe.

Together, we can end slavery from the face of this earth.