Be an Abolitionist to End Human Trafficking
Program Director, YWCA Berkeley/Oakland
Some days I get overwhelmed with all the decisions that I need to make: what to eat, what to wear, what e-mails to respond to, what the lesson plan for my students is, who to text, and the list goes on and on. But what if you did not have the freedom to make these choices everyday? Imagine that you were told what to wear, how and when to speak, when to go to the bathroom, who to have sex with, how to have sex with strangers and when to eat, if anything at all. Take a few moments and imagine what that might feel like.
An estimated 30 million people are enslaved worldwide today. These are all victims of human trafficking. They have little to no freedom to make these daily decisions that people often take for granted. A victim of human trafficking is someone who is recruited, transported, harbored or received through the means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploitation of forced labor, which can include sexual acts. A person does not have to be moved across an international border or even outside of their home to be considered a victim of human trafficking. It is happening in your backyard. If you don’t see it, you aren’t looking hard enough.
Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 U.S. states. People of all ages, educational backgrounds, ethnicities and genders are being trafficked. Victims as young as five years old can be in forced labor or even working at brothels serving clients. The media usually only focuses on the sexy part of human trafficking, showcasing young Asian girls dressed provocatively in cages being sex slaves to powerful men. But victims of modern day slavery are being exploited in every work environment you can imagine: hotels, motels, massage parlors, government officials’ homes, childcare facilities, construction sites and restaurants. More victims are in forced labor than in forced sexual labor, but the media continues to disproportionately glorify this tantalizing injustice as strictly sex slaves.
Human trafficking is right in front of us. We could be at a restaurant being served by a victim of trafficking and not even realize it. We have a social responsibility to fight against this monstrous crime. Traffickers are smart, well networked, wealthy and operate a profitable business. They have learned how to “be green.” What are their green and re-useable products? Humans. Traffickers in one year made an estimated $32 billion, which is more than Nike, Google and Starbucks made combined. If a drug or weapons dealer sells one of their products, it is now out of their possession. But if a trafficker sells the services of a human, the property (the human) is still in the trafficker’s possession. A human life keeps on producing profits for the trafficker. Sadly, it is the most profitable business model I know of today.
Human Trafficking is everywhere and we are all connected to this injustice. Just because you are not a trafficker or have not been trafficked, does not mean you are not part of the cycle that drives this inhumane crime. Do you know where the clothes you wear or the chocolate you eat came from? Do you know what type of labor practices went into making that name brand purse or pair of shoes? People’s demand for cheap goods drives the suppliers’ chain of goods to use slave labor. So the next time you see that cute pair of diamond earrings or chocolate fudge cupcake, think about where all its raw materials came from. I beg and challenge all of you to learn more about human trafficking and to create zero tolerance communities to help end modern day slavery.