Human Trafficking – What is it?
Human trafficking is the modern-day phrase for chattel slavery. While the word "trafficking" focuses on the financial ramifications, the act is the same: controlling others such that they cannot leave and are impelled to do what the traffickers tell them to do.
The official definition of human trafficking is:
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person by the threat or use of force, fraud, deception, or coercion, or the giving or receiving of unlawful payments for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor.
Historically, the term "slavery" has encompassed a wide variety of conditions. In the Old Testament, God allowed a type of slavery so the poor could be provided for. The servants usually entered into the arrangement voluntarily in return for the resources to pay off a debt. Servants were allowed to leave if their debt was paid, or they could choose to stay permanently if they liked their situation. In more recent times, we would call this indentured servitude.
Human trafficking is equivalent to chattel slavery. In chattel slavery, a person is kidnapped (a crime punishable by death in the Old Testament), coerced, or born into slavery, and their person is owned by the trafficker. This is the slavery of the American South before the Civil War. It is absolutely unbiblical.
Human Trafficking Today
Labor and sex are the two primary types of modern human trafficking, although there is also a growing market in organ harvesting, suicide bombers, child soldiers, and even "child harvesting" where girls and women are impregnated so the trafficker can sell their infant. Labor trafficking is prevalent in agrarian societies, like the cacao fields of Cote d'Ivoire where thousands of kidnapped children from Mali pick cocoa beans. But it is also common in restaurants and hotels. Whenever a city hosts a major sporting event or a large political rally, thousands of temporary workers will be needed to clean rooms and wash dishes. Traffickers enslave their victims and transport them to where they are needed.
The majority of human trafficking is related to the sex trafficking industry. Eighty percent of all trafficking victims transported through countries are women and girls; seventy percent of these are enslaved in the sex trade. Those who are caught in labor trafficking are often sexually abused and harassed. Avenues include prostitution, exotic dancing, massage parlors, and pornography. With the rise of the internet, finding a prostituted girl is so easy high school athletic teams have been known to indulge during away games.
Human trafficking statistics are impossible to verify. It's estimated that at least 200,000 children in the United States are at risk for sexual exploitation. The average age of the girl first caught in sex trafficking is between 12 and 14—and it's thought to be lower for boys. Often, parents or other relatives are the first to sell their very young children to raise money for food or drugs. In the U.S., victims earn their traffickers an estimated $32,000 a year. In the Netherlands, that number can be as high as $250,000 a year; in third-world countries, victims may earn their parents enough to feed the family dinner. Sex trafficking is on its way to becoming the highest-grossing organized crime, above arms and drugs. You can only sell a rifle or a kilo of cocaine once; you can sell a girl a dozen times a night. UNICEF estimates that over the last thirty years, 30 million children have been abused in sex trafficking. Roughly half of all victims were recruited or captured by a stranger; half by a friend or family. Similarly, roughly half of all traffickers are men and half are women.
The Human Trafficking Trap
Human Traffickers recruit their victims in many different ways. In labor, it's usually simple deception. Women in the South Pacific may be offered jobs as hair dressers in Dubai, but are transported to a fast food booth on a military base in Iraq. Newspapers advertise jobs that don't exist. And a woman expecting to serve as a housekeeper for a year may find herself unable to leave. In 2010, four hundred Thai immigrants were rescued from slavery on Hawaiian farms. Traffickers generally take the victims' identification and official papers, train them to fear the police, and keep them separated from the outside world. They also tell their victims that before the victim can leave, he must pay off "expenses" including grossly inflated charges for room and boarding. Moving the victims out of their native country is especially effective as language becomes a serious barrier to finding help.
International sex trafficking is similar. It's common for women in the trade in Bangkok to return to their villages in the north and promise young girls the chance of a good job, a wealthy foreign boyfriend, and plenty of money to send back to their families. Desperate women in Eastern Europe are always on the lookout for good jobs. Unfortunately, many offers lead to sex slavery in Turkey, Greece, and elsewhere. Children in orphanages are also vulnerable; girls know that when they age-out, they'll have no place to go. And ninety percent of all women who escape North Korea to China wind up trafficked in the sex trade.
In the United States, methods vary. Some girls are kidnapped off the streets. Some are tricked or threatened by acquaintances. Some are sold during sleep-overs at friends' houses. And when a girl runs away, it is very likely that within 48 hours she will meet a nice man who buys her a meal and offers her a place to stay. It's only later she'll realize what she has to do to return his kindness.
Recent Response to Human Trafficking
Society has been slow in realizing the true nature of trafficking, but it's quickly catching on. For one, the terminology we use is changing. There is no such thing as a "child prostitute." The term "prostitute" infers choice; legally, those under the age of 18 are not allowed to "choose" prostitution. Instead, she is a "prostituted child." If she is under the control of a pimp, he or she is her trafficker. But even if she makes the arrangements herself and keeps the money, her customer becomes the trafficker.
Law enforcement is also altering the way they handle trafficking victims. Gradually, authorities are realizing that the child is a victim, and her trafficker and the man who buys her are the true criminals. The system is very short on resources for victims, however. Law enforcement does what they can to rescue girls and keep them off the streets. But juvenile detention is for kids who have chosen crime, shelters are for adult women, and the foster care system isn't equipped to deal with such sustained, horrific abuse.
But God has not abandoned victims of human trafficking. He loves them and He does have plan.
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