Today's guest post in honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Month is written by Shannon Keith—an abolitionist, speaker, and the CEO of International Princess Project. Ten years ago, she left her successful career as a corporate sales representative to start a global non-profit, to provide training and jobs for survivors of human trafficking in India.
We are well into Human Trafficking Awareness Month, which brings light to the terrors that still exist in nations across the world. As U.S. President Barack Obama noted, “Today, millions of men, women, and children are victims of human trafficking. This modern-day slavery occurs in countries throughout the world and in communities across our Nation. These victims face a cruelty that has no place in a civilized world: children are made to be soldiers, teenage girls are beaten and forced into prostitution, and migrants are exploited and compelled to work for little or no pay. It is a crime that can take many forms, and one that tears at our social fabric, debases our common humanity, and violates what we stand for as a country and a people.”
Unfortunately, there are some key facts about human trafficking that may not always be understood by the general public. For instance:
1. Human trafficking and forced prostitution have many different faces.
Of the approximately 20 million slaves worldwide, there are an estimated 4.5 million people enslaved in the sex trade, according to the International Labour Organization. The news stories that talk about children who are kidnapped, sold, and raped, are true. But not all of the stories unfold the same way, except that victims almost always come from extreme poverty and extreme brokenness. Some are sold by their own families, desperate to feed their remaining children. Some are young brides who become widowed and have no other way to support themselves. Some are born into prostitution, the children of sex-workers, and given no other options. Some try to escape the life and succeed temporarily, but are lured back due to lack of family support, drug addiction, or not having anywhere else to go.
2. Survivors of sex trafficking don’t choose to be prostituted, and therefore, the word “prostitute” shouldn’t really be a noun.
Women and men, girls and boys, are prostituted—not prostitutes. All of them have come to that life through victimization and abuse. This is contrary to the Pretty Woman Hollywood narratives, or the semi-derogatory notion that people would make an informed choice to prostitute themselves. Human trafficking organizations have made huge strides in telling the truth of how desperation, objectification, abuse, addiction, and poverty can make people vulnerable to becoming enslaved.
3. The problem is endless and overwhelming and impossible for one person or entity to fix.
To truly make a dent in the problem, and move toward abolition, there are multiple wars that would need to be waged. Laws must be changed. For example, in many U.S. states the prostitute is arrested for the crime, but not the “customer.” Corruption in law enforcement and the judicial system must be exposed and ended. Rescue organizations must have more safe houses and recovery programs to place women and children in once rescued. Prevention strategies must be put in place, such as making sure children are able to stay in school to receive education and job-training. For this to happen, collaboration must happen between government, non-profits, businesses and educators. Each holds an integral piece of the puzzle of ending the cycle.
4. Until the “consumer” of prostitution is addressed, and the trafficker is stopped, sexual slavery cannot end.
Underlying the problem is simple supply and demand. Sex-trafficking is a global 99 billion-dollar industry and a trafficker can make $21,800 per victim of commercial sexual exploitation, according to the global anti-slavery organization Not For Sale. Typically it is the victim of trafficking, not the trafficker, who is prosecuted if arrests are made. Tougher laws are needed for traffickers. Also, in the last ten years, there has been an outpouring of help for the victims of prostitution. There is not, however, a lot of discussion about how to stop or prosecute the (typically) men who are drawn to buy sex. And until the sellers and consumers are stopped there can be no end in sight.
5. Awareness is increasing; now there must be more energy and resources placed into solutions.
In the last 10 years, much awareness has been raised. Awareness was needed, in order to inspire action. But it is now time for action and workable solutions for people. Awareness without action can lead to further exploitation of survivors. Internet readers can access detailed accounts of the sufferings many of these people endure. If these accounts are not used to bring justice, aid, and prevention, they become only sensationalist stories which border on exploiting these victims again. Their stories must be told, but they must be told in hope of bringing justice to those still trapped in sex-work—and ultimately—to prevent others from ever being brought into it.
6. There is hope.
Amidst the tragedy and hopelessness involved in this topic, there is much to encourage us. Students, mothers, fathers, police-officers, teachers, film-makers, celebrities, doctors, therapists, activists and business-leaders are working together to increase the impact they can have in solving this problem. Women and girls are coming to safe houses and learning viable trades in order to support themselves with dignity. Lives are being healed and rebuilt. Laws are being changed. Cases are being prosecuted. However, there is much still to be done and many minds and hearts to be changed before there can be any kind of complete solution.
Can the world be freed from slavery? The 200th anniversary of British and American legislation outlawing human trafficking came and went in 2007. Yet, in these nations and throughout the world, slavery and the slave trade are flourishing realities. Vision.org interviews Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves, child soldier Ishmael Beah, and Michael Wessells, who has dedicated his life to transitioning child soldiers away from violence and into peaceful, age-appropriate civilian roles.