By Abby Ivancevich
Human trafficking affects over 20 million people worldwide. The United Nations defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.” We often choose to believe that slavery is largely eradicated, yet instances of human trafficking are only increasing. As recently as “the 2009 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, for instance, two out of every five countries covered in the report had never recorded a single conviction for trafficking offences.”
The proliferation of human trafficking will continue if we do not take a stand and start actively counteracting international traffickers. These organized groups of traffickers take advantage of widespread social media platforms, reaching victims through Facebook, online job offers, and even Instagram. The largely uncontrollable reach of the internet and social media cannot be controlled and monitored completely, creating daunting prospects for lawmakers or politicians that try to combat this danger. It is hard enough for countries like the United States to keep track of human trafficking cases, perpetrators, and victims if they are transported across state lines. By transporting enslaved people to different countries, captors take advantage of the varying laws and local authorities in each country and often times get away with their crimes. Around the world, the lack of cohesion in countries’ respective laws and local authority training exacerbates the lack of prosecutions and global communication. If authorities are not informed of possible warning signs or volatile situations, human trafficking victims and victimizers can slip through the cracks of each political, social, and justice system.
Aside from being lured or taken from their homes, human trafficking victims are often emotionally scarred and taught to believe they cannot possibly lead normal lives. According to Kimberly Rodriguez, a victim/witness advocate for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, it often helps to not label victims as “victims” because “some themselves don’t identify as victims.” At the same time, victim advocates and organizations countering trafficking must “foster relationships and trust with them[victims] by showing consistency.” Data on international global trafficking is even harder to find and sift through because United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a leader in gathering information and statistics for these crimes, oftentimes only includes “aggregate figures that are not broken down by basic variables, such as sex and age. Data also do not include details of exploitation and the trafficking process.” This data is so sensitive because if found by traffickers, a person can be easily revictimized.
Combatting human trafficking remains extremely tough. Upon asking Rodriguez about international human trafficking in the past 20 years, she feels that there has been increasing awareness and federal laws enacted to guard against trafficking. She also admits, “traffickers are getting creative on how to stay lowkey and maintain their victims’ enslavement by using different tactics”, especially taking advantage of cities with international airports and expansive interstates like San Francisco. Rodriguez believes that the main way that international communities could combat human trafficking is though increased awareness overall, communication with local government, and empowering victims to take back their lives, among other ideas.
The reality is that criminals that are able to take advantage of the disorganization of international laws and evade prosecution. The creation of a case law database of human trafficking convictions was a great step in the right direction, but social and political unrest can ultimately make convictions and justice extremely challenging for many countries. Often times governments either chose to ignore human trafficking to focus on other issues or simply don’t have the capacity to investigate and hold human traffickers accountable. Countries must fight and put this issue amongst their top priorities, as human trafficking can exacerbate and create issues for countries internally. Human trafficking feeds forced labor and drug trafficking, which can seriously impact a nation’s workforce and economy. Thus, the state continues to weaken and the issue of human trafficking is exacerbated.
Focusing on eradicating human trafficking is also beneficial in that it exposes underlying broken systems within countries. A disproportionate amount of children in foster care in the United States end up being trafficked. Clearly mechanisms of protection and supervision are lacking in foster care, and these marginalized groups are being taken advantage of. In Cambodia, jobs are scarce, forcing women to leave their rural homes and find work in the city where they are often sexually exploited. By investigating and taking steps to prosecute criminals and stop the flow of human trafficking, governments can also get to the root of economic and social problems, leading to further beneficial reforms. It’s time for nations to stand together and stand up against international human trafficking. Tackling this problem will not only shed light on broader economic and societal issues in certain countries but will restore basic human rights for millions.