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Defining a Societal Fear: An Overview of Human Trafficking

Written by Emma Baughman

Human Trafficking, one of the world’s most egregious human rights violations, has garnered plenty of attention over this past year. Viral movements like #SaveOurChildren have taken over the internet in an albeit rocky attempt to raise awareness of child trafficking. Narratives of young girls being kidnapped off the street tend to dominate any and all conversations about human trafficking. These Taken-esque representations, even if well-intended, are, at best, ill-informed. At worst, these misconceptions spread misinformation about Human Trafficking. It seems our society has a collective fear of something that we can’t even correctly identify.

The dangers of Human Trafficking are further exacerbated by misunderstanding. How can we fight something that we can’t even describe?

This blog post will set the record straight and provide clear and reputable information so that a general understanding can be reached.

Human Trafficking refers to “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” This crime is pervasive through all corners of the world and can affect anyone regardless of age, socioeconomic status, race, or even gender. Human trafficking shockingly earns global profits of $150 billion a year, which is more profits than Google, the NFL, and Starbucks combined. It is one of the largest and most dangerous industries in the world.

There are three main types of human trafficking: sex trafficking, labor trafficking, and organ trafficking. The ultimate purpose of each form of trafficking is exploitation, but the means of doing so are unique. Human trafficking always involves fraud, force, or coercion to obtain a desired goal, typically a labor or sex act. Traffickers often manipulate and lure their victims with false promises of a well-paying job, romantic relationships, and the idea of a better life.

Some might wonder, once grandiose promises unravel and the horrifying nature of their situation is realized, why don't victims leave? There are several factors that prevent people from escaping. For instance, traffickers may use the threat of violence against their victims and/or their family members. Oftentimes victims are physically restrained or locked up, restricting their movement. Routine beatings and rape force victims into submission as their sense of self and personal identity wither away. Their life outside of trafficking now seems unreachable and unknown. Additionally, traffickers withhold finances and personal identification documents from their victims, making escape nearly impossible. Further, many victims face a language barrier or fear law enforcement, which prevent them from seeking help. Many traffickers force their victims to use drugs, instilling harmful drug addiction and reinforcing their dependency on both harmful substances and the trafficker themself. Lastly, some victims form a strong emotional attachment to their trafficker, which is also known as “Stockholm Syndrome.” Once abuse and exploitation become “normal” to human trafficking victims, it is common for them to resist help.

Though human trafficking is pervasive in nearly every community and can affect anyone, there are several factors of vulnerability that can pose a higher risk. For example, traffickers prey on political instability and rely on inequality. Individuals in poverty are often lured by promises of financial stability. People who suffer from drug or alcohol addiction or mental health issues also face a high risk of being trafficked. Additionally, women and girls are disproportionately affected by human trafficking. Trafficking victims are not typically kidnapped off of the street, but are groomed, coerced, and trafficked from a young age, oftentimes by trusted individuals in their lives.

There are various warning signs that can be used to identify a human trafficking victim. These warning signs include but are not limited to:

  • Noticeable signs of physical abuse (like burn marks, bruises, and cuts)

  • Unexplained absences from work or school

  • Appearing to be malnourished, overly tired, withdrawn, depressed, distracted, or “zoned out.”

  • The presence of an older significant other or a sudden change in lifestyle and friendships

  • Avoiding eye contact, social interaction, and authority figures/law enforcement

  • Seeming to adhere to scripted or rehearsed responses in social interaction

  • Lacking official identification documents

  • Working excessive or unusual hours

  • Checking into hotels with older males, referring to those males as boyfriend or “daddy”

  • Poor physical or dental health, untreated STDs

  • Tattoos/ branding on the neck and/or lower back

  • Not allowing people to go into public alone, or speak for themselves

After diving deep into a crime as heinous as Human Trafficking, it’s easy for us to feel as if there is nothing we can do. At Sisters in Shelter, however, we believe that education is a powerful weapon, and our hope is that our community will wield this knowledge in the fight against Human Trafficking. An accurate understanding of these issues allow us to identify and stop human trafficking in its tracks. A community of well-informed individuals who are passionate and thirsty for change should never be underestimated.

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