Friday, November 11, 2011

In Plain Sight: Modern Slavery

 (this is my most recent paper for my college English 101 class)

In Plain Sight: Modern Slavery

          Human trafficking. Two words that to some, have meaning. Others may only have an inkling of what it is those words mean. While some, don’t even know. Human trafficking didn’t end in this country with the abolishment of slavery and importation of slaves. Human trafficking still happens, and not just in our country or others. But in our cities, our neighborhoods, our backyards; and so often we miss it. We can sit back and wish all we want that things like that just don’t happen. Or, we can open our eyes to what is going on and in turn, learn and open the eyes of others. Together, we can end slavery.

            What exactly is human trafficking? Essentially, human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings: modern slavery. Human trafficking is a transnational crime, meaning it happens in multiple countries the world over. The crime of human trafficking can be for the purposes of selling people for other crimes; sexual exploitation being the most media recognized, but also for forced labor; a crime just as terrible and prevalent as sexual slavery and exploitation.
            People of all ages, genders, nationalities and walks of life can find themselves a victim of human trafficking. The exact number of people trafficked can only be estimated, and in 2005 the International Labor Organization estimated the minimum number of persons in trafficking situations to be 2.45 million. Out of that, an estimated 45,000–50,000 of those persons are trafficked through the United States annually (qtd. in Obuah 1). The United States is among the top 10 destinations for human trafficking (qtd. in Hepburn; Simon 3). In fact, the exact number trafficked through the U.S. every year can only be estimated. However, the majority of persons being trafficked are women and children. “Traffickers often prey on individuals who are poor, unemployed or underemployed, and who may lack access to social safety nets” (qtd. in Obuah 6).
            Victims of human trafficking are often brought to America under false pretenses. The promise of employment, education or marriage can be very tempting (qtd. in Reed). Other victims of human trafficking may have been kidnapped from off the streets, something that happens often to children for the purpose of sexual exploitation (qtd. in “Love146…Child Trafficking Facts”).
More often than not, people in trafficking situations are kept in living conditions that are unhealthy both physically and mentally: forced to work for hours on end (qtd. in Reed) without breaks and given little or no food and clean water (Hepburn; Simon 5).
Victims are often kept enslaved through the trafficker using their “debt” against them. First, victims may be offered employment with a pricey fee to gain the position. After victims have successfully been ensnared, traffickers will charge exorbitant fees for food, housing and other miscellaneous expenses, further indebting the victims (Hepburn; Simon 4, 5). Other ways pimps keep a handle on their victims is through confiscating travel documents, regular rape, beatings, threats upon them and their families and even through the use of drugs (qtd. in Obuah 8).
            While you may be wondering just why it is that human trafficking happens, it goes back to one of the oldest reasons in the book: greed. Believe it or not, the trafficking of persons is an extremely lucrative business for traffickers - i.e. “pimps” - with profits in the billions, and little or no risk to the people committing the crime. In fact, the trafficking of women is even more profitable than the international drugs and arms trade (qtd.  in Obuah 10). Still others estimate that that traffickers profit between $10 and $12 billion dollars annually. And that figure doesn’t even take into consideration the benefits gained by industries and factories who use slave labor (Obuah 10). Even still, the International Labor Office estimated an annual worldwide profit of $44.3 billion (qtd. in Hepburn; Simon 2).
Because of the sex industry traffickers, pimps, and their seedy associates aren’t the only one’s who profit from human trafficking. Some of the biggest U.S. corporations earn tens of millions in profits from the distribution of pornography; pornography that because of lax regulation often illegally uses underage and trafficked persons (Hepburn; Simon 4).
While sexual exploitation and slavery make up a large part of human trafficking, it’s not the only reason traffickers have for doing what they do. 98% of trafficking victims forced into commercial sexual exploitation are women and girls and the 2% left being men and boys (qtd. in Hepburn; Simon 2). But there is also forced labor, 56% of victims being women and girls with 44% being men and boys (qtd. in Hepburn; Simon 2).
The reality is that forced labor is just as bad as sexual slavery.
Since the general activities—[such as] domestic work, farming, factory work, or restaurant work—are all legal activities, there is a perception that ‘it’s not as bad as sex trafficking’, because in sex trafficking people are being forced into an illegal activity (qtd. in Hepburn; Simon 12).
            Trafficking of humans can, and does, happen right under our noses. In fact, “We think of it [prostitution] as a shady business, but the brothels are often homes in residential neighborhoods” (qtd. in Reed). In October 2001 a Rhode Island man was arrested on human trafficking charges, for enticing a 17 year old girl to perform sex acts for money (Sotnik). Around the same time in Connecticut a man is facing life for prostituting a 14 year old girl (“Man faces life for prostituting a minor”). Modern slavery happens, and it happens right here in our country.
            Human trafficking is a problem that spans country and continent. So what can a person like you or I do about it? Well, if knowledge is power the first thing we can do is educate ourselves on the subject. Websites and organizations like, Love146 (, the International Labor Organization (, all have an abundance of information on the subjects of human trafficking, modern slavery, child labor, forced labor, and sexual slavery. Every year the United States government releases a Trafficking in Persons report. “The report gives weight to concrete actions by the US government to combat trafficking and uses a three-tier system to rank countries” (qtd. Obuah 13). The 2011 report can be downloaded online.
            Knowledge on the subject plays a key part in understanding and opening eyes to the realities of human trafficking. But knowledge of warning signs someone may be a victim of human trafficking are equally important. In her article on human trafficking in the Seattle area written for “Seattle Woman Magazine”, Wenda Reed provides some red flags to look for if there’s a chance someone may be a victim of modern slavery.
            As American citizens the few things we have control over is how we spend our time and our money. Companies like Time Warner, Hilton, Westin, AT&T and Marriott all profit from the distribution of pornography, (Hepburn; Simon 4). Because of the aforementioned lax regulations on pornography and the American sex industry, it’s reasonable that by supporting these companies and others it supports human trafficking and sexual exploitation of persons. Perhaps next time you go to spend your money, see what you can find about where your money is going and what it may be supporting.
            There are also organizations that have a heart and drive to aid in the rescue of victims of human trafficking. Love146 is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and resources to combat child sex trafficking. World Vision is a humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice; including human and sex trafficking. Check out these organizations and research others (make sure they’re real!) to find out what you can do to make a difference, whether it’s volunteering time or money.
Still yet, all these numbers and statistics cannot even come to show just what is happening and the evils of modern slavery and human trafficking. The number of people victimized and the amount of profit from human trafficking can only ever be guessed at.
We all like to think that bad things don’t happen; at least not in our communities, our cities, or our nation. But the fact of the matter is human trafficking happens everywhere. No matter where you live, human trafficking exists in some way, shape, or form. We come in contact with it everyday though we may not even realize (qtd. in Obauh 3).
We have the choice to continue in our normalcy, preferring to avoid what’s happening. Or, we can choose to educate ourselves and others to the reality that human trafficking happens everywhere; and it’s something that together, we can end.

Works Cited
Hepburn, Stephanie; Simon, Rita J. “Hidden in Plain Sight: Human Trafficking in the United States.” Springer Science & Business Media. 27.1-2 (2010): 1-26. Proquest Research Library. Feature. 29 October 2011.
“ United States Child Trafficking Facts”. New Haven, CT: Love146 2009. Web. 29 October 2011.
“Man faces life for prostituting a minor”. News 8. LIN Television Corporation, 25 October 2011. Web. 29 October 2011.
Obuah, Emmanuel. “Combating Global Trafficking in Persons: the Role of the United States Post September 2001”. Palgrave Macmillan. 43.2 (2006):241-265. Proquest Research Library. Feature. 29 October 2011.
Reed, Wenda. “Slaves Among Us: Human Trafficking in the Seattle Area.” Seattle Woman. Caliope Publishing Company, 2010. Web. 27 October 2011.
Sotnik, Kathryn. “Man arrested in human trafficking case”. LIN Television Corporation, 25 October 2011 Web. 28 October 2011.

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