Before I begin, I want to prepare the reader that this article will cover some intense imagery pertaining to the nature of modern slavery. It would be a disservice and an insult to every victim of human trafficking for me, or anyone, to curtail, or diminish the heinousness of what they have and are enduring. By watering down the truth, we may never fully understand even the slightest percentage of the pain, suffering, and horror that victims and survivors experience – even an article such as this will always fall short.
I want to first define what human trafficking means. Within the past few years, the word trafficking has been passed around news outlets and publications accompanied with gang or cartel violence, or ISIS, or any extremist group operating off the radar and transporting something illegal for profit. Trafficking isn’t a relatively new concept because for most of our common vernacular the term drug trafficking has always been a part of our vocabulary. In the modern age, there have been countless of films and television shows circulating the topics of drug running and cartel violence. However, what we see less of is the genre of human trafficking. In terms of public consumption, it’s far easier to watch a character load, process, and ship kilos of drugs across borders, and maybe endure a few shootouts between scenes, but it’s another to witness a woman or child brutally raped over and over by groups of men until they succumb to addition, disease, or death.
When the human body becomes a part of the trade, it crosses an indelible line of morality. In a lot of trafficking cases, the horrors are initially less extreme as victims rarely encounter scenarios fictionalized in movies like Taken. Instead, what researchers find reveal to be more conniving and luring tactics that slowly push the victim toward the end of the line. Often times, it can be the neighbors or people in the victim’s own community who slowly work their ways into the victim’s life until he or she finally realizes the dire situations they are trapped in.
To leave no stone unturned, human trafficking is best summarized as the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. In other words: this is modern slavery.
Isn’t slavery a thing of the past? Yes. It is. However, just because something is a thing of the past doesn’t mean that it has remained there. Slavery has never stopped. It has only evolved.
Today, slavery is an underground business, and a very intricate, deceptive, and behind the scenes catalyst for nothing else but power, lust, and of course, money. It is well masked and falsely advertised. It is encrypted, and carefully marketed both online and off to vulnerable people and their communities, and it happens everywhere. In every country, in every state, and most likely right now in the town you’re reading this from. There is always someone being coerced against their will, frightened to reach out for help, and forced into acts that will stay with them forever.
In most modern cities, it’s difficult to understand that such a business exists. With all the politics and arguments advocating for comparatively minor social issues, trafficking is never mentioned, and probably because it’s too surreal to imagine.
It’s not common for people in developed nations to ask themselves if they live in an age where women and children are kidnapped and forced into brothels and manual labor. If it happens everywhere, or anywhere at all, why aren’t there public notices circulating the cities with news anchors, journalists, and public figures addressing the issue? The answer is twofold. For one, most people don’t know that it exists and therefore have no way of ever knowing what to look for or what to discuss. There’s a sad and heartbreaking ignorance on trafficking and what happens to the victims coerced against their own choosing. The other reason is a bit more obvious, but arguably the main reason for one’s unawareness. Criminal leaders running human trafficking rings don’t want you to ever know they exist. They are essentially ghosts. Like a typical company, it’s always hard to make time to see the CEO. He or she embody this ambiguous figure at the top of the chain calling the shots and having full control over what happens to you. The consequences for these criminals are incredibly dire. There is a great risk involved in the trafficking business as anyone from the top or the bottom could face several years of imprisonment or the death penalty.
STATS, MONEY, & THE NATURE
In America, trafficking is culturally accepted by our society and explicitly defined by the government as something detestable and highly illegal. It is the single most evasive and illegal business practice on earth. It operates at a staggering 32 billion dollars, and sadly, there are governments around the world who take a little off the top in exchange for turning the other way. For traffickers, the nature of the business must be kept under wraps and remain secretive in order to survive. By simply reading this article, you are taking an active step to damage their business.
SCOPE AND REALITY
In our world, over 27 million people are enslaved. Let’s try to think about that for a second. If Nashville, Tennessee has around 650,000 people, that means that you and every single person you see today, tomorrow, and next week is a slave against their will. Their life is not their own, and neither is yours, and every day you and everyone around you are sexually abused, raped, and forced into manual labor beyond your physical limitations; you are beaten every day until you are rescued or you die at the hand of your captors, the grips of addiction, or inevitably disease. Now multiply that Nashville number 41 times to even get close to the global total.
Again, 27 million people are enslaved around the world. Let that sink in. And of this 27 million, 35% are sexually trafficked children. The research is grim as cases range from infants to persons under 18.
It will take around 10 minutes to read this article, and in that time, approximately 7 children around the world will be kidnapped and subjected to trafficking. Their lives will change forever.
REALITY IN ASIA
In Southeast Asia trafficking is rampant. In this countries, and like many cities around the world, women are lured into trafficking situations through promises for a better life. People take advantage of desperate and poverty-stricken communities in need of food and shelter by promising them employment, but only if they take their hand first.
Almost always they are fooled, tricked, and lied to. As human trafficking has become more pervasive, women and children in these communities are actually becoming aware of their susceptibility. To some this is seen as a good thing – people are not as easily fooled. However, all this means is that trafficking schemers are implementing darker methods of recruitment.
Tragically, a lot of research concludes that women and children are often taken away from their families because they were sold from them in the first place, often times to pay off the debt of another family member. Most countries in Southeast Asia experience an inescapable level of poverty, leaving many in debt. Once sold from their relatives, victims are taken to remote places, almost always the opposite destination they were told, raped and tortured, become addicted to drugs, persistently beaten, and threatened that if they do not comply they will be murdered, or maybe worse anyone they love will die due to their lack of compliance. Believe it or not, traffickers aren’t always men. Often times, women lure other women into a false sense of security. The power they have over their victims, or property, is the ultimate control. They will threaten to murder everyone you love if you don’t do what they say. Above drug trafficking, or animal trafficking, or any other prohibited substance, human trafficking directly affects your the life within your loved one. The most important person in your life is taken away from you with little chance of ever coming home. Shouldn’t people have the right to live a better life than this?
If there is anything I want you to walk away with it is the power and the understanding of empathy. Without question, it is all of our responsibility to inform each other on what is happening in the world, but with having empathy at the forefront of your thoughts will cause you to act. It is the one thing victims of trafficking need: your empathy.
Everyday we hear about tragedies from ISIS, North Korea, local murders, drunk driving, suicide. At our disposal we have an instant access to global and local news, and it is understandably easy to become numb. Oh, another terrorist bombing. Oh, another traffic accident. Oh, another rape case.
It is normal to become numb when presented daily, if not hourly, with the grim atrocities in our world. However, it is imperative to recognize that we are human and we have limits. Knowing our limitations actually allows us to see clearly.
It’s hard to immerse yourself into the realities of trafficking and become a part of the solution to end it. The nature is dark, the reports are nightmarish, and the sheer amount of it all is overwhelming. Therefore, we may feel that we cannot fix this problem and instead retreat back to the obstacles in our lives that we can control. This does not have to be you. There are always opportunities to help, but each and every one those opportunities starts with empathy.
I encourage you to practice self-awareness whenever you experience that numbness and I want it to be your first level of self-diagnosis. I want it to stop you in your tracks. Recognize the feeling when you care very little about something that should shake your core. By simply taking a second to acknowledge the existence of trafficking, takes you one step closer to ending it.
As soon as you read a headline that says, “ISIS raids a local village and beheads 20 men and rapes 20 women. Kidnapping and enslaving 15 children,” I want you to stop and read it again. Remember that you are the same as the victims. Like them you have organs, cells, were born from a mother, laugh at jokes, cry, feel pain, and experience joy. You are human. You breathe the same air as they do, and if in similar geographies, it very well could be you.
It is hard to fathom a more crushing thought than a person knowingly depriving and ending the life of another person for their own gain. The grief and mourning they are creating for husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and friends is unjustifiable.
A good percentage of people reading this article, including myself, have not experienced brutality on this magnitude first-hand, and therefore it’s hard to initially grasp the severity of what’s presented. But what the world needs is empathy. Someone to care. Someone to feel the sadness, and share in that sadness.
Trafficked victims are alone. They feel hopeless like a castaway facing the reality that today could be the day they die. Sometimes they wish death if it means they can escape the torture they are enduring.
THE SADNESS IN BEING RESCUED
How wonderful would it be to snap your fingers and instantly free every slave from their captor? What’s often not discussed is that even rescued victims don’t come home to loving families. In many eastern communities, victims are shamed and ostracized from everyone they once loved because they are viewed as contaminated, broken, and detestable to their culture and religion. They’ve been rescued, but the people they’ve been dying to get back to won’t welcome and love them. Whenever I’ve read about this happening to a rescued trafficked victim, I fall apart inside. It wrecks me to believe that if I was them, and I came home to my parents or grandparents or friends, and instead of wrapping feeling the embrace of resume and love, I’m instead stared at with disgust, hearing nothing but the door closed on me – I’m not sure what I would do. Often times, victims who experience this rejection end up back into the arms of the traffickers they’ve escaped from, or worse, see no alternative or hope and take their own life.
You can teach yourself the facts of human trafficking, and there is a lot to be said about an informed person because it’s how you teach others going forward, but facts do not make you feel anything. Facts are sort of removed from emotion. But by watching the sadness, hearing the break in someone’s voice as they cry and fall apart, the quivering from a woman or child as they describe on camera what was done to them, the faces of abused people who no longer feel anything becomes all tragically real. It is real 27 million more times than we can imagine.
Empathy is a part of the human condition that truly separates the feelings of pity from compassion. Pity moves on, and quickly. Pity is objective. However, empathy has depth, but even more than depth, it pushes you. Empathy actively commands of yourself to do something, to act. Empathy rushes you to save, to protect. You see the problem not as a statistic, but as a personal threat.
I encourage you to research documentaries or find reports covered on YouTube or anything that can show you the depravity and treacherous nature of human trafficking. It is so important that you hear the voice of a victim. Look at their face. Listen to their tone. Only then will you truly understand the sadness and the severity of what is going on in the world of a human trafficked victim. Only then will you empathize.
I know this is all tough to hear, but it is undoubtedly worse to experience. It’s not an easy topic to talk about because it’s beyond the norm, and yet it’s becoming the norm. Sometimes it’s simply too much and we don’t want that level of sadness in our lives. We want to ignore it to protect ourselves – and that’s understandable. However, the more you know and the less you do about it, almost makes you an indirect contributor. Simply talking about it to others can literally be someone’s saving grace. You never know who and where trafficking occurs. There is a lot of love in this world, but there are a lot of people trying to remove that. We cannot be a part of the movement that looks away.
TRANSITION + HOPE
There is good news. There are countless of people empathizing, people fighting back, people taking charge. There are few things in this world that exceed the feeling of being rescued and being saved. It’s the ultimate expression of grace, thankfulness, and hope. There are organizations all over the world that work to eradicate human trafficking, help empower victims, counsel them, provide physical and mental services, and I believe that someday they will all succeed together. Their current success is skyrocketing, but a lot more needs to be done.
People can lead better lives, they can be empowered to work and make a living for themselves and their families. There is a lot of hope out there because there are a lot of people doing good and seeing unexpected and wonderful results. Communities are fighting back. People are protecting people. Justice is served. Each and every one of you can be a part of that. Some of you today might want to go out and volunteer. Some of you will become very active and go out into the world and help fight against this disgusting business. And some of you will be moved and will want to talk to your friends and family about human trafficking – and I believe all of that is truly a beautiful thing. You are empowered, you feel empathy, and you are acting on it. That’s all these victims can ask of us. The more you empathize and see these victims as equals to you, the closer someone is to being rescued.
Freedom’s Promise is committed to preventing human trafficking and child exploitation in Cambodia by empowering at-risk individuals with opportunities for education and dignified employment. You can be part of this transformational work by making a tax-deductible gift to Freedom’s Promise today.