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Kirsten Hornby
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Stopping Traffick: Understanding the Problem

13 February 2014, 13:27

Human Trafficking- say it with me now: “Human Trafficking”. Not to be confused with illegal migration or smuggling; and definitely not to be confused with being stuck behind a long line of cars on the way to work (Okay no- this is serious). Human Trafficking is the buying and selling of people for the purpose of exploitation. People are seen as commodities that can make money for someone else at minimal cost. They are used for hard labour, factory work, farm work, as domestic workers and commonly and most famously- sex workers. “That sounds familiar” you may say. Why yes- you’re right; such things have been going on for thousands of years - as Human Trafficking in its essence is modern-day slavery. But what is not often realised is that this happens now- yes, right now. Right now it is happening to 20.9 million people according to the United Nations TIP report- that equates to the population of Mozambique in trafficking victims. Human trafficking has been reported in almost every country in the world and is the second biggest international illegal trade - second only to drugs (yes, that means even the illegal arms trade is not as lucrative).

So Human Trafficking does exist- and it happens in four clear stages: coercion, transportation, control, and exploitation. Every one of these stages must be present in order for a case to be categorised as Human Trafficking. So, this is what a case of Human Trafficking typically looks like: first, a trafficker will make a promise. They will offer an incredible opportunity to their potential victim- normally exactly what the victim has always dreamed of. To the pretty young girl in a poor home they will offer a modelling contract in Milan; to the school child that dreams of a brighter future- a scholarship in Switzerland; to the young boy- a position in a football club in France; and to the hardworking single mother- a well paying job somewhere far away that could give her enough money to send her children to school. The people who often fall for these promises are not ignorant or careless, but are often those who are bright, ambitious and willing to take risks to succeed.

 Then, once the story is believed and the victim hands over their documents for the trafficker to process their “transport details”, the second stage has begun. The victim is now under the control of the trafficker, taken out of her community and is fed further lies to hold her in bondage. The trafficker will say things like: “now that you’re here, you need to pay off the debt that you owe me for your transport, so now you have to work in this factory (or this brothel) until you pay me off”. The victim will then be forced to work in inhumane conditions and given little to no pay- making it impossible for them to pay off the debt. This is called debt bondage - and is a common tool for the trafficker to establish control over the victim.

So now the victim is trapped- alone and outside of her usual community; with no travel documents and is unable to speak to the local language. Also, the victim often believes that what has happened to her is perfectly legal- and that she is paying off a real debt.  To strengthen the hold that the trafficker has over the victim, the trafficker will tell her that the local authorities will arrest her if she tries to fight- and if she tries to run away; the traffickers will hurt her family. The methods of control used by traffickers do not end here, and the victims are often beaten, raped, or drugged into submission. Then, the final and more permanent stage of the process is exploitation. The victims are forced to work for no or very little pay day after day with little chance of change or escape.

 Once a significant amount of time goes by; then perhaps the saddest thing of all happens: the victim begins to normalise and accept the situation as reality. They fight less, need less supervision and control, and may even arrive at a point where they advocate what happened to them; or begin to see a peculiar type of justice in bringing other people through the same course that they had to walk. It can be justified in their minds by thinking: “I’ve paid my dues and gone through all of this, now it’s somebody else’s turn”. These victims may then become part of the perpetuation; as after justifying a lifestyle for so long, one then begins to act as if it really were just. A few years down the line, if somehow the trafficker releases the victim or if the victim escapes,  these victims may be seen working as prostitutes or get involved in trafficking themselves- the injustice that was done to them never to be spoken of and for society to be perpetually blind to. This is the story of millions of people around the world who will never see justice.

So this is Human Trafficking- a trade based in deception and exploitation. Just having awareness and understanding does not solve the problem of Human Trafficking- but nothing will happen before we do have awareness and understanding. Let us play a role in solutions that will give hope and freedom to victims of modern day slavery. 

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