By Kyra Hall
Ask any studious fifth grader when slavery was abolished in the United States, and they are likely to pronounce that slavery was outlawed by Former President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. It is true that slavery was made illegal in America at that time, but many would be surprised to hear that despite its illegality, slavery is alive and well within U.S. borders and all over the world. Human trafficking, slavery and other related atrocities continue to be a major problem worldwide. By spreading awareness, being responsible consumers, and supporting legislative action, Americans can help save millions from the horrors of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is defined by the transport and forced labor of individuals through the use of deception, threat of violence, and/or abuse of power. In nations across the globe, impoverished people are especially vulnerable to human traffickers. The ways in which people become entrapped by traffickers are complex, but the one constant is that the person being exploited cannot escape alone. According to the United Nations, 54 percent of slaves are recruited by a stranger, and the other 46 percent are recruited by persons known to them, including friends and family.
Often, adults are deceived into forced labor through a promise of a better life for them and their families. Many women transported to become prostitutes are initially told they will be seeking forms of legitimate employment. Once they have been removed from their support network and brought to a foreign land, they are psychologically and physically controlled through threats and abuse. Children, often without caretakers, are simply bought and sold like commodities, unable to fight back against their oppressors. Men can be forced into labor through financial debt or the threat of violence against themselves or those closest to them. No matter how they are compelled to submit to the trafficker’s will, these human beings are transformed into another person’s property.
There is no way to know precisely how many people are currently enslaved by human traffickers. Estimates range from 10 to 30 million, but no exact number can be generated due to the underground nature of the industry. According to Kathleen Ja Sook Bergquist, Ph.D., Esq. of the organization Bamboo Bridges, 14 to 17 thousand slaves are trafficked into the United States annually. Over 70 percent of these are women, and roughly 20 percent are children. Many of these women and children are brought to Las Vegas, one of the top 17 destination cities for slaves. Once these exploited peoples have been taken to their destinations, they are forced to perform a variety of tasks against their will.
Slaves that are brought to American cities such as Las Vegas are often entered into the sex industry. Underaged girls and women alike are brought to stores that put up false fronts; these establishments advertise themselves to be massage parlors or reflexology clinics, but behind closed doors, they are brothels staffed by slaves. Legitimate businesses suffer from the reputation generated by these centers of human exploitation, but identifying a place that is using enslaved sex workers is not difficult from a consumer standpoint. The warning signs include odd hours of operation, unsanitary conditions, underdressed and/or under aged employees, and beds in place of massage tables. These establishments often have precautions in place to prevent law enforcement agencies from rooting them out, and it is up to the public to report suspicious activity. While sexual slavery is one of the most common reasons for human trafficking, it is not the only one.
In other parts of the world, slaves are used to perform manual as well as sexual labor. Chocolate, coffee, jade, diamonds and countless other resources are produced or obtained through the exploitation of enslaved laborers according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s list of goods produced by child labor or slavery In the globalized economy, it falls to the consumer to ensure that the goods they purchase are ethically traded. Slavery is driven by the same supply and demand system that governs all other goods and services. To choke out human trafficking, one must start at its root: money. Every individual can take it upon themselves to cut off the flow of money to human traffickers by not providing them income.
Not utilizing prostitutes is an easy and obvious way to prevent human exploitation. Sourcing products and only buying those that are ethically traded takes more time and effort but in the long run will save countless lives. Many companies are implementing fair trade policies and labeling their products to let the consumer know that human suffering was not involved in their production. In order to rely less on individual and corporate accountability, the local and federal governments are working on legislative solutions to protect those vulnerable to human trafficking.
At the national level, multiple federal agencies including but not limited to The Department of Health and Human Services, The Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor are all working together to create laws and regulations that deter human traffickers and aide in their prosecution once they have been identified. In the city of Las Vegas, the Southern Nevada Health Department has been working hand in hand with legitimate businesses and anti-trafficking activists in order to create laws that provide more health and safety for everyone.
Human trafficking is a global problem, and the solution must also be global in scope. Slavery will not disappear overnight, and it will never be entirely eradicated unless everyone steps up and does what they can to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable, impoverished people. Awareness is the first step; by knowing the warning signs of human trafficking activity, the public can better report suspicious occurrences to the law enforcement agencies in place to stop them. The second step is the responsibility of both individuals and corporations. To cut off the flow of money to human traffickers, companies must carefully source their products, and consumers must refuse to buy products that have not taken steps to protect their fellow man. These things in combination with supporting anti-trafficking regulation and law enforcement at the local and federal level will help bring about an end to modern slavery.