The goal of the day is to raise awareness about the state of human trafficking in our world and to give people information about the specific types of trafficking going on in their communities and how they can combat them. Despite the fact that we all know human trafficking happens, there seems to be an unspoken commitment to ignoring it or penalizing those people who are trafficked rather than the traffickers. In the U.S. these penalties are enacted through anti-immigration rhetoric that both prevents reforms that would decrease the lucrative nature of trafficking and claims immigrants deserve the abuse they receive for crossing the border illegally. It also manifests in ongoing criminalization of undocumented workers and sex workers while virtually ignoring the people who employ and/or exploit them.
In recent cases, we have seen how diplomatic immunity has been used in the U.S. to traffic individual domestics and/or participate in extensive trafficking rings without consequence. While these diplomats are often foreign dignitaries, they receive help from U.S. citizens and policies. Even more problematic are the cases of academics, like former Florida University Professor Marvin Hersh who after engaging in paid sex with under-age trafficked youth brought one child back with him with the promise of a better life, missionaries, like the pastor who promised one of the women he was ministering to a better life in the U.S. only to take her passport and force her to work as a domestic servant in his house for 7 years, and even government officials, remember the woman who said it was “so hard to find good help these days”, who have all participated in trafficking of human beings while claiming innocence. Many upper class communities in the U.S. rely on trafficked domestic labor as much as the entire country relies on trafficked agricultural labor and potentially trafficked restaurant staff, especially in upper and middle class cities.
Sadly, discourses in feminism have worked to pit sex worker’s rights against anti-trafficking advocates in ways that benefit neither group, nor those who are trafficked; instead of working in concert, and subsequently learning from one another about what works and what does not, these conflicts have polarized positions in ways that traffickers take full advantage. The discourse surrounding sex work itself plays into these conflicts as well as the ability for people in the U.S. to assume that no trafficking is going on in their neighborhoods. The image of sex work as happening in backroom alleys and dirty motels, or unionized dance clubs in California or Nevada, mask the growing ring of “neighborhood traffickers” like those who killed Brooke Bennet and Shaniya Davis, people like Duke employee Frank Mccorkle Lombard and Aleisea and Timothy Smith.
The move to expose confidential shelters in the U.S. to keep them out of people’s neighborhoods because of increased anti-woman victim blaming is also increasing danger for trafficked women and children in the U.S. and the failure to protect advocates and their families in some of the major trafficking centers in the U.S. has led many qualified people to quit or not apply. It is a cycle that invades every aspects of our lives and yet we often only discuss it as if it only happens in other countries or in war zones. It happens in suburbia just as often and 200 year old trade routes are established through both coasts and some of the most “progressive” cities in the U.S.
The State Department also released a report this summer arguing that the global economic crisis has increased the demand for trafficked labor across the globe. The logic: when times are tough on everyone, people become more vulnerable and the people with the power become less likely to pay for what they want.
The global trafficking pandemic is the larger picture here in which young children, women, refugees, and the poor are all easy targets, I have focused on the U.S. in this post not to erase their suffering, but rather to point to the connections we share with them. Not only are global capitalist companies, lending policies, and wars implicated in the increased instability of people around the world but here in the U.S. both domestic and international trafficking helps keep major legal and illegal industries afloat. By making it a problem “over there” we forget about right here and right now.
You can find out more about events and actions in your area by accessing the Change.org website today. They are keeping an updated list of events around N. America. You can also call your local immigrant’s rights organizations and women’s rights organizations and ask them about getting involved and learning more about what some call the return of Modern Day slavery. You can also sign the petititions against trafficking at change.org and amnesty international and educate yourself and others about the causes those petitions represent.