The Most Silent Crime

Stacy Matson | Celebrity Health
The Most Silent Crime

image by: Ira Gelb

It's hard to believe, but more humans are being used as slaves than ever before - Don't Sell Bodies

Did you know that January is Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month?  I didn’t either.  Don’t feel bad, it’s pretty new.  President Obama signed the proclamation in 2016 as a way to bring attention to the fact that human trafficking happens here in the United States and to encourage people to learn how to identify victims.

The reason for the proclamation is that most people believe that human trafficking only happens to women in impoverished countries and that U.S. citizens need not worry about being kidnapped and forced to work as prostitutes. That’s a myth.  But, that’s what I thought, that is until my daughter came home from college one summer and told me about career day at her school.   

Yes, career day.  At my daughter’s school there was a booth set up by a local human trafficking task force. They were there recruiting young women to act as decoys in order to catch traffickers and help locate victims.  My daughter also told me that three California cities made the human trafficking top ten list. Oh, and that’s three cities out of all the cities in the world.  I was totally shocked.

So clearly Human trafficking hasn’t been getting the attention it needs as most people don’t know much about it, or what they do know isn’t accurate.  For example, many people think that human trafficking only involves the sex trade.  And, yes forced prostitution exists and it’s horrifying for it’s many victims, but in reality forced physical labor is far more common. Forced labor includes domestic servitude (housekeeping and childcare), janitorial work, farm work, sweatshops, food service, begging or selling trinkets on the streets, stealing etc.

If you think about the forced labor aspect I believe that makes all of us guilty of supporting human trafficking to some degree. It’s true.  Did you read the part about sweatshops?  Well think about that the next time you purchase those $10 shoes or buy something because it is sooooo cheap at stores like Target, Walmart, H&M, Forever 21, the Gap, Disney, or Apple. Think about who’s making these items, and why they’re so cheap.  It’s because the cheap stuff we buy was made from the blood, sweat, and tears of modern day slaves, many of whom are children.  Feel guilty?  Most of us should.

Sorry, but here comes a rantable moment.

I’m really going to miss American Apparel once they’re gone. They produce high quality products without the use of slave labor at the same time they’re providing incredible working conditions, and very livable wages for their employees.  Oh yeah, they also offer onsite daycare, doctors 24/7, on site masseuse, bicycles for those who don’t drive, and phones that employees can use to call anywhere in the world for free.  Sorry, but I’d rather pay more for a pair of pants and have a clean conscience. Anyway...

Back to the problem  How do traffickers find their victims?  

First, they seek out and prey upon the most vulnerable people. They look for people who have emotional issues, those who are desperate for money, those who don't have families or, those who have an unstable living situation such as orphans, runaways, and those displaced by natural disaster, or political instability.  Second, traffickers lure their victims with promises of well paying jobs in wealthier, safer locations. So people who have no options leave everything they know without a clue of the horrors that await them.

And sadly, by the time they realize what they’ve gotten themselves into, it’s too late.  They’re in a new location, they probably don’t speak the language, they don’t have legal documents, and they’re isolated.  So, instead of that great new life they’re subject to 20-hour days of back breaking labor and horrific living conditions.  And, the young boys and girls who’ve been offered modeling or acting jobs and a life of luxury find themselves forced into prostitution, sleeping with as many as 30, yes 30, people a day.  

You’re probably wondering why they don’t leave, right?  They don’t leave because they are terrified. If victims protest or try to leave traffickers use physical violence, threats of violence or death against the victims families, threats of imprisonment because of the illegal activities they’ve been forced to be a part of, more lies, or debt to force their victims to stay.  It’s a cycle that is almost impossible to escape.  

But there is a sliver of hope. First, there is awareness month and awareness day both of which are starting to garner a lot of attention.  Second, in the past few years, there’s been a shift in the way victims of human trafficking are treated. Rather than being intimidated or threatened by officials, victims are being treated with compassion and understanding. This creates an environment where victims feel they can speak out when they have the opportunity.  So they do.

Third, is the celebrity factor.  Recently several very outspoken celebrities have attached their names to the cause and are actively fighting to end human trafficking and create new legislation to help victims.  

Singer Ricky Martin is one of those celebrities.  In 2002 his life changed forever when he witnessed, then rescued, three girls that were about to be sold into prostitution in India.  Because of what he witnessed Martin started the Ricky Martin Foundation and has worked tirelessly to end human trafficking. The RMF focuses on rescuing and rehabilitating children and teens who’ve been forced into the sex and labor trades. Their goal is to abolish human trafficking through education and empowerment within our lifetime.

Actress and long-time advocate Jada Pinkett Smith had an experience similar to mine.  Pinkett Smith said she had no idea that human trafficking occurred in the United States until her daughter told her about it. In disbelief, Pinkett Smith began researching, was horrified by what she read, and is now a vocal activist and advocate.

Last year Pinkett Smith traveled to Atlanta, a trafficking hotspot, to film a documentary about human trafficking in the United States. The documentary, Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking, is a graphic look at the trafficking industry, the lives of the children living this nightmare, and those who are fighting back and making a difference.

Human trafficking is a silent crime that affects an estimated 20 to 30 million people around the world. And it’s the second most profitable crime, after illegal drugs, generating $150 billion dollars annually.  No country is exempt from human trafficking. Not one.  

So think about that the next time you buy something. Think about where and how it’s made.  Put a little humanity into your purchase.  Slavery was abolished a long time ago.  Oh, wait only for some.

If you’d like to learn more about human trafficking or how to identify victims, please check out the following websites.

Not For Sale is located in San Francisco.  They’ve partnered with businesses and employers to find jobs, as well as education and shelter for those rescued from trafficking. Not For Sale has locations in Europe, South America, and Asia.

The Living Water Center is a safe house and rehabilitation center for human trafficking victims.  It helps survivors graduate from high school, apply to college, and find jobs.

Wellspring Living provides a safe house, education, and therapy for underage victims. It also offers an independent living program which includes continued education and job training.

4Sarah is an intervention program that reaches out to women working in strip clubs and warns them of the risks of the human trafficking industry.

Safe Horizon is based in New York City and provides housing, counseling, legal services, education, and job training. The organization has a 24-hour hotline available.

Polaris Project is located in the Washington area. They have a crisis response team with emergency housing, transportation, and legal advocacy. The organization also has a center where victims can get clothing, food, therapy, and help with job placement.

And, if you know or suspect that someone is a victim of human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center at 1-888-373-7888.

Stacy Matson is a health enthusiast from Southern California and regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of Best.

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