Through the years, terrible battles have been fought and many lives lost to eliminate slavery in this country, yet it still exists in the form of human trafficking. Globalization, competing economic markets and the population boom have created an environment that is ripe for modern day slavery.
It was reported in a recent article in the European Journal of Criminology, all countries in the modernized world, whether it is the United States, Canada, New Zealand or the United Kingdom, can be shown to be active participators in the global market of human flesh, either as a country of origin – that is, countries people are trafficked out of; a country of destination – that is, countries where trafficked persons end up; or a country of transit – that is, countries through which trafficked persons are moved en route to their final destination. (Winterdyk, Reichel).
Trafficking in human flesh is a 32 billion dollar industry worldwide with an inventory of approximately 1 million victims in the United States alone and the number of victims is steadily on the rise (Feingold). Forced labor, domestic servitude, and sexual exploitation are the most prevalent forms of human trafficking in this country, adding nearly 80 thousand victims annually, with children making up 50% of these statistics. Local and federal officials need to do more to bring traffickers to justice and eliminate human trafficking in this country.
When asked to consider what human trafficking or slavery means, most people might think back to the era of slave trading. They might picture ships, full of passengers forcibly taken from their villages, sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to America, only to become slaves working on plantations, in the cotton fields, under a grueling sun. Today, those slave ships have become different types of transportation that can contain and move human cargo without easy detection and the people inside the containers have not been forcibly taken. These people are looking forward to a better way of life and believe that they are being helped to reach it.
What they don’t know is that they are headed from bad to worse. George Palermo, M. D at University of Nevada School of Medicine and Medical College of Wisconsin, believes that victims are drawn into the tentacles of human trafficking because of their desire for a better future, to escape social discrimination, or they are searching for honest work to better themselves. “The dream of a better future pulls them from their home. However, they too often find themselves disillusioned and entrapped in a very debasing situation, and their dreams are shattered” (Palermo 671).
With their hopes of that new life dashed to pieces, the passengers begin that new life as modern day slaves, in a strange place, without knowing the language. These individuals will become the newest victims of forced labor, domestic servitude, and sexual exploitation. They will be forced into laboring in places such as sweatshops, farms, and construction sites. They will also be forced into working very long hours, in terrible conditions. These modern day slaves will be forced to reside in places known as hot bunks, with single sleeping quarters, which will be used by rotating shift workers.
Victims will face constant verbal abuse and threats of physical violence. They will be compelled to hand over most, if not all, of their earnings to the traffickers. Although most victims may wish to flee, but their fear of physical violence, lack of energy, feelings of guilt, and an overall sense of hopelessness will keep them invisibly shackled to their traffickers. Often times, female victims will find themselves forced into domestic servitude, acting as maids, cooks, or nannies. These victims will lead lives of isolation, having little or no unsupervised freedom, completely cut off from the rest of the world.
There will be no privacy provided. Personal comfort will be nonexistent, and they will be forced to sleep on nothing more than a rug or bare mattress in an open area or hallway (Diaz et al. ). Such is the case of a Filipina woman recently rescued from a Maryland couple who forced her into domestic servitude. The couple has been arrested and charged with human trafficking and other immigration violations. According to the indictment, the couple from Maryland enticed the victim to come to the United States to work as their domestic servant.
The defendants lured the victim, an impoverished, uneducated, mother of eight children, using false promises of a salary that would support her children in the Philippines. The defendants procured a fraudulent visa to allow the victim to enter the United States; confiscated the victim’s documents after she arrived; and compelled her labor for 18 hours a day over a period of 10 years, using a scheme of threats, assaults, withholding of documents, withholding of pay and a peonage contract to coerce the victim’s continued service (“Maryland Couple Charged”).
Although the numbers of victims of forced labor and domestic servitude are on the rise, sexual exploitation remains the most prevalent form of human trafficking. Sexual exploitation is considered to be non-consensual or abusive sexual acts performed without a victim’s permission. This includes but is not limited to prostitution, escort work and pornography. Women, men and children of both sexes can be victims. Most disturbing is the number of children that are victims of sexual exploitation.
In one report, it is estimated that at least seventy percent of the women involved in prostitution are victims of human trafficking and were introduced to the commercial sex trade before they were eighteen years of age. (Kotrla). Quite often children are abducted and forced into prostitution or pornography and never heard from again. Shauna Newell was one of the lucky ones. At the time of her abduction, she was a typical 16 year old who loved to hang out with friends, so when a new friend invited her to spend the night she was very excited and convinced her mother to allow her to do so.
After she did not return home, Shauna’s mother called police who took the approach that the girl had run away and took no immediate action. Shauna’s family initiated their own search and just by chance on the third day she was spotted in the back seat of a car by her brother at a convenience store. Shauna was rescued but her abductors escaped. As it turns out, the girl’s “father” was really a convicted felon, and the girl, who had a record of prostitution in Texas, was an accomplice in the abduction. For three days Shauna was beaten and raped. She also contracted an STD.
Her abductor told her he had sold her over the internet for $300,000. Fortunately, Shauna was rescued before the deal could take place. Many times the victims of human trafficking come in contact with local law enforcement, but because of a lack of training, the modern day slaves are not recognized as victims but viewed as perpetrators instead. The fear of reprisal against themselves or their family members keeps the victims from speaking out against traffickers. Consequently, they are willing to face arrest and jail time rather than the trafficker’s anger.
Health care providers also come in contact with modern day slaves seeking treatment for injuries inflicted by the trafficker, labor induced injuries, or possibly an STD’s, yet will not recognize the patient as a victim of human trafficking because they are not trained to look for the appropriate signals. If more local law enforcement and health care providers receive proper training in identifying victims of human trafficking it would be easier to provide the right care and assistance as was the case for one 16 year old girl trafficked from Mexico.
In one recently reported incident, a sixteen year old Mexican girl was found to have been trafficked across the US border. Doctors noticed the heavily pregnant girl showed clear signs of physical abuse when she was brought into a hospital in Dayton to give birth. The police were called but the couple who had brought her had already fled. When the girl’s story emerged, it became clear she had been kept against her will in the nearby city of Springfield and used for labor and sex.
“I thought slavery ended a few centuries ago. But here it is alive and well,” said Springfield’s sheriff, Gene Kelly (Harris). During the late 1990’s the public’s interest in human trafficking issues grew and demands for stricter laws against it followed. In response to public demand, the United States government enacted the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in the year 2000. This legislation was introduced to prevent trafficking, identify and protect victims, and prosecute offenders.
Since 2000, forty two states have enacted their own anti-trafficking laws, yet the expected numbers of arrests and prosecutions not been met whether locally or on a federal level. Miriam Potocki, Director of the National Social Workers Association wrote an article in which she claims that since the date of enactment VTVPA, there has been little transparency or accountability in policy implementation; only a small number of immigrant victims have been identified, and there is almost no evidence regarding effectiveness of victim services, and prosecution is highly problematic.
Fundamentally, because there is no rational approach to the policy implementation, public funds are wasted (Potocky). In conclusion, human trafficking violates a person’s inalienable right to freedom yet there are more victims today than 150 years ago and the United States is not doing enough to eliminate it. Stronger penalties are needed to deter individuals or groups from continuing to exploit victims and force them into slavery, either through forced labor, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation.
Local law enforcement agencies as well as health care providers need to be better informed regarding human trafficking issues so they can readily spot victims as well as the traffickers. By providing better rescue and assistance programs for human trafficking victim the Unites States can set the standard for eliminating modern day slavery. President Barack Obama said it best, during his speech at the Clinton Global Initiative in September 2012 when he said, “Nations must speak with one voice– that our people and our children are not for sale” (“Obama”).
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