By Jessica Camille Dance, Staff Writer, 2L
According to data from the United Nations (“U.N.”), human trafficking ranks in the top third of international criminal enterprises along with drug and firearm trafficking. There are many forms of human trafficking which include sexual exploitation, organ trafficking, agricultural and domestic labor, and commercial labor. The U.S Department of State estimates that worldwide, there are approximately 20 to 30 million victims of human trafficking in the world today.
Approximately, “600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year and 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year. The estimated profits are upwards of $150 billion each year. Although, the number of victims and a number of profits generated are difficult to track with certainty due to human trafficking being a dark criminal enterprise. One way profits are estimated is from the amount that employers save annually by using workers they do not have to pay the same as they would legal workers.
What is Human Trafficking and Who Are the Victims?
The U.N defines human trafficking as, the recruitment, harboring, provision, receipt, transportation and/or obtaining of individuals by using force or threats, coercion, fraud and/or using systems of indebtedness or debt bondage for purposes of sexual or other forms of commercial exploitation. In other words, human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Any person from any socioeconomic group (age, race, gender, or nationality) can fall victim to human trafficking. However, runaway and homeless youth, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and those from war or conflict areas are more susceptible to victimization. Likewise, those who face social discrimination such as women and LGBTQ youths are also susceptible to victimization. According to the U.S. Department of State, children make up 50 percent of human trafficking victims while women make up 80 percent.
Modern Day Slavery
Sadly, human trafficking has been occurring for thousands of years and dates back to ancient times. Most Americans are familiar with the Transatlantic Slave Trade, where Africans were captured by slave traders and transported to Europe, the Caribbean, and eventually America between 1441 and 1867. We refer to this period of history simply as, slavery. But perhaps, we should start to view historical slavery through the same lens as we do human trafficking because human trafficking is, in fact, modern day slavery.
During slavery, African people were used for commercial labor i.e., the construction of roads and buildings. As Michelle Obama once said at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, “I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves.” Indeed, slaves were also used for agricultural labor, used to harvest cotton, tobacco, rice, sugar cane and indigo (plants which produce the dye used to give jeans their distinguished blue color). Not only were these crops used to make products that were sold to American elitist, but they were also exported across the world resulting America becoming the very wealthy nation it is today.
Some slaves were sold for the purpose of domestic labor (nannies, cooks, and housekeepers). However, what many people probably do not think about in regard to slavery is the sexual exploitation and child labor which existed. While male slaves were bought and sold primarily to perform manual labor, women, and children were often sold into either prostitution or as sex slaves to be used personally by their wealthy male slave owners. Women who worked in the fields were also forcibly raped and beaten upon their resistance. More specifically, field slaves were poorly fed, lived in overcrowded shacks with dirt floors, and received no medical treatment. Additionally, children, as young as two years old, were put to work in the fields.
Today we see many similarities with human trafficking that existed during slavery, particularly in domestic and agricultural labor. Migrant farmworkers include men, women, and children as young as 5 years old who harvest crops and raise animals in fields, packing plants, orchards, and nurseries all across the U.S. Owners of farms often use violence, debt, and threats of violence to keep workers from leaving. Also, women workers have recently begun speaking out about the culture of violent rape that exists on these farms. In 2013, the University of California, Berkeley produced a documentary on these heinous crimes titled “Rape in the Fields.”
Where Does Human Trafficking Happen?
Human trafficking takes place all around the world. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (“UNODC”), “Between 2010 and 2012, victims with 152 different citizenships were identified in 124 countries across the globe. Because victims are trafficked within the same region, it is complicated to pinpoint “major global trafficking hubs.” In America, sex trafficking occurs in cities, suburbs, rural towns, and even in your own community, massage businesses, residential homes, hotels and modeling agencies which were, in fact, brothels containing young women forced into prostitution. Trafficking even occurs right here in California, a state which is one of the largest hubs for human trafficking.
Victims are also found working in legal sex industries like strip clubs, escort services, and pornography. According to StopTraffickingDemand.com, even though victims voluntarily enter these industries, they are soon faced with a rude awakening that the “managers, producers and owners of these businesses are actually pimps who will force them to sign contracts and force them to work through threats or violence.” In 2016, various groups like the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (“NIWRC”) publicly began raising concerns in regard to the number of missing Native American women. More specifically, sex trafficking of Native women has been found in South Dakota on temporary housing settlements for oilfield workers, at large organized events for hunters, and The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Is There a Connection between Human Trafficking and Donald Trump’s Corporations?
On February 23, 2017, Donald Trump spoke about his “plan” to combat human trafficking and like most of Trump’s “plans,” he did not state exactly how he intends to combat human trafficking, rather, he provided the American people with a vague statement, “I want to make it clear today that my administration will focus on ending the absolutely horrific practice of human trafficking. And I am prepared to bring the full force and weight of our government to the federal and at the federal level, and the other highest levels, whatever we can do, in order to solve this horrific problem . . .” Even though Trump spoke out about issues indirectly relating to human trafficking during his campaign such as immigration, security, and civil rights, he was silent about trafficking. Some believe this strategy has “allowed Trump to maintain plausible deniability about contentious issues, throw off political opponents with misdirections, and sustain backing from supporters by appealing to their interests.” Another reason why Trump did not address trafficking during his campaign could be because of his own connection to his businesses and labor trafficking.
In a report done by HBO’s VICE correspondent, Ben Anderson toured the migrant workers camp site and notes that “the conditions the guys building the Trump International Golf Course were the worst I’ve ever seen.” In the video, there is a tiny, grimy kitchen that serves roughly 150 workers and an outdoor bathroom area that reeks of sewage. Having guys live 21 to a room with rats running around above them; having to work extremely hard in extreme heat for two years just to break even, just to pay off the debts they accrued getting there. Mr. Anderson continues to say that the restrooms the migrant workers are forced to use “didn’t look fit for human beings.” Human Rights Watch officials have also described their working conditions as looking “like a trafficking network.”
Several models have also filed lawsuits against Trump’s Modeling Agency for what they called slavery like living conditions and working without pay. All the models, some young as 16 years old, were foreign nationals who say they were brought to America by the Trump’s Agency on tourist visas with the promise of being given modeling work that would lead to a permanent U.S. Visa. Because visitors, who are here on tourist visas, are not allowed to work, the young women were terrified to make reports out for fear of being deported.
Although these issues have a direct correlation to labor trafficking rather than sex trafficking, if true, helps explain Trump’s silence during his campaign, and later ambiguous statements during his brief, given the possibility of violating several forms of labor trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”).
What Is The Solution?
As Malalai Joya once said, “The silence of good people is worse than the actions of bad people.” We, the American people, can no longer remain silent and must become a voice for trafficking victims by raising awareness, educating people, and getting involved with organizations like the Lawyers Club of San Diego whose Human Trafficking Collaborative works diligently to combat the heinous crime of human trafficking in California.
We also must begin to realize and ask ourselves how we contribute to the supply and demand of human trafficking and take some responsibility for it. During traditional slavery, even those who did not directly profit from the enslavement of African people indirectly benefitted from their labor. Slaves harvested the cotton that was made into fabrics, that were sold by merchants, and made into clothes for Americans to wear. Likewise, today, migrant workers harvest the foods we eat every day. While legal, one of the largest industries of sexual exploitation is the porn industry. According to Lighthouse, a non-profit group in Japan which works to stop human trafficking, more than 60 actresses trying to escape the business contacted them in the first half of 2016. So, think before you click on that website, order that avocado salad, and/or buy that new outfit. What are we willing to give up, so that another human being may go free?