Liam Neeson rescues an easily forgotten actress daughter from certain destruction—and certain sex. The credits roll, and the theater empties.
It’s shocking how many people think immediately of the movie Taken when the issue of human trafficking is brought up. They’ve seen the movie; they understand.
Here’s the deal: sex trafficking is only the tiniest, tiniest bit like Taken. It does happen to people traveling recklessly in Europe, yes. And, yes, they more often than not get “lost in the system.”
Trafficking, though, is a global issue for people of all social classes and ethnicities, from the eight-year-old girl sold by her mother in Thailand, to the 17-year-old picked up at a truck stop in the United States. Some are forced into it by financial need and a lack of alternatives, and others are physically taken against their will.
Most of the time people don’t understand sex trafficking as a global epidemic simply because it goes unnoticed. There are countless causes that tug at our money, our time, and our sentiments. Feed the hungry. Care for the sick. Visit the elderly. Tutor the underprivileged. Give blood. Give money. Give a room in your house. Give time. During the holiday seasons the demands of charities are even more pressing. Wrap Christmas presents for children who don’t have them, and trick-or-treat for UNICEF rather than a sugar high.
All of these are worthy causes, but the problem lies in choosing among the mess of organizations that constantly provide us with practical ways to act on an instinct for compassion. Naturally, different people are drawn to different causes that speak to their passion.
However, the issue of trafficking oftentimes is simply not talked about because, frankly, it’s ugly. People exploit and abuse other, wholly innocent people. It displays the dark side of mankind, and it’s an uncomfortable topic for many because it involves—shh!—sex. And prostitutes.
Those who turn their heads away in a blush from these words must learn to look upon this problem as the horror that it is. And as something that must be stopped.
Oftentimes, though, in the United States, the victims are the ones punished for the crime. Despite the fact that many prostitutes are forced into the situation—whether by financial circumstances, or, more likely, by a pimp—many United States laws are aimed against the prostitutes rather than the perpetrators. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) reports that almost all of the women they surveyed said they had been abused by their pimps, and over half said that their pimps got them “hooked on drugs.” An overwhelming 92% said they have no desire to be prostitutes, but have no other choice.
The problem affects not only women, but also children. CATW reports a marked drop in age for girls entering prostitution, as well as an increase in the demand for child prostitutes, “as men feel safer from AIDS with younger girls.”
Globally, more than two million children are exploited each year in the sex trade. That comes out to one new victim about every 15 seconds. When combined with the men and women commercially trafficked, the market value of the illicit trafficking market is estimated to be over $32 billion.
(These statistics come from International Justice Mission, or IJM, an organization that fights human trafficking in the courtroom and in the brothel.)
Americans provide the greatest demand in this market, both at home and abroad. American men are the most common travelers on “sex tours,” and the United States is the number one destination for trafficking.
$32 billion is a lot of money, ladies and gentlemen. Trafficking is a business. It is, for some, a livelihood.
If we are so enraged by Fortune 500 CEOs who give themselves $5 million bonuses, why doesn’t this upset us more?
The more I talk to local, national, and international agencies that combat trafficking, the more I am convinced that one of the biggest problems is that people don’t know that it happens.
Generally, when people learn about the atrocities committed against trafficking victims they do react strongly. The question, then, lies in what we can do to help.
There is the obvious answer of money. There are many organizations in place that combat trafficking. The most well-known is International Justice Mission. They work with local law enforcement in various countries to find and break up prostitution rings, and then place victims in aftercare homes with whom they have standing relationships.
Statistics have shown that simply having IJM in the area has caused trafficking to decrease by 70%. Why? Because people know about it, and that makes the risk not worth the benefit of running the business.
Being aware of trafficking at home—potentially in your very city—could easily have the same effect. The major cities for trafficking are Houston, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Oklahoma City. Most often, prostitution as well as trafficking proper occurs at truck stops. If people know about it, though, they can recognize it and stop it, and thus create an environment where the risk is not worth the benefit.
Many local organizations are in place, in these cities and others, to combat trafficking locally. They put forward programs like truck stop ministries, in which workers or volunteers pose as customers to find information on a trafficking ring, or safe houses for victims.
These organizations all make wide use of both money and volunteers, from full-time house mothers to a few hours of stamp-licking.
Another way to help is to use your vote! Let your representatives in government know that you know and care about this issue, and you want them to as well. Push for legislation that punishes the perpetrators of human trafficking without harming others.
And finally, simply, talk about it. I cannot stress enough how important it is that people know trafficking is happening, and that it is happening abroad and in the United States.