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Hidden Human tragedy

Posted by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:38 AM
  • 1 Replies

Hidden human tragedy

03-18-09 SPM Cover
Photo by Erin Roman
Published On:
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
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Joseph is now 30. He lived in an African country where his family was politically active and vigorously pursued by the regime in power. Although he was educated and once played soccer for the national team, he was forced to flee for his life, leaving his wife and children behind.

Joseph accepted a job through a recruiter to work in the United States in a carnival. The work was hard and Joseph was rarely paid, his documents were confiscated and when he complained he received worse treatment and threats that he would be harmed or killed.

This is just one story out of countless others involving human slavery and human trafficking provided by ALERT (Arizona League to End Regional Trafficking).

"The primary issue is that the situation of human trafficking is often not recognized for what it is - it's a hidden issue," Mark Bratman, director of ALERT says.

Researchers, such as human slavery expert Kevin Bales, say human trafficking happens in every continent of the world with the exception of Antarctica.

In the last few years, there has been an upswing in human trafficking and slavery because of an increase in poverty and turmoil world wide.

"On one hand, there are more slaves now in the world than there have ever been - 27 million is the best estimate," Michael Stancliff, human trafficking seminar professor at ASU, says.

"It's very hard to calculate regional numbers, but there are roughly 17,000 to 20,000 people trafficked in the U.S. every year. That's roughly the same number as people murdered every year," Stancliff says.

"Arizona is ranked somewhere between third and fifth in terms of people who are trafficked," Bratman says.

Human trafficking has been an underpublicized issue in the past decades. With Third World countries torn apart by war, an increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor, and tanking economies across the world, human trafficking is at risk of becoming an even greater threat to human life.

What is human trafficking?

The most basic definition explains human trafficking as the movement of people.

"It is the means by which people are brought into slavery," Stancliff says. "The people are moved possibly across borders from one nation to another or there are many situations of internal trafficking where people are taken from a village or city into another city but the end result is always the same - their destination is the situation of slavery."

Difference between human trafficking and human smuggling
The Mexico-Arizona border has always been an issue regarding the movement of people. But human trafficking and human smuggling are two distinct things.

"People who pay money to sneak across the border to get a job or do whatever is one thing," Stancliff says. "People being brought into slavery to be controlled and exploited is a different thing."

Human smuggling involves paying a fee willingly to enter a country in search of work, arriving at a destination with no further implication and breaking the law.

In the case of human trafficking, trafficking victims in the United States may have consented to be smuggled illegally in the country, but their consent has been rendered meaningless by the coercive, deceptive or abusive actions of the traffickers.

Human trafficking continues with the exploitation of victims at their destination and in trafficking, traffickers are violating the law against the migrants, who are the victims.

Where does human trafficking happen?

Despite misconceptions that human trafficking only happens in parts of Asia, human trafficking happens all over the world. People may not be taken in every country but they are trafficked and sold in every country.

"Wherever in the world there are situations of conflict, turmoil, extreme poverty or refugeeism - wherever people are at risk in that way or are vulnerable, that's where slavery and trafficking happens," Stancliff says.

"People become vulnerable to recruiters who are promising a better life, better jobs," Bratman says. "But it's all a scam."

Who gets trafficked?

People who are vulnerable and have very few options are the likely victims of human trafficking.

"The situation of slavery, it's a trick, a complete lie. It's a way to get them away from their families and take them to places where they can be exploited," Stancliff says.

One major misconception with human trafficking is the idea that parents sell their children into slavery.

"If you're looking from the cultural outside that might be how it looks but in these situations of extreme poverty, people make very difficult choices," Stancliff says. "When they are told we're going to take your daughter to this city where she will have all these opportunities - education, food, work - compared to working a dollar a day, it's very difficult not to consider that choice."

"These people are not so completely inverted by their poverty that they don't understand this is not how they want their children to live," Stancliff says.

"[The recruiters] give a message of hope. They promise something better. They're good salesmen," Bratman says.

Once a family member is taken and trafficked, families will not hear from them as promised. No money is ever received and the education and better life is only an illusion. The life they are going into is one of extremely hard work, abuse and disregard for any needs they may have.

"[People] can buy them cheap, abuse them and if they die or if they or no longer useful, [they] get disposed," Bratman says.

What happens once they are sold into slavery?

"It's diverse, but the similarities are that they are tricked into these situations or taken in against their will. They're coerced through violence with no pay for what they are doing," Stancliff says.

Both Stancliff and Bratman explain the variety of jobs people are forced in to.
Guana, a British Virgin island in the Caribbean, has a huge fishing industry, and children in particular are sold to the fisheries.

Places in India have children enslaved to make the rugs which adorn the rooms of many wealthy individuals.

Parts of Florida, California and western Yuma have used slaves for their agricultural work.

Lake Havasu and other parts of Arizona reportedly took advantage of the cheap labor during the big construction boom in the last decade.

Parts of the East Coast invest in slaves for the meat packing industry.

"There was a case where a manufacturer in the Midwest, felt American workers were too expensive. So he shipped 60 to70 men from India, took their documents, rarely fed them and made them work long hours with little to nothing for pay," Workman says.

Sex trafficking has received a lot of press over the years and still continues to be a problem even in the heart of Phoenix where brothels move around to stay under enforcement's radar.

The victims of sex trafficking are forced into various forms of commercial sexual exploitation including prostitution, pornography, stripping, live-sex shows, mail-order brides, military prostitution and sex tourism.

Many times the victims of sex trafficking are held in bondage, get no sleep so they can do as much business as possible and are severely damaged psychologically.

All victims of trafficking lose hope of that better life once they are forced into their hard labor.

How do they get trafficked?

People get trafficked in many different ways. It can be on foot if moving from one city to another. People are moved through cars and boats and are even moved on planes internationally.

When traffickers move their slaves internationally, they provide all pieces of paperwork and documentation needed to get the victim abroad the transportation and remain under the radar.

"You could see a man and girl sitting together on a plane and think that's a father and his daughter," Stancliff says. "Traffickers can earn so much money off a sex slave in the first month of her existence that the cost of a plane ticket isn't much of anything."

Who is the trafficker and why would they choose to do this?

Traffickers could be anyone.

"Traffickers are often people who are employed by an official organization or a ring of traffickers. That's their work," Stancliff says.

"It increasingly gets in the hand of organized crime if there's a need for any kind of work and it's cheaper," Bratman says. "You're talking about a reusable resource. You can sell drugs and they're gone but you can sell people over and over again."

It's hard to pinpoint the reason behind trafficking, selling and exploiting other people. Some faith-based people believe trafficking is evil and based off immorality. Other people think it's simply a matter of monetary means - the reason is greed.

"It seems very much like evil incarnate to me but I don't know how helpful it is to think about it that way," Stancliff says. "One thing is certain, whatever the cause there has always, always been slavery from the beginning of human history."

What are the laws regarding human trafficking?

Every country has a law against slavery and human trafficking. Laws in the U.S. have been repeatedly updated and renewed since 2000.

The National Anti-Trafficking Law does several things for both traffickers and the victims of trafficking.

For the traffickers, the law:

Increases Sentences: Convicted traffickers can serve up to 20 years or more

Requires Mandatory Restitution: Traffickers are now required to pay victims for their losses if the court rules favorably for the victims.

Requires Asset Forfeiture:Traffickers must forfeit their assets upon conviction.

Holds Citizens Accountable Globally: U.S. military personnel, U.S. officials and contractors are held accountable for trafficking crimes committed abroad and in the U.S.

Protects Witnesses:Trafficking victims are now eligible for the Witness Protection Program.

For the victim, the law:

Allows Temporary Residency: 5,000 victims of the worst forms of trafficking are now eligible for temporary residency (T-visas) in the U.S.

Gives New Assistance: Victims are now eligible for a broad range of benefits and services regardless of immigration status.

Provides Department of Justice Grants: The first-ever grants to fund NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that help provide services to victims of trafficking.

Provides Reintegration: Assists victims in returning home and allows victim family members come to the U.S. to rebuild their lives.

Helps Provide Safety While in Custody: Victims of trafficking who are in custody shall have access to shelter, medical care, information about their legal rights, translation services and other assistance. Information about these victims and their families will not be disclosed, and they will be otherwise protected from intimidation and retribution by traffickers.

Allows trafficking victims without T-Visas to remain in the U.S.: Before any T-Visa assessment has been made, law enforcement officials may now keep trafficking victims in the U.S. if they are deemed as potential witnesses to crimes with which law enforcement needs assistance.

Stancliff explains the law is not a bad law, but enforcement is really the problem. The resources aren't there, and people aren't trained.

"Every police department in the country has an entire office or division responsible for homicides. Whereas they have very few police departments that focus on human trafficking," Stancliff says.

Who is trying to help fight human trafficking?

ALERT has a two fold mission in fighting human trafficking.

"Our primary function is to take care of the people who have been victims of human trafficking," Bratman says. "Our mission is to provide the highest quality of services and secondary to educate the public because there is a lot of misunderstanding about human trafficking."

A big part of ALERT's education goes to educating law enforcement officers so they can recognize human trafficking in its various forms and then enforce the law against trafficking.

"Law enforcement officers don't necessarily have the training or experience or perspective to apprehend people who are in those situations because they don't see it," Bratman says. "We have a trainer who goes anywhere in the state to talk with law enforcement groups and gives the information needed so they can potentially associate a victim and bring them forward."

Other groups trying to fight human trafficking include by president and co-founder Kevin Bales, one of the lead experts on human trafficking and slavery, Anti-Slavery International, and ASU West Campus's new Free the Slaves chapter.

"Any students or community members can contact our masters program of Social Justice and Human Rights or our Free the Slaves chapter, both located at ASU's West Campus, to discuss ways to get involved or collaborate together," Katie Norberg, an ASU graduate student getting her Master of Arts in Social Justice and Human Rights, says.

"Our mission is to raise awareness about the issue and raise money for the FreetheSlaves organization," Stancliff says.

"All over the world, small groups of people are creating change on shoestring budgets with effective strategies, determination and compassion.  If I could be involved just by supporting their efforts, I knew I could help.  Beyond this, I also want to engage in awareness-raising strategies, as I see this as the first step to mobilizing citizens and creating change," Liz Miller, a graduate student studying social justice and human rights says.

What does the future hold for human trafficking?

As world economies continue to tank, it's hard to say where human trafficking will fit into the picture.

"There is a risk of slavery going up into the unknown," Bratman says.

"The reason why there's an upswing in slavery is the upswing in extreme poverty. Such a huge portion of the world where there's turmoil, poverty, strife and thousands of refugees creates populations that are at risk of slavery," Stancliff says.

Stancliff explains human trafficking and slavery is on a cliff at the moment. This generation could push it over its cliff.

"This is a generation that could end slavery because the laws are in the books, we're learning more about it, people are able to put more pressure on nations that aren't cracking down on slavery and it has never been a large part of the global economy so there's no risk of a country collapsing with the end of slavery," Stancliff says.

Now, only time will tell if better education and enforcement will push human trafficking and slavery to its breaking point.

by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:38 AM
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by on May. 2, 2010 at 12:44 AM

WTH do you know?  Borders should be OPEN and free to travel about.

This is malarcky!

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