Human trafficking: It can happen anywhere

May 1, 2014 6:15 AMComments Off

Column by Choy Thammarath

Choy column pic-w2000-h2000You drive down the same lonely road, and as you pull into the gas station, instead of it being empty, as it should be at this hour, you notice a little girl, standing in the shadows. You park, get out of the car, walk by her. What comes out of her mouth shocks you: “Hey, Sugar, what’s keeping you up this late?”

We’ve all watched the films, read the books, seen the news feed on television — what we fail to notice is how close to home the matter really is.

Human trafficking knows no borders. It isn’t as far away as we think it is. The dirty slums of India, the red light district of Amsterdam, the brothels in Thailand — these are the places people envision when “human trafficking” is mentioned.

They would all be right, of course. However, one does not have to look further than his or her own backyard to find traces of human trafficking.

The United Nations defines human trafficking as, “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Human trafficking may sound like a scary, made up word — people don’t really get tricked and sold, then forced into prostitution against their will, do they?

The sad truth is, the answer is “yes.” Yes, they do get tricked. Yes, they do end up in places where they are held captive against their will.

Where they are forced to participate in unspeakable acts, where they aren’t allowed any outside contact, where they are ultimately conned into becoming dependent on their captors.

Escape not only becomes impossible. It becomes unthinkable.

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the average age of victims is 12-13 years old for girls and 13-14 years old for boys. Ponder that fact for a moment.

That’s your typical middle school kid. That’s your freshman in high school. These kids are targeted due to their vulnerability, their eagerness to please, their inexperience.

Girls at this age are starting to become interested in having a boyfriend. They want someone to pay them compliments, tell them that they’re prettier than any other girls in the school.

Boys are just as susceptible.

They are portrayed as being tough, able to take care of themselves.

However, boys can also easily fall into the same trap. In fact, according to the U.N., 42 percent of traffickers are women. It would be fairly simple for a woman to approach a young, impressionable male and lure him into a situation where he may not have the ability to get out.

Teenagers are at the age where they feel grown-up, that they know what they are doing, essentially.

However, they are still  vulnerable, especially if the person doing the coercing speaks to their needs or interests.

They may become blinded by the fairy tale, swept away by the romantics, misled by the promises.

This is where parents need to step it up a notch. Instead of sheltering children from the harsh realities of human trafficking, make it a lesson. Teach it at home. Don’t ignore the signs.

For example, traffickers, better known as pimps, like to buy gifts for their victims. This gives them a way into their victim’s lives.

The art of luring victims in is one traffickers have perfected.

You must ask questions of your kids because although it is hard to fathom, this crime can happen in your own backyard.

Scott Santoro, a training program manager at the Homeland Security’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, said “They (traffickers) don’t necessarily want to work in big cities. They are drawn to small towns because they feel like they won’t get caught. So areas that have a lot of agricultural farming, areas that have not a lot of law enforcement on patrol, those are areas that are also breeding grounds. Traffickers know that, and they want to do some of their work there.”

Human trafficking exists. It exists in Asia, in Europe, in the United States.

The problem is widespread, and it concerns us all.

We may feel as though tackling such an enormous issue is impossible, but it really does begin with just a single step.

Do some research about how you can bring awareness about human trafficking to your community, get together with like-minded people to establish a plan of action, because that is exactly what is needed — action.

Action until everyone is free from the horrors of human trafficking.

Big city, small suburb, rural farm town, The Big Apple, all these places are potential breeding grounds for human trafficking.

Be alert, be aware, be concerned. Human trafficking is a tremendous issue, and it will take cooperative action across the nation to help end it.

Thammarath is a senior international relations and English double major and can be reached at choy.thammarath@drake.edu

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