An Illustration of the Four Stages in the Rediscovery Process: The Plight of Victims of Human Trafficking

An Illustration of the Four Stages in the Rediscovery Process: The Plight of Victims of Human Trafficking

An Illustration of the Four Stages in the Rediscovery Process: The Plight of Victims of Human Trafficking
An Illustration of the Four Stages in the Rediscovery Process: The Plight of Victims of Human Trafficking

Stage One: Reviving Public Outrage About a Longstanding Problem:

Trafficking in human beings is widely recognized as a lucrative racket and a major aspect of the crime problem in a great many source, transit, and destination countries across the globe. But it is not a new development: Its victims were first discovered over 100 years ago. (The slave trade that brought Africans in chains to the Americas during the age of European colonialism is a different problem that goes back further in history, and its horrors transcend the confines of crime and victimization.)

During the early years of the twentieth century, a world- wide movement against “white slavery” arose. Its stated goal was to stop prostitutes from Europe from being sent to brothels throughout the colonial empires of the Western powers. The sexual enslavement of white females eventually proved to be what social scientists call a moral panic because the problem turned out to be far smaller and less significant than was pop- ularly depicted. And yet, the campaign to stop it led to a series of treaties, including the International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic (1904), the League of Nation’s International Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children (1921) and its Convention for the Suppression of Traffic in Women of Full Age (1933), and the United Nation’s Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (1949) (Lobasz, 2009).

Compelling girls and women to take part in the sex trade is only part of this problem. The other part is the eco- nomic exploitation of migrant workers who are smuggled across borders to toil in homes, factories, and fields. Starting in the late 1980s, reformers began to call attention to their plight. A number of factors came together to heighten con- cern and provoke outrage: a new focus by human rights groups on the many ways females are exploited around the world; the growing desperation in many societies of single mothers to find ways to support their children (what sociol- ogists call the feminization of poverty); the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites, which caused many young women to search for a means of survival abroad; environmental degradation due to the mismanage- ment of natural resources that triggered large-scale migra- tions across national borders of workers seeking opportunities in a rapidly globalizing economy; and the con- solidation of organized crime’s hold over the smuggling of weapons, drugs, and people (Jahic and Finckenauer, 2005; Lobasz, 2009;Chuang, 2010; and Smilowitz, 2014).

When prominent people began to characterize human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery” and warn that profiting from the “controlled service” of others was one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world, a social move- ment developed to oppose it. It brought together international organizations, human rights groups, religious leaders, charitable organizations, political figures, criminal justice officials, social workers, victim advocates, and thousands of well-intentioned grassroots “abolitionists” motivated by stirring phrases like “free the slaves” and “break the chains of bondage.” Two rather unlikely allies joined together to campaign for stronger laws against sex trafficking. The first were certain American feminists who viewed prostitution as an entrenched institution of male dominance and its female providers as subordinates compelled to sell their bodies because of a lack of meaningful economic alternatives. The second political force was a coalition of con- servative evangelical Christians, whose concerns about men who take advantage of “fallen women” stemmed from matters of conscience and strongly held beliefs about purity, innocence, virtue, sin, evil, and immorality. Their religiously motivated crusade centered on preserving traditional marriages and fami- lies rather than on liberating women from subordination to patriarchal control by opening up better opportunities that would enable them to become financially independent (see Chuang, 2010; and Bernstein, 2010).

The rediscovery process moved forward quickly after prominent figures spoke out.

President Clinton (2000) announced “…anti-trafficking provisions represent a major step forward in my Administra- tion’s ongoing effort to eradicate modern-day slavery. In 1998, I issued an Executive Memorandum directing my Administration to combat this insidious human rights abuse through a three-part strategy of prosecuting traffickers, pro- tecting and assisting trafficking victims, and preventing trafficking.… Over the past several years, we have taken every opportunity to shine a bright light on this dark corner of the criminal underworld, in part by continually raising with leaders around the world the need to work together to combat this intolerable and reprehensible practice.…”

President Bush (2003) intoned, “It takes a special kind of depravity to exploit and hurt the most vulnerable members of society. Human traffickers rob children of their innocence, they expose them to the worst of life before they have seen much of life. Traffickers tear families apart. They treat their victims as nothing more than goods and commodities for sale to the highest bidder.… Many victims are beaten. Some are killed. Others die spiritual and emotional deaths, convinced

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after years of abuse that their lives have no worth. This trade in human beings brings suffering to the innocent and shame to our country, and we will lead the fight against it.”

President Obama advanced similar arguments. He echoed the views of previous chief executives that human trafficking should be called by its real name, “modern slavery” and that the focus of strategies to combat this crime should continue at home, not just abroad. He declared, “The bitter truth is that trafficking also goes on right here. It’s the migrant worker unable to pay off the debt to his trafficker…. The teenage girl— beaten, forced to walk the streets. This should not be happen- ing in the United States of America” (Flock, 2012).

The discovery that sex trafficking wasn’t only a problem in distant lands but that it was cropping up here too added a sense of urgency that spurred people to action. As President Bush (2004) put it, “It is estimated that between 14,500 and 17,500 victims of trafficking cross our borders every year. U.S. law enforcement has documented cases of Latvian girls traf- ficked into sexual slavery in Chicago, or Ukrainian girls traf- ficked in Los Angeles, and Maryland, or Thai, Korean, Malaysian and Vietnamese girls trafficked in Georgia, or Mexican girls trafficked in California, New Jersey and here in Florida. Many of the victims are teenagers, some as young as 12 years old.”

In order to gain the greatest amount of support for the campaign, advocates socially constructed a “perfect victim” who did not voluntarily choose to leave her family and to sell her body. They promoted the image of an innocent young girl who was kidnapped from her remote village and then drugged, beaten, and broken in spirit until she was obedient and submissive; passed around and then sold into slavery; and later transported from her poverty-stricken source country through some transit country until she wound up as a virtual prisoner in a cruelly run brothel in some strange, far-off destination country. This socially constructed perfect victim—young, female, helpless, yearning to be rescued, protected, assisted, and given sanctuary—captured the pub- lic’s imagination. But what about those who did not fit this sympathy-evoking stereotype of the perfect victim? Women who were willing to be smuggled across borders and agreed to be “sex workers” in foreign settings, but did not foresee that they would be intimidated, stripped of their false identity papers, and strictly controlled, do not evoke the same degree of compassion from the public, police officers, prosecutors, judges, and immigration officials. Indifference can easily turn to outright hostility toward these “illegal aliens” who chose and consented to “prostitute themselves.” Somewhere in between are those naïve young women who were procured by

organized crime recruiters via employment scams: false pro- mises of decent-paying legitimate jobs in domestic settings as maids or nannies, or in modeling, or even as dancers in strip clubs. Instead, after overstaying their visa limits or entering the country with counterfeit documents that were later con- fiscated by the trafficker, they wound up as exploited undocumented workers, forced to submit to the demands of pimps, brothel managers, and customers in the commercial sex trade in order to pay off their border-crossing debts and to protect their families abroad from retaliation by the traf- ficker’s syndicate (Rieger, 2007; Lobasz, 2009; and Uy, 2011).

The United Nations declared its first “World Day against Trafficking in Persons” on July 30, 2014. Its Protocol to Pre- vent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defined human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduc- tion, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of pay- ments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.” Banned activities included “the exploitation of the prostitu- tion of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, ser- vitude, or the removal of organs” (Smilowitz, 2014).

In the United States, the definition of sex trafficking has broadened substantially over the years. Physical trans- port across international borders no longer was an essential part of the definition; crossing state boundaries within the United States became a sufficient trigger for federal prosecu- tion (U.S. Department of State, 2007). Later expansions of the definition even dropped the requirement of movement across state lines and simply focused on the use of force, coercion, or fraud to keep someone trapped in a condition of servitude (Farrell, McDevitt, and Fahey, 2010). The work- ing definition of sex trafficking used by local law enforce- ment agencies often boils down to a simple formulation: adult prostitution that involves coercion and any sexual exploitation of children (Gonzalez, 2013).

Because the definition has evolved so dramatically, activists currently work to raise awareness by dispelling the following myths and misconceptions: Trafficking does not necessarily involve smuggling or forced movement, transpor- tation, or border-crossing; physical force, physical abuse, or physical restraint does not have to take place; victims are not only foreign nationals or immigrants but can be males as well as females, adults as well as minors, and even well educated



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B O X 2.3 (Continued)

and affluent persons, not just poorly educated, poverty-stricken people; and the offense of trafficking can occureven if the victim consents and receives payment. However, certain populations remain especially vulnerable: undocumented immigrants; refu- gees and asylum seekers; runaways and homeless youth; mem- bers of groups that have been oppressed, marginalized, and impoverished; and individuals who have been severely abused and traumatized. Trafficked persons were mostly mired in the sex trade (brothels, escort services, massage parlors, street prostitution, and even strip clubs), or they were stuck perform- ing backbreaking labor, like planting and picking crops or land- scaping and construction, or menial jobs, especially in the hotel and hospitality industry; janitorial services; home, health, and elder care; and factories and sweatshops (Polaris Project, 2012). For example, a woman from another country who is hired as a nanny to tend to a child around the clockwithout any timeoff, is provided with sparse meals and cramped quarters, and then is threatened with exposure and deportation (because she has overstayed her visa) if she complains about her predicament can be considered trafficked. Similarly, an undocumented day laborer who picks up occasional construction jobs but then is cheated out of his wages and intimidated from protesting because the employer warns him about a call to the immigration authorities is also being coercively exploited (Grant, 2013). As the original definition broadened to encompass so many more people and such a wide variety of situations, the number of persons designated as victims and the number of programs designed to assist them grew dramatically.

A search of journalism databases revealed that media coverage of the problem grew exponentially from a mere handful of articles at the start of the 1990s to about 3,750 in 2008 alone (Farrell et al., 2010).

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