My introduction to human trafficking happened in 2011 when I read Kevin Bales' The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today. I was struck not just by the magnitude of the trafficking problem, or that we even have such a problem in the 21st century, but also by how each individual's role in society, and within the international community, can affect the problem. It's not just buying cheap clothing from Wal-Mart or Forever 21; clothing that is produced using slave labor, often from children. It's not just the more salacious, and thankfully less pervasive, trips by Western males to places like Thailand to procure cheap sex, also often from children. It's not even the forced prostitution that happens within our own borders. The real effect, insidious and dangerous, is the willful ignorance of the mass public.
This blog post, introducing myself and the topic of human trafficking, has been a real struggle for me. Educating the public on this topic is extraordinarily difficult at best and hopelessly infeasible at worst. This is mostly due to the fact that human trafficking is a huge and complex system. Such a system involves economics and legal and law enforcement organizations, both international and domestic. These are topics that can be difficult to grasp for anyone not focusing on them in a specialized way. And, as with any problem that affects multiple countries, diplomacy and international relations play an important role as well. Unfortunately, the complexity of the human trafficking system is not the only, maybe not even the biggest, hurdle to educating the public. The sad reality is that people don't like to think about how their every day actions, or seemingly innocent social forces, can negatively impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people a year. It can be over-whelming to realize the mark we leave on the world around us. In this way it's like trying to explain to someone how the meat industry functions while they're taking a bite of BBQ. You can't blame them for not wanting to listen but, at the same time, is it fair for them to refuse to know what behavior they're financially supporting?
Being a consumer is a tough role. We have responsibilities to the other humans sharing this big rock we all call home and to the Earth itself as well. The International Labor Organization estimates that forced labor and human trafficking is a $150 billion worldwide market with 20.9 million victims spread across the planet. In order for us to bring this modern day slavery, abuse, and rape to an end we have to take a stand. We have to be a single unit standing across the face of the world telling corporations with our money that we don't want products made by people living in the chains of slavery. We have to change our attitudes, and the lessons we teach our children, about sex. And, perhaps most importantly, we have to start having frank conversations, even if they're uncomfortable, about how we as a civilization want to live and what legacy we want to leave our future generations.
It's very hard to condense an introduction to human trafficking into a single blog post, or even a series of blog posts. You could teach entire college classes about the industry, and to boil that down into simple and easy to understand facts and educational snippets that might help someone just browsing a website is a monumental task. I strongly encourage you to look up all the information google will happily list at your fingertips (try 'introduction to human trafficking'), read Kevin Bales' books, volunteer at local charities, and always always always keep asking questions about how your life works.
In order to do my part to spread the word, I'll be posting links to articles, current events, and other educational projects as well as a kind of 'Human Trafficking 101' powerpoint presentations. And I'd love to hear from you, Dear Reader! Send me an anecdote about your own introduction to human trafficking. Tell me your stories. Sing me your songs. In the meantime, keep it classy and try to stay sane.