Apr 3, 2007

Modern day slave trade: Human trafficking continues, even in the U.S.

by Hilary Dyer, Opinion Editor
In an age where we tout our freedoms and barely recall the sins of our fathers, it is hard to believe that slavery still exists anywhere in the world. And yet it does. It is not limited to third world, undeveloped nations, but exists in industrialized nations. It even still exists in the most “civilized” of Western nations, including right here in the United States of America, the land of the free.

According to a report published on the Central Intelligence Agency Web site, “International Trafficking in Women to the United States: A Contemporary Manifestation of Slavery and Organized Crime,” 45,000-50,000 women and children are brought to the United States as slaves every year. The document also reported that the majority of these victims come from Latin American and Southeast Asia, although there has been a recent influx of trafficking from Central and Eastern Europe. “After drug dealing, trafficking of humans is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and is the fastest growing,” states the United States Department of Health & Human Services Web site.

Unfortunately, the cruelty of the slave trade is no longer publicized like it was in the 1800s, and much of society remains unaware of its prevalence. According to the USDHHS and reports from the BBC News, human trafficking appears in many forms today, including debt bondage, domestic servitude, sweatshop labor and migrant farm work. This labor is often forced upon victims through control of the victim’s finances, confiscation of the victim’s passport, abusing the victim both physically and emotionally, and threatening to harm the victim’s family. Slaves brought in from foreign countries often are unable to solicit help due to language barriers. Often times they do not even know which country they have been brought to, and those from third world nations do not think of going to the authorities because they are accustomed to corrupt government officials.

Sexploitation is the most prevalent form of human trafficking. In the United Kingdom it is estimated that 85 percent of women working in brothels were brought in from foreign countries, according to the BBC News Web site. The site also reported that many of these women, come into the UK with the promise of a job as a waitress or housekeeper awaiting them. Yet upon arriving, these young women are sold into slavery in airport coffee shops.

Due to media coverage of John Mark Karr last year, many people are aware that children that are being sold and used as sex slaves in Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations. However, the public still remains largely unaware that child prostitution exists in Western nations. According to a study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, there are over 5,000 child sex slaves working as prostitutes in the UK.

Redlight Children is an international organization seeking to expose and end the abuse of children in the sex industry worldwide. According to the organization, there are around two million children who have been trafficked and are being exploited in the commercial sex industry — which is said to gross over $10 million annually.  These are large numbers. The difficult thing for the average American is understanding that these numbers represent real, precious human beings, who must bear inhumane treatment and suffering on a daily basis.

It’s easy to read this information and think how sad it is, then put this article down and go on with life. We live in an age where we are bombarded with tragedy in the media. As humans and as Christians, we must let the atrocities and the suffering of souls penetrate our hearts. I believe we must make an effort to make it personal.

True life stories are documented on numerous Web sites. Panos Pictures (www.panos.co.uk) has photographs accompanied with brief biographies of young women who were victims of human trafficking and the sex-slave industry in the UK. I find that putting a face to the statistics is helpful for understanding and having compassion, love and concern for these women.

The United States Department of Public Affairs recently published a document in which they formed a direct relation between sex trafficking and prostitution. According to the document, the legalization of prostitution was proven to directly increase the amount of human trafficking, as the demand necessitates the supply. The document also reported the harmful emotional and physical effects of prostitution, stating “Few activities are as harmful and damaging to people as prostitution. Field research in nine countries concluded that 60-75 percent of women in prostitution were raped, 70-95 percent were physically assaulted, and 68 percent met the criteria for post traumatic stress disorder in the same range as treatment-seeking combat veterans and victims of state-organized torture.”

In an effort to stop human trafficking in Sweden, government officials have vigilantly fought against and punished those participating in the commercial sex industry. As a result, the nation has seen the both the number of prostitutes and victims of human trafficking diminish significantly.

From this information, it is clear that an obvious step to ending human trafficking is to make prostitution illegal in all states and worldwide. But I think that it goes beyond legislation. I think we also have to adapt the practices of Jesus and actively love these individuals. Jesus defied all social expectations and befriended them. In “Red Moon Rising,” Pete Grieg recounts driving by a young prostitute in Eastern Europe. He felt compelled by the Spirit to stop and buy her flowers. The girl was overwhelmed by his simple act of love.  

I don’t know how to concisely put it into words, but I do believe that in order to truly live out our faith, we are going to have to leave our comfort zones and find those who are desperately hurting, including the woman on the street corner. If we aren’t willing to show love like them, how else will they ever know the freedom in Christ that we have found?

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