We’ve all heard of the terrors of human trafficking that plague this world: tens of millions of people around the world—children included—are victims of sexual exploitation and forced labor at any given moment. Human trafficking has always plagued the world, inflicting severe mental and physical harm, destroying lives, and often resulting in cruel deaths. Human trafficking is a complex topic that has led to innumerable devastations in every society. It’s easy to learn about the statistics and effects of human trafficking; however, in order to truly comprehend and take action against it, it is vital that we understand the causes of human trafficking—why do people coerce others into labor and sexual acts?
The primary cause of nearly every instance of human trafficking is money. Consider slavery in the South during the 1800s: plantation owners used slaves to work their crops so that they didn’t have to pay workers. However, financial gain is never a reasonable justification for slavery or human trafficking—there has to be some other underlying cause. UNICEF explains that “Mass displacement, conflict, extreme poverty, lack of access to education and job opportunities, violence, and harmful social norms like child marriage are all factors that push individuals into situations of trafficking.” All of these factors lead to a lack of legal and economic stability, increasing the opportunity and desire for individuals to exploit others to make money by whatever means necessary. Political instability and conflict lead to governments’ inability to enforce laws that protect individuals’ freedoms. Countries in conflict simply don’t have the resources to put forth effective anti-trafficking movements. Mass displacement and extreme poverty lead to an unstable economy and a high poverty rate which causes people to turn to preying on others as a source of income. Systemic inequalities, including but not limited to misogyny and racism, put individuals at a greater risk of falling victim to human trafficking. UNICEF emphasizes that “harmful social norms and systemic inequity fuel trafficking because traffickers target vulnerability.” It is important to realize that there is no one cause of human trafficking: it’s a compilation of direct and indirect factors that lead to the tragedy of trafficking.
Considering trafficking is fueled by poverty and conflict, it may be easy to assume that trafficking doesn’t happen in developed countries such as the United States; however, the truth is quite the contrary. Even within the most developed urban areas, there is poverty and conflict and, thus, human trafficking. Many human traffickers often promise victims better opportunities in developed countries, leading to an international trafficking flow that “reflect[s] migration patterns from poorer [areas, including sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Southeastern Asia, the Pacific, and even Central America] to more wealthy regions,” such as North America, Western Europe, and the Middle East. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime points out that “Although trafficking seems to imply people moving across continents, most exploitation takes place close to home.” The majority of human trafficking occurs, or at least originates in the underdeveloped regions of the world—the areas with extreme economic crisis, political strife, and government persecution. The environments of these places leave individuals’ the most vulnerable and leave traffickers with the least risk.
There are countless different ways that traffickers obtain and exploit individuals. Many traffickers lure victims in with promises of better lives, which isn’t very difficult in situations of crisis when individuals or families have no other option. Victims are also often coerced into forced labor by threats to them, their families, and their communities. Traffickers may also force victims into indentured servitude after victims borrow money that they are unable to pay back. There are countless other situations that involve unique circumstances of trafficking, but they are no less inhumane; sexual exploitation of children, agricultural trafficking, involuntary domestic servitude are just a few examples. And even though each one of these situations is different in one way or another, they all have the same underlying concept: people are severely exploiting other people for mere financial gain. Traffickers often justify their actions by arguing that their victims are better off than they would have been without them or that they were forced by someone else and had no other choice but there is no acceptable justification for this cruel treatment of human beings. There is no reasoning that could ever make human trafficking any less appalling than it truly is.
Human trafficking is a global humanitarian crisis. It has destroyed the lives of hundreds of millions in every corner of the world. It has to be stopped. The exploitation of vulnerable people—innocent children and adults—has to stop now. Most of us have had the privilege of freedom and security our entire lives; we don’t have to live in fear of falling victim to trafficking. But that also means that it’s our responsibility to fight against trafficking. We need to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves. There are many things that we can do to make a difference in the fight against human trafficking. Supporting anti-trafficking organizations like The Red Cord helps bring awareness to others about the dangers and warning signs of human trafficking and aids in the identification of and support for trafficking victims. Understanding the basics of human trafficking is an important first step to ending trafficking forever. If we work together to educate, advocate, and act against human trafficking, we can save lives from the terrors of human trafficking that plague this world.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The body of Ben Schulke’s winning essay is published here, in its entirety, without academic footnotes and citations for easier reading. Southwest Chronicle congratulates Ben on his achievement.