It really sucks I haven't been writing, because I have something really important to write about. This week, I got to hear a talk by human rights activist and all around awesome lady, Andrea Martin, who has been volunteering to end human trafficking here in Ohio for quite a while. I've never thought much about human trafficking - this is by design. Every time I think about it, the idea is so horrible that I chase it out of my head before it has time to take root and make me think about something more awful than I care to imagine. For that reason, I had no idea just how prevalent human trafficking is here in America, how it's taking place all around us.
Andrea told us that Ohio is actually kind of a hub for human trafficking. With easy access to a bunch of major highways, traffickers often take their victims from right around here, or bring their victims here once they have them. Until recently, Ohio laws were pretty lax when it came to trafficking. Until recently, trafficking was a pretty low-grade felony. In addition, until recently, there weren't guidelines in place that would keep trafficked people from being charged for things like prostitution, and traffickers could hold that fact over their victims' heads.
That's starting to change, but there's still tons of work to be done, and that's where we come in...
First, let's define human trafficking. Human trafficking is slavery, pure and simple. People from all around the world and at home, taken against their will and forced to work with no pay and in unsafe conditions. According to this article in the Canton Repository, it's a 32 billion dollar industry, and it's growing.
The human trafficking industry isn't just about sex trafficking either. There's also forced labor. Many of the migrant workers who pick the food that we eat could be trafficked people, working in back-breaking conditions without any say in the matter. Trafficked people might be employed at massage parlors, as strippers, in restaurants, and in salons.
But what can we do? There's more we can do than I would have thought.
For one thing, don't be a douche to people vulnerable to human trafficking like immigrants and the homeless. Traffickers often use society's attitudes toward marginalized people to convince them that no one cares about them or is going to help them. Some of those immigrants who arouse your ire by not speaking English and stealing our jobs may want to leave this country as much as you want them to.
Work to help the homeless. Homeless people, especially youth, are especially vulnerable because they can pretty easily disappear. Donate, volunteer, advocate.
Patronize businesses you know and trust; buy fairly traded when possible. Research manufacturers' human rights histories.
In Andrea Martin's words, "Challenge social norms, such as the glorification of pimp culture." I think society has drawn a picture of pimps as comical figures in funny hats straight from the exploitation films. But many, if not most pimps qualify as human traffickers. They often lure women in with false promises, get them hooked on drugs, and gradually take control of their lives and finances, like abusive husbands. They might take most or all of their girls' pay, threaten or beat them if they try to leave.
If you're a porn fan, learn how the porn company treats its models. I know that pornographers aren't paragons of virtue in the best of circumstances, but some companies are more ethical than others. Seek them out. Look for websites that are transparent about how their employees are treated and compensated. Good studios include pre and post interviews with their performers, making sure consent is explicit.
Donate to organizations that man trafficking hotlines and provide resources to trafficked people, like The Polaris Project.
Contact your elected officials to ask for better legislation and enforcement with regard to human trafficking. Keep educated about anti-trafficking legislation.
Stick your nose in other people's business. Contact the national trafficking hotline at 1-888-373-7888 if you see something suspicious. According to Andrea, nail salons staffed primarily by immigrants don't always pay those immigrants. While there are plenty of legit places, some salons lure women to the US with the promise of a better life, only to make them work in unsafe conditions without pay. The women are then here with little understanding of the language and few resources, and the traffickers will use that to keep them from leaving. Signs a place might not be above-board include the following:
- Employees wearing masks. Generally, nail techs only need to wear masks if the employer is cutting costs by using toxic (and often illegal) materials. If they're willing to cut costs by putting their employees' health at risk, they might be willing to cut costs by not paying their employees.
- The majority of employees in a place don't talk to customers or each other, keep their heads down, and don't make eye-contact.
- Staff who do not seem to know quite what they're doing. Nail techs are supposed to have training and a professional license. Traffickers often don't bother with the expense.
- Prices seem way too low to be profitable.
Consider getting involved with projects like the SOAP campaign, an organization dedicated to education and outreach. The SOAP campaign aims to target hotels and motels where sex trafficking may be going on and try to help the victims. They do this by placing contact information for the human trafficking hotline on the wrappers for bars of soap in hotel bathrooms, as well as by educating hotel staff to warning signs that trafficking is occurring.
Share this information with your friends, you church, and your family. Spread the knowledge, and be willing to make people uncomfortable. I really think that if people knew what was going on under their noses, they'd pay more attention. Now that I'm aware, I'm certainly doing so.