“Have your ever walked outside, looked up to see the sun, feel the fresh summer air on your own face, and you still know that you are not free?“
Heads all around the room began nodding up and down, murmurs of mm hmm grew more steady, until we all felt the little earthquake of, “Yes, girl, I feel you,” rumble underneath our feet.
“That you can’t go where you wanna go,” she demanded, “You can’t see who you wanna see. Oh, you in charge and you bad and you don’t need nobody, but you really know, you are not free.”
Heads continue to nod because, even though most of the women in the room are new to each other, the invisible bond between survivors of human trafficking is thick and strong. They know.
As the Executive Director of an anti-human trafficking organization, I am not attending this survivors group to relate. I can’t. I’m here to listen, to learn. I’ve been invited to witness the determination of these survivors to thrive.
While I listen, I wonder… If I had seen this woman years ago, a young 20-something at the time, outside with the sun on her beautiful face, would I have recognized that she was a victim? Would I have known that she was actively being exploited and in need of someone to step in? I grieve now that I wouldn’t have given her a second thought.
This, this lack of awareness, is how the crime of human trafficking goes on raking in over $32 billion dollars every year and devastating roughly 21 million lives, including the lives of 5.5 million children, right underneath our noses. This is what we mean when we say that human trafficking is a crime that is hidden in plain sight.
One of the ways this crime stays hidden is by diversifying. While we study their strategies and playbooks, these criminals continue to devise new and creative ways to keep profiting from the control and abuse of others. We can’t begin to fight human trafficking until we know what we’re looking for.
6 Types of Human Trafficking:
1. Forced Labor
“Even though we smiled and seemed happy in front of customers, the truth was that we were quietly suffering,” said a survivor who spent nearly a decade enslaved. “We did not fight back because we were grateful to have jobs as refugees who do not speak a lot of English, and we wanted to provide for our family and children.”
It is extremely common for workers to feel too intimidated to pursue legal recourse and justice in the face of labor violations. Their income and livelihoods are at stake. This is labor trafficking.
You can read more about labor trafficking in nail salons here: Please Tip in Cash: The Shadow Economy of American Nail Salons
2. Sex trafficking
Human traffickers are more commonly known as pimps. For most of modern history “prostitution” has been considered a victimless crime – a legal offense to which all parties consent and no party is injured. We now know, however, that this gross misunderstanding of the way “the oldest profession in the world” really works has only served to line the pockets of traffickers and increase the number of victims.
Learn more about sex trafficking from Shared Hope International.
3. Organ trafficking
“Desperate situations of both recipients and donors create an avenue ready for exploitation by international organ trafficking networks. Traffickers exploit the desperation of donors to improve the economic situation of themselves and their families, and they exploit the desperation of recipients who may have few other options to improve or prolong their lives.” – UNODC, 2011
Criminals in this form of trafficking have been discovered to also have legitimate professions as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and other health care professionals.
The most common organ found in illegal trafficking? The liver.
Read more on organ trafficking in this report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime: Organ Trafficking
4. Child Soldier
“In May 2015, a girl about 12 years old was used to detonate a bomb at a bus station in Damaturu, Yobe State, killing seven people. During attacks by Boko Haram, abducted boys were used to identify those who refused to join the group, as well as unmarried women and girls.
While the nature and gravity of violence against those children may vary from case to case, the short- and long-term implications for both children and society as a whole are severe. The consequences of violence can be devastating. Above all, it can result in early death. But even those children who survive that ordeal must cope with terrible physical and emotional scars.” – UNODC, 2017
Download the report from United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime entitled: Handbook on Children Recruited and Exploited by Terrorist and Violent Extremist Groups: The Role of the Justice System
5. Child Marriage
According to the U.S. Department of State, child marriage, also known as forced marriage, is a marriage that takes place without the consent of one or both people in the marriage. Sometimes family members will threaten or use force to make someone consent to marriage. This issue does not just affect female victims; research suggests that 15 percent of the cases involve male victims.
On May 9, 2018, Delaware became the first state in the United States to ban child marriage.
You can watch stories from survivors of forced marriage from End Slavery Now here: Fighting Back Against Forced Marriage
6. Debt bondage
Debt bondage differs from forced labor in that the victim typically enters into the arrangement willingly in an attempt to pay off a burdensome “loan.” The victim then becomes trapped in a cycle of increasing and arbitrary loan amounts and no possibility of ever paying it completely off.
Watch this video to learn more: What is Debt Bondage?
When it comes to human trafficking in Wisconsin, we are seeing a rise in reported cases of two of these types of human trafficking: forced labor and sex trafficking.
It is important to know that, even though we can now categorize the types of human trafficking, criminals are less concerned with our definitions and compartmentalizing. Forced labor can include cases of debt bondage and sex trafficking, but not always. Sex trafficking that involves a minor is a crime whether the minor self-identities as being a victim or not. But, adult survivors of sex trafficking can easily be misidentified as criminals themselves and often, over time, they do become participants in the exploitation of others. Human trafficking is complicated.
All of these nuances make it that much more difficult to isolate and eradicate modern-day slavery. Education and awareness are key in the fight to end exploitation and as an organization we will continue to walk alongside and advocate for survivors until each one can walk out into the open air without looking over her shoulder and know that she is free.
January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. If you’ve learned something from this article, we hope you will share it with others. Education and awareness continue to be our best weapon in the fight against human trafficking and you can use your voice and social media for good by sharing what you know. Thank you for joining the fight.
You can also donate to support the advocacy, training, and education we provide at no cost to participants, and we thank you for taking this fight seriously by investing in it.