Mindfulness | Human Trafficking & Modern Slavery

In August, I introduced you to Human Trafficking in the U.S., which included some poor vocabulary and what to use instead, as well as examples of human trafficking victims in the U.S. being punished for crimes in order to escape. Today we are doing a deep dive into the different forms of modern slavery and human trafficking, and some statistics about slavery globally. 

So let’s start with the definitions of human trafficking and modern slavery. The United Nations define Human Trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation. (United Nations)  And Modern Slave has one or more of these characteristics: forced to work through mental or physical threat, controlled by an ‘employer’ under the threat of some form of punishment, dehumanized and treated as a commodity or bought and sold as “property,” physically restrained or has restrictions placed on their freedom of movement. (Anti Slavery International

There are several types of Modern Slavery found around the World, and the US is no exception.

Let’s begin with sex trafficking. This is “human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, including sexual slavery.” (Human Trafficking Hotline)  It is important to mention that children are often trafficked by adults they know. (Polaris)  While kidnapping does happen for the purpose of sexual exploitation, it is not the primary way children or adults are trafficked for sex. A 2016 report from the United Nations reported that a majority of trafficking victims where women and 20% were girls. (United Nations Report) The International Labor Organization states that women and girls account for 99% of victims of the commercial sex industry and 58% in other sectors. (International Labor Organization)  When I get asked why I am passionate about antihuman trafficking, it is because of that statistic. Because we live in a society and a world that still does not see or treat women equally. Women are still an object to take, to please men, to be sold, and to obey. This is not the world I want to see for the women of the future and will fight for justice. 

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from the Birmingham Jail

So what are those other sectors mentioned in the International Labor Organization statistic? The most common is forced labor. “Forced labor can be understood as work that is performed involuntarily and under the menace of any penalty. It refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as manipulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.” (International Labor Organization) When we think of forced labor, consider historical slavery in the United States. A person was/is owned by another and forced to do work under the threat of punishment. Recently due to the Coronavirus, we have been seeing reports of textile and mill owners tricking women into forced labor situations, where they were promised a job but have been forced to work and live inside the mill, not being allowed to leave to see their families or even to go to the doctor. (International Justice Mission)  You may look at that and think it is unrealistic and impossible in today’s world for things like that to happen. But they do, especially to folks vulnerable to the lure of a good paying job desperate to do something to help their family.

Another form of Modern Slavery is Debt Bondage. This is a common form of slavery used by traffickers of immigrants. Once the immigrants arrive in a new country, their traffickers inform them they must now work for them to pay off their passage. Debt bondage is work exchanged for a debt which, ultimately, can never be paid. Also known as bonded labor or debt slavery, workers are told they can pay off a loan of their own or of a family member by working it off. The work is often difficult and imposed under brutal circumstances. (Dressember) Since those held in this form of slavery are often denied access to any of their paperwork, and are often in a country illegally, seeking help from the authorities often results in being deported without much punishment for their traffickers.

The next two forms of Modern Slavery are less common and much less visible and yet they both happen with regularity. The first is forced marriage. In the United States, only nine states (Source)  have legislation that directly address forced marriage. The U.S. State Department recognizes forced marriage as a marriage without the consent of at least one party. Duress, threat, physical abuse and death threats by family members constitute force and coercion. In the United States, forced marriage is considered to be a human rights violation and, in some cases, a form of child abuse. (End Slavery Now)  While we like to imagine the United States as a modern nation, the truth is forced marriage can happen anywhere and in all faith traditions. The common saying “Mail-Order Bride” is an example of how ordinary this form of slavery can be.

Lastly, we have child soldiers. Thousands of children are serving as soldiers in armed conflicts around the world. These boys and girls, some as young as 8 years old, serve in government forces and armed opposition groups. They may fight on the front lines, participate in suicide missions, and act as spies, messengers, or lookouts. (Human Rights Watch)  These children are brought into these armed conflicts and given drugs and alcohol to keep them compliant/submissive and to do the tasks asked of them by older boys and men in the regiment. Often girls are passed around as sexual rewards. These children frequently experience Stockholm Syndrome and feel a loyalty to their leaders because these men – no matter how brutal – lead these children to believe they love and care for them and that leaving will make them weak and an enemy. My entire perspective of child soldiers changed after reading “A Long Way Gone” by Ishmael Beah, which I will talk about more in October.

So who is most at risk of being trafficked or becoming a victim of modern slavery? According to the American Psychological Association, vulnerability factors that undermine the ability to protect oneself or disruptions to social and family support increases susceptibility of being coerced. Other variables that contribute to a person’s vulnerability include: being a member of a marginalized group (POC, LGBTQ Youth and Foster Youth), any prior victimization or trauma, disabilities, a person’s immigrant or refugee status, or a disruption in family. All these factors may be increased by poverty, political instability, war, and globalization. (American Psychological Association) All that to say, anyone is vulnerable to being trafficked even if they don’t fit any of these categories.

Next month, I will be sharing more resources on modern slavery and human trafficking including books and organizations, and the multitude of ways that they work to prevent, intervene, and provide holistic aftercare to victims of trafficking and slavery around the world. If you didn’t click on the sources while reading today’s blog, I highly recommend you go back and read them. I summarized and rewrote a lot of information to fit in here but there are more facts, statistics and gruesome details of how trafficking happens here in the US and globally and the lack of protections for victims and the lack of punishment for perpetrators.


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