The Modern Reincarnation of Slavery
By Osayma Saad
**TW: mentions of sexual assault and sexual violence**
Human trafficking is a global industry worth over 150 billion dollars, with 99 billion dollars stemming from sexual exploitation alone. Human trafficking exists all around us, hidden in plain sight. We often believe that we are safe, and that those kinds of dangers only befall those living in certain circumstances, but that couldn’t be more wrong. The widely held image that we have of human trafficking isn’t an accurate one, and that holds back the possibility of changing those horrible realities millions of people have to live through every day.
I believe that it is extremely important that we first establish the huge difference between sex work and sexual exploitation, because there is a difference. Sex work is defined in a context where consent can be given between two adults, and there is an exchange for money or other forms of compensation.
With human trafficking on the other hand, there is third-party control; aka someone else benefiting off the labour of others. Whenever there is someone else getting the money someone else is performing sexual acts for, (often children having to perform several sexual acts and even being sexually assaulted), it is sex trafficking.
Although it is important to mention that many victims of sexual exploitation often grow up to turn to sex work as a means of income, due to socio-economical consequences of their situations, this does not mean that those who chose to perform sex work are a part of this exploitative practice. Also, just because someone turns 18, it doesn’t not change the context of their exploitation; just because someone is of age does not change that they are not in a position to give consent. If you are coerced by a third party, and your life is in danger, and you have little to no agency, you are not consenting. These are only some of the many nuances that must be considered in the conversation on human trafficking.
The Role of Social Media
Over 30 million people worldwide are victims of sexual exploitation, and women and girls are disproportionately affected and vulnerable to this industry. The greatest factors that make people vulnerable to these systems are poverty, homelessness, abuse at home, and the foster system.
With the explosion of social media over the past few decades, and almost everyone in the world having access to the internet in some way or another, there is potential to reach anyone or to be reached by anyone. There are millions of fake social media accounts out there, being marketed as employment agencies to target young and vulnerable victims. People trying to escape difficult home lives, poverty, or any other number of circumstances can fall for traps like this, especially teenagers. Traffickers will also manipulate their victims’ social media accounts to maintain control once in contact. This tactic severs connections to friends and family, isolating the victim even further.
I know I sound like somebody’s parent, telling you to “be careful talking to strangers on the internet,” but it’s not the worst advice. We spend all of our time on social media, and we publish our lives on social media, so it should be said that we need to exercise some caution and be careful with what can be out there.
You may be asking however, “well we’re in a pandemic, no one is leaving their house, doesn’t that make me safer?”
The Effect of COVID-19
The pandemic has provided its own set of aggravating factors when comes to the status of human trafficking. The economic impact results in the general population as well as marginalized groups experience massive financial distress and loss of employment. These people become potential targets for sex traffickers, who lure with promises of making money or even threats of violence to your family. Children are also being more exposed to disruptions to education services or separation from their caregivers, which makes them even easier targets for trafficking.
For those who are already victims of trafficking, they experience grave forms of mistreatment, including rape, forced labour, physical beatings, torture, starvation, psychological abuse, and the deprivation of medical treatment. These situations weaken their health and immune systems, making them more susceptible to COVID-19 (and other illnesses of courses).
Even worse, funds that are usually allocated for the legal, police, and psychological help that trafficking victims require are being redirected to help alleviate the effects of the pandemic, currently leaving the victims even more vulnerable than before. To be specific, according to the Global Protection Cluster, an estimated 75 percent of humanitarian operations were paused by the pandemic and accompanying lockdowns.
There is a still a huge lack of awareness when it comes to identifying victims of human trafficking. It can be difficult to conceptualize the severity of the problem, especially if it seems so far away and not a problem you’d think you would encounter at any point in your life. But this kind of abuse exists everywhere, and it’s not enough to write it off as a “third world problem.”
What needs to be done then? How can we help rectify these terrible situations?
Child welfare agencies, schools and teachers, the criminal justice system, and local, state, and federal government actors are essential to the fight against human trafficking. This fight requires actual, active commitment and effort on the part of these actors that unwittingly, but regularly intersect with traffickers, victims, and survivors. We all need to be educated on what trafficking can look like, and what our responsibilities are when we come across it.
The full decriminalization of sex-work should also be supported. Similar to trafficking in other forms of labor, preventing trafficking in the sex trade requires addressing the different forms of marginalization that create vulnerable communities. By removing the punitive laws that prevent reporting of exploitation and abuse, decriminalization allows sex workers to work more safely, thereby reducing marginalization and vulnerability. Decriminalization can also help destigmatize sex work and help resist political, social, and cultural marginalization of sex workers.
I know it seems like the problem is just too large to ever change, and that can be overwhelming. However, the first step towards making changes is learning about the areas of society that fail others, so that one day we can hope to rectify them.
If you would like to do more to help, you can consult this article full of resources and organizations that you can contribute to, to aid in the fight against human trafficking:
*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.
FOLLOW US ON OUR SOCIALS:
Subscribe to our mailing list down below