How much would you pay for a winter coat? How much would you pay for the child that made it?
Fifty years ago, the abomination of slavery seemed like a thing of the past. But history has a way of repeating itself. Today, we find that human slavery is once again a sickening reality. At this moment, men, women and children are being trafficked and exploited all over the world: 2.4 million have been trafficked into forced labour worldwide of these, 600,000 to 800,000 are trafficked across borders each year and 12,000 children are working as slaves on cocoa plantations in West Africa. It is impossible to ever reach a consensus on the true scale of the problem but, regardless of the figures, what matters is that human trafficking is big and getting bigger. What matters is that every number represents a human life destroyed. It is happening on every continent and in almost every country: whether the place we live is a source, destination or transit point for trafficking, none of us can claim to be wholly unaffected by this crime.
As the extent of human trafficking is recognized, a number of approaches to tackling it have been developed. Stop the Traffik is one such approach. Born out of witnessing first-hand the effects of human trafficking, we started out in 2006 as an informal coalition dedicated to raising awareness of trafficking and generating the political will necessary to stop it.
During our short existence we have found that one of the biggest impediments to anti-trafficking efforts is a lack of understanding of the issue. Trafficking, and consequently, the measures taken to combat it, is often entangled with people smuggling, immigration and asylum, prostitution and other forms of organized crime. It must be emphasized that the essence of trafficking is the forced exploitation of individuals by those in the position to exert power over them. While moving people is an intrinsic part of trafficking, this may occur within as well as across borders, and it may take a variety of forms. If they have been tricked or deceived, a person may even willingly transport themselves into a situation of exploitation. But unlike those who pay to be smuggled into another country, victims of trafficking have no prospect of making a new life for themselves.
International trafficking will inevitably raise issues of immigration, but its victims cannot simply be treated as illegal migrants, nor can the efforts to tackle it be reduced to stricter border controls. We can find sex trafficking abhorrent without taking a particular stance against prostitution, and policies to reduce or control the sex industry are just one approach to ending the trade of human flesh. Finally, despite the similarities between the organized trafficking of drugs, arms and humans, which may require comparable police tactics to combat, we commit a grave injustice against the victims of human slavery if we reduce them in our minds to the status of commodities.
The first step to preventing human trafficking and prosecuting the traffickers is therefore to recognize the complexity of the crime which cannot be tackled in a vacuum. Anti-trafficking strategies have to be embedded in every policy area, from improving female education in source countries so that girls are less vulnerable to trafficking, to increasing police pay in destination countries so that officers are less susceptible to bribery. We cannot allow ourselves to marginalize the issue of trafficking, viewing it as something that can be ended with a few extra taskforces or dedicated units. We need everyone to be aware of how it affects them, and what they can do to stop it. Laudable efforts in this direction have already been made. In 2000, the United Nations launched the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, which established a victim-centred approach to trafficking. It has since been signed by 177 countries. In 2005, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings marked a step towards greater cooperation and dedication within Europe.
But more needs to be done. Many people still do not know what trafficking is, or do not care. We are working to change that, at every level of society. In February 2008 we delivered 1.5 million signatures to the UN from people calling for an end to human trafficking; as a result, our founder Steve Chalke was appointed UN.GIFT Special Advisor on Community Action against Human Trafficking. Since then we have continued to build on our grassroots support, firm in the belief that trafficking cannot be stopped by international conventions alone. Our focus is currently geared towards three key campaigns.
First is Start Freedom, our dynamic new global project run in conjunction with the UN that aims to engage and raise awareness among young people, helping them learn about the issues surrounding human trafficking. The fact that over half of all victims of human trafficking are under 18 empowers young people to realize the importance of their potential to prevent this illicit trade. Already we've had stories from source, transit and destination countries such as Greece, Mexico and Nepal, about how young ¬people, schools, faith groups and ¬communities are engaging with Start Freedom. Communities are at the heart of our campaigns. During Freedom Week in March 2010, young people will connect, engage and share in their communities varied and creative ways to mark their objection to human trafficking.
Our other key project at the moment is Active Communities against Trafficking (ACT), which aims to bring together members of a community under the umbrella of an ACT group. We equip these groups with an abundance of resources to help them identify trafficking, understand how it affects local communities, and learn how to help prevent its continuation. They can do this by asking questions about missing children and by forming connections with local authorities, professionals and community leaders. We believe trafficking starts in a community, and can be stopped by a community, and as the ACT project takes hold across countries, we are witnessing the profile of trafficking being raised, bringing together a diversity of people to help combat human trafficking in its various guises. The second stage of ACT, currently being piloted, will be launched in 2010. It is essentially a community research project that aims to gather information about human trafficking for sexual exploitation in local communities. This project has strong potential to contribute immensely to our key objectives: prevention of trafficking, prosecution of traffickers and protection of victims.
A third central focus is our Chocolate Campaign, which is informed by the fact that more than a third of the world's cocoa comes from Côte d'Ivoire, where child trafficking and forced labour has been widely documented and acknowledged by international initiatives, such as the International Cocoa Initiative. Since international deadlines for eradicating child trafficking were missed by manufacturers, we decided to campaign ourselves by trying to get the big chocolate manufacturers to tell us that their products are "traffik free". Up until very recently, most of them could not guarantee this -- quite simply because their supply chains were not free of child slavery. Our Chocolate Campaign encourages people to help spread awareness about child trafficking in the cocoa industry, and to pressurize big chocolate manufacturers to commit to certifications, such as Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance, which are currently the best guarantees we have to indicate that products are "traffik free". Our campaign strategy relies on our numerous grassroots supporters: people host Fair Trade Chocolate Fondue fundraisers, send letters and make phone calls to manufacturers, boycott brands until they become Fair Trade, and hold awareness-raising events to inform and empower others to make ethical decisions. Our successes so far have been fantastic: Cadbury committed to a Fair Trade Dairy Milk, and Mars promised to certify the Galaxy bar with the Rainforest Alliance by 2010, and their whole range by 2020. Within a few weeks of targeting Nestlé to commit to a fair trade Kit Kat, we got news that they too were following suit in the United Kingdom by introducing a Fairtrade four-finger Kit Kat in January. This is a start, but it is nowhere near the end.
Only with a concerted effort by governments, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and above all communities, can we hope to end the horror of human trafficking. Stop the Traffik has developed into an independent charity with over 1,500 member organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals around the world who refuse to tolerate the existence of slavery in the twenty-first century.
People are talking, communities are rising, global networks are being forged and governments are responding to the united message that human trafficking must end.
I live in a cool college town of 150,000 known for its bike paths and micro-brews. There isn’t much of a blighted area; our one strip club sold to a church last year. Sure we have a park where youth hang out and smoke pot and the motels near the highway are not the ones you send visiting relatives to, but mostly, we have the facade of a squeaky clean community.
But we have sex trafficking. And so do you.
As a grassroots community organizer, I spend a lot of time in coalition and task force meetings, working groups and speaking events. Though a leader in a faith-based anti-sex trafficking organization, I work with a wide array of community stakeholders and professionals to accomplish our shared mission of eradicating sex trafficking in our city.
And although it’s an exciting time in the anti-trafficking movement, I worry.
Author, survivor, and GEMS founder, Rachel Lloyd has warned that the Anti-Human Trafficking movement will one day wane just as the Domestic Violence movement. Right now, we are in the era of rapid education and awareness across all sectors of first responders, courtrooms and influencers. The Church has also mobilized, launching global nonprofits, local shelters and other ministries to survivors.
But I worry that in all our passion, we can get sloppy. I see too many well-intentioned, big-hearted Christians fail to do their research before launching their grand idea. In the process, they lose credibility with those with whom they need to partner and often fail before they have a chance to do good.
There are plenty of things you shouldn’t do, but there are also many tangible and effective actions you can take to stop human trafficking in your community. Opening a shelter, flying to Southeast Asia, or giving money to those who do are not your only options to effect significant change in your own backyard.
Here are a few practical suggestions of what you can do and what not to do:
Assess the Needs in Your Community.
Don’t assume you’re the only one doing anything. Spend time getting to know who knows what and is doing what in your area. Too many churches and organizations operate in a silo without collaborating and leveraging the strength of others.
Once you’ve seen who else is working to stop human trafficking in your area, identify assets and gaps in your community. Come alongside great work or find the ways you are uniquely equipped to meet the needs (e.g. graphic or web design, host a training, mentor a vulnerable youth, become a host or foster care family to a high risk runaway, etc..)
And don’t assume that the approach of those doing anti-trafficking in other cities is always the best thing for all towns, all victims and all situations. Is a shelter really the greatest need and will your local DHS even place kids there? When a local caseworker sent a kid to an out of town group home, she was suddenly around tougher kids and they ran away together … right into the arms of a pimp.
Find the influencers in town—the police officer with passion, the mental health provider with training, the case managers, teachers or school resource officers who want to do something too. Is there a cafe selling slave free coffee and chocolate? Are there campus groups in town? Other churches starting their own thing? They are your allies. Gather them to launch a response team.
Be a Professional, Not Just a Bleeding Heart.
Don’t discredit yourself when you’ll need and want these contacts as allies, partners and referral sources later. Seasoned field workers can be cynical toward passionate naiveté and overly spiritualized Christian lingo.
Get Your Facts Right.
No need to over sensationalize, the numbers are bad enough. When using statistics, find the source, read the context and check the date. The widely quoted “300,000 kids are sexually exploited in the U.S.” is taken out of context. It is from a 13-year-old report that estimates between 244,000 and 366,000 kids are at risk of being sexually exploited each year. When we exaggerate the problem, we discredit the movement, causing further harm and delayed services to those who need it.
Find out where your state stands with human trafficking legislation. What can you do to lobby for better legislation? Tell your city council or state representative that ending human trafficking is important to you. City Council is often the key to unlocking law enforcement to do further investigations.
From social media profile pics to letters to the editor, blog posts, fundraisers, film screenings, Human Trafficking 101 trainings, etc. identify what you can do in your sphere of influence to raise awareness, agitate and train your community. Just be aware of that while you do so …
Be Careful Not to Disempower Survivors.
First of all, survivors rarely self-identify as trafficking victims. Second, the industry term is no longer rescue, but recover. And third, we have to stop using imagery of kidnappings and chains. Most trafficked individuals are physically free to leave, but not psychologically free. When we perpetuate the myth that they must be kidnapped or chained to be trafficked, we confuse those who are truly victims, but assume they’re not because they can technically walk out the door.
Gather a group of people and drive around town. Pray over high schools, rest stops and truck stops, hotels that are seedy and classy, Asian massage parlors in strip malls—all the places where sex trafficking has been identified around the nation in cities large and small.
We often hear the message that one person’s small efforts are all it takes for another’s miracle. While that sounds cliche, the truth is that sometimes we are paralyzed to take the small, immediate steps that could actually prevent someone from being trafficked.
Beth Pandy Bruno
Beth Bruno is the co-author of END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking and co-founder of a Colorado regional anti-trafficking task force. She writes, speaks and mobilizes around this issue while juggling 3 kids. Find her at bethbruno.org.