Human trafficking is one of the greatest problems facing our modern society today. It involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. No country is immune from human trafficking, as it occurs in nearly every place in the world. “Slavery” is the most common term used to describe what happens when a trafficked person arrives at their destination, and recently, Sarah Snodgrass, Director of Partnerships and Student Care for Study Abroad Lithuania at LCC International University shared her expertise. Sarah has been involved in the non-profit sector since 2010, working with various NGOs that dedicate their time to vulnerable communities. Discussing the never ending battles against human trafficking, Sarah reveals the common types of human trafficking and relevant facts. She also suggests how to contribute to the anti-trafficking movement without actively hurting communities at risk.
There are three different places human-trafficking might occur: source countries, transit countries, and destination countries. A source country is a country where trafficking originates, a transit country is where trafficked people pass through on their way to their destination, and finally, a destination country is where the victim reaches its end point. Any given country may be one of these, or all three.
According to the Counter Trafficking Data Collaborative (CTDC), currently there are 108,613 individual open cases of human trafficking, 164 countries of exploitation, and people of 175 nationalities involved. It is important to understand that the exact number is difficult to know for certain, as many cases go undetected and unreported. A few of the most common places people end up in are brick kilns in South Asia, sweatshops, farms, and traffickers usually target children and young women at an average age of 15 to 17 years old. They routinely trick victims with promises of employment, educational opportunities, marriage, or a better life overall.
Human-trafficking is a lucrative business, considered to be the third most profitable criminal activity, behind drug and weapon trafficking. It is estimated that the human-trafficking trade generates nearly 150 billion US dollars every year, most of it profited from sexual exploitation, construction, manufacturing, mining, and utilities. Because it is so profitable, it makes the industry extremely challenging to fight against.
Behind the scenes of the human-trafficking issue, we encounter push and pull factors. “Push factors are the various reasons why trafficking begins in the first place. Poverty, oppression, lack of human rights, lack of social or economic opportunity, dangers from conflict, political instability, natural disasters and many more. For example, war and civil strife are huge problems and reasons why people are pushed to leave their communities,” commented Sarah Snodgrass. A civil war in Nepal in the early 2000s left thousands of children orphaned, and many of these children were extremely vulnerable to becoming a victim of trafficking.
Pull factors are situations that pull people away from their homes, including sex tourism, the promise of a better life, education, marriage, or employment. Sex tourism is very popular and lucrative in Southeast Asia, specifically Cambodia and Thailand. Although it is illegal, corruption within the government and police systems helps the industry to thrive. Both push and pull factors go hand in hand, and are hard to determine one from another. One of the most important things is to see and address both factors to successfully tackle the issue.
With years of experience in NGOs and working with vulnerable communities, Sarah Snodgrass has visited and witnessed the human-trafficking situation, specifically in Nepal and India, and has worked alongside other anti-trafficking organizations in Bangladesh and Cambodia.
Cambodia is a source, transit, and a destination country for human-trafficking, perfectly situated between Vietnam and Thailand, both of which are the popular destinations for sex tourism. Sarah was connected with an organization in Phnom-Penh that battled the issue by shutting down brothels and investigating the criminals who bought and sold people as commodities.
Sarah continued her explorations of the issue in Mumbai, India, by joining an organization that worked with the children of sex industry workers. Feeling the need to become involved even more, she found herself moving to Kathmandu to explore the human-trafficking problem on the open border between India and Nepal. The organization she worked for, Love Justice, originally began as a children’s home organization, specifically serving vulnerable orphaned children by giving them a safe home. After several years, Love Justice recognized the need for border monitoring and began investing in that work as well. Although the monitoring is a great way of collecting important information about criminal trafficking rings and rescuing girls before they ever encounter the horrors of a brothel, it is nearly impossible to obtain convictions of high-level traffickers.
Sarah shared the importance of investigating the “supply line” of a person who is being trafficked. There is a supplier, the trafficker or trafficking organization, who operates the business of collecting victims. Next, there is a mid-level distributor who physically transports the victim, and lastly, there is the retailer, the brothel. Many people argue that the simplest way of stopping human-trafficking is by stopping the operation of brothels. Unfortunately, this does not solve the problem, as it merely creates a space for a new person to be trafficked or a new brothel to be built. The root problem originates with the supplier. If you shut down the supplier, there is no “merchandise” for the distributor or the retailer.
Human trafficking is one of the most devastating inhumanities in the world today. The Global Slavery Index shows that over 40 million people live in modern-day slavery. As we ponder these numbers, we have a moral obligation to help. Even if it seems impossible for one person to make a change, it is crucial to start somewhere and do our part, no matter how small. We can each take small steps like doing research, engaging in relevant discussions, or by joining in the efforts of organizations who are on the front lines of the fight. Start by educating yourself, use your voice to raise awareness, and become an advocate in your generation. Consider volunteering, mentoring, gaining relevant experience, and delving deeper into understanding these sensitive but critical topics. Become a part of helping communities thrive, and advocating for those who are most vulnerable.