Media, in America particularly, has a bad habit of sharing only the juiciest stories with the public. While this is better than living in a country where all of the media is controlled by the government and all you hear is the government’s propaganda, the perceived importance of this irrelevant news eclipses, stories of actual substance and significance. Stories about sex trafficking are more popular in the media because they are often much more dramatic, and thusly, draw in more viewers and readers. Even in the realm of scholarly writings there seems to be at least a dozen articles written about sex trafficking for every one article written about labor trafficking.
There seems to be a misconception that sex trafficking is a “bigger”, more important, issue than labor trafficking. It doesn’t matter if there are 10 million people trafficked for sex every year and only ten trafficked for labor, those ten people matter and they deserve justice. Even if only one person is trafficked for labor every year, that person’s freedom matters every bit as much as each of the 100 millions’ who are trafficked for sex. One is not worse than the other. One is not more important than the other. One does not deserve more attention than the other. Victims of both labor trafficking and sex trafficking are traumatized in ways that, unless you’ve experienced it first hand, you can’t even begin to imagine. I think a big problem in general is the word “trafficking” itself. To me, it sounds soft. Human trafficking of any kind is slavery. To say that human beings are trafficking other human beings is such a gentle way of putting it: human beings are enslaving other human beings. You sometimes hear sex trafficking being referred to as sex slavery or sexual slavery, a very accurate name for it. You never hear labor trafficking referred to as slavery for labor or simply “slavery” and that right there is a problem. Since “trafficking” is difficult as it is to talk about, it’s much easier for most people to talk about than “slavery”, so for now I’m going to stick to calling if labor trafficking.
I read an article the other day that said Florida is the third largest hot spot in the United States for trafficking, just behind California and Texas. When you think about it though, it makes sense. There are few bigger tourist destinations in the country. Who do you suppose works in the restaurants, hotels, spas, and other luxury places that tourists visit while vacationing? Florida has battled with the issue of illegal immigration for years and years, but what about the immigrants who don’t want to be here? Whose passports are kept locked away so they have no chance of leaving? Who are forced to work for so little or no money that they can’t afford to gain citizenship? The point I am trying to make is that not everybody that people assume are here illegally are, one, here illegally, or two, here by choice. Traffickers use the same methods of control to keep victims here for labor that they use to keep victims of sex trafficking from escaping. Even if there’s not a gun to their head or chains holding them captive, threats, fear, and violence are more than enough to hold someone prisoner.
A big reason that labor trafficking goes overlooked so often is because it’s extremely difficult to spot. It’s a lot easier to notice a woman, scantily clad, walking up and down the streets late at night than someone working in the kitchen of a restaurant for no wage. So these people, who can be forced to work 18+ hours a day, go undetected day in and day out. Another problem is that some people assume there is no sexual abuse in labor trafficking. Domestic servitude especially, often times encompasses both. A women may be forced to clean someone’s house all day then sexually abused by the house’s owner all night.
The reach that labor trafficking has is astounding and a little overwhelming. When victims can be forced to work in fields or restaurants or hotels or construction or nail salons and a hundred other places, it keeps the police from being able to spot those who need help. When they do stumble upon victims, especially those who are forced to be here illegally, they can simply be treated as criminals and deported without even being seen as victims.
It’s important to remember that no one “looks” like a trafficking victim. There is no neon sign pointing to them saying “I need help”. The public really have to be the eyes and ears for law enforcement. Often times if you notice something suspicious and you follow your gut, you could end up saving someone from a lifetime of abuse. The police just don’t have the man power to combat trafficking all on their own, we have to help.
If you think you are a victim or know at a trafficking situation, even if it’s just a hunch, you can contact the Polaris Project’s hotline at 1-888-3737-888. They have people available 24/7, 365 days a year. If you or someone addresses to you to be in immediate danger, please call 911 immediately.
By: Danae Zimmer