– by Cassy Gonzalez, student volunteer
January is coming to its natural end and so is the symbolic remembrance with it: January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month, with January 11th declared Human Trafficking Awareness Day. By U.S. estimates there lie anywhere between 27 and 25 million for the number of people currently “enslaved” throughout the world. U.S. domestic estimates vary from 100,000 to less than 60,000 depending on what source you are currently looking at. I would like to dedicate a small portion of the internet to pondering human trafficking like many have done before me, and many will do after me.
First, I want to say that it should not be shocking that trafficking exists in the world and the so-called outrage that individuals display when learning that trafficking takes place on U.S. soil is unfortunate and unwarranted. Human trafficking consists of dehumanization, exploitation, and justification for human rights abuses based on some form of oppression and “otherness,” all of which have been, and are looking to always be, present in U.S. mindset and ideals. This country—as it is currently manifested—was built on the backs of slaves, indentured servants, exploited prisoner labor, and a myriad of other expendable groups that were overpowered and had their labor forcibly utilized.
Second, I despise the use of the phrase, “Modern Day Slavery.” To me, this signifies a complete erasure of both the legacy of colonialism the United States and a softening of how slavery was legitimized and implies the United States now lives in a post-racial haven because, hey, we eradicated slavery once! Let’s do so again! But racism isn’t the only monster that keeps this exploitation machine running. There’s sexism, nationalism, classism, and a belief that the United States is a pioneer of human rights across the spectrum. This is not true. The U.S. does do fantastic work for advocating for human rights, but those rights are not always inclusive and accessible to all communities. “Trafficking” for me, describes how one oppressive and dehumanizing system has changed with the 21st century, specifically how globalization has changed how bodies migrate and which bodies can be seen as victims and perpetrators.
Third, there is too much reliance on governmental and criminal justice structures to address trafficking. While these approaches are needed and are essential cogs in the anti-trafficking machines, activism and local advocacy efforts are needed. There are multiple anti-trafficking and anti-exploitation organizations across the U.S. that are dependent on volunteer and intern efforts. Here in Colorado there are two, both of which occupy a space in my heart: The Laboratory to Combat Human Trafficking and Prax(us). There are anti-trafficking organizations and grassroots mobilizations that do fantastic work but will always need members to survive. I would like to see more emphasis on these players along with the governmental and criminal justice structures.
Fourth, anyone who knows me knows that I am constantly thinking about human trafficking in all its horrific embodiments: child soldiers, sex trafficking, labor trafficking, debt peonage, etc. Trafficking in persons is given a very narrow view in social media and imagination: the discourse on sexual enslavement of young girls (American citizens if children, usually foreign adults when over 18) or predators who travel overseas and abuse young children in places like Thailand and Costa Rica. I would like to see equal amounts of attention given to all forms of human trafficking, not popularized notions that get repeated in news coverage and Hollywood movies. To have such a shallow view of human trafficking serves to hinder progress and real prevention efforts—after all, how can a problem be worked on if it is believed there is no problem?
What is the point of this article? To discuss human trafficking, but also to get a dialogue going. How do you envision human trafficking? What are the best methods to end human trafficking? Can it be ended? And most of all, what can we do to help? That is the point of this article—to get anyone and everyone thinking about trafficking, and to challenge what beliefs and encourage further learning of human trafficking both in the United States and globally.