Last night I attended an Anti-Human Trafficking event. I've been aware of this very serious issue since college. I've seen documentaries. I've watched movies like Taken and Slumdog Millionaire that address the issue. (I highly recommend both movies, by the way). And I've always wanted to be involved in the effort somehow. I also knew that our church had a task force that I've been interested in joining but never got around too.
The reason this particular event caught my eye was because it focused on the problem of human trafficking in the U.S. and locally. I admit that even though I know it happens here too, I still think of it as a third world issue. True, slavery in all its forms (child soldiers, child labor, sex trade/tourism) is a huge problem in a lot countries where the government isn't doing a whole lot about it. However, it is also a problem in the U.S. since the U.S. is the number one destination country.
I've always gotten frustrated with conversations about slavery in our country. Slavery has not been abolished, it's just taken on a different form. It's not endorsed by our government, which is huge. But it does continue to exist, and there are countries who if they don't endorse it, they at least look the other way.
There are 27 million slaves worldwide.
It is the second largest illegal money maker (32+ billion dollars a year)
The average age of entry is 12.
The issue in our country is complicated. It's not easily prosecuted. It's invisible and hard to track. People let there emotions about immigrations issues cloud their ability to see people who are victims. (And most people are clueless about immigration in general anyway I have found since working in a job where I understand the laws and issues).
Slavery takes a lot of different forms and there are lot of efforts in place for advocacy. There are many organizations. There are organizations who focus on Fair Trade products, there are organizations who focus on victims recovery. There are organizations for overseas efforts and more than likely you have local organizations.
The entire issue is overwhelming and I am not really trying to use my blog as a platform to guilt people into caring or doing anything about it. I've always felt convicted about this issue, but also very helpless. I intend to get more involved and aware, but I guess I just felt like I couldn't go to the event and then go on as if it never happened. So this is me acknowledging it.
The thing that made me most sad wasn't the documentary (though that was troubling), it was the fact that there were so few people at the event. Advertised at a church that pulls 1500 people to their weekend services and the room contained a total of 25 people. At least 6 of those were people in involved in the event, another 6 were girls I brought with me, and the rest were people who came at the request of a volunteer (not church members). It made me wonder...is this an issue people are afraid of? Overwhelmed by? Don't believe it's a real issue? Or was it just not advertised well and people didn't know about it?
I don't know.
Usually it ends up being that people just don't know how to help. So I want to end this post with just a statement and some resources.
I feel overwhelmed by all the issues and things we're suppose to care about as the more privileged citizens on the world. I feel overwhelmed by the issue of human trafficking. If I'm being honest, I might forget about it in a few days time when the emotional reaction wears off. But I don't want to be the person who hears about it, writes a check and then forgets. I do want to remember. And I just wanted to share that. It affected me and I wanted to express that.
So there you have it. I do plan to learn more about this issue and I've listed some resources for anyone else who is interested in it (because it's not fair to rant and then leave people with nothing practical).
Lastly, I feel like a lot of issues are fueled in part by our personal decisions whether we realize it or not. So I'd like to suggest a few practical things you can do to at the very least not contribute to the problem.
- Don't support the pornography industry
Regardless of your feelings about pornography in general (whether or not it's okay for a consenting adult, harmless, helpful vs. addictive, progressive, damaging) I would encourage you to research it's role in the human trafficking industry. In many ways, sex slavery and child pornography are fueled by the pornography industry and by demand. Even though I'm against pornography for a lot of other reasons, I would encourage you to look into this if for no other reason that it's role in this issue.
- Research fair trade issues
I'm the first to admit that fair trade is a complicated issue. Just buying products from companies that don't use sweat shops is too simplified. There are lots of issues that make buying habits harder to figure out. But I do think it's worth researching and a lot of companies are trying to be more socially responsible. There is also an app out that can scan products at the grocery store and tell you whether or not slave labor was involved in its production which I find absolutely fascinating.
- Report sketchy craigslist ads
If you're like us, you use craigslist. Craigslist has been in trouble for prostitution before, but apparently in a lot of cases the people being advertised are being trafficked (even adults). So take the time to click the "report" button if something looks sketchy.
- Find local organizations
There are probably anti-human trafficking organizations in your community. I know there are some in Buffalo and WNY. I feel that supporting local efforts always makes me feel more involved. It's tangible, it's your community, it's a good place to start. When the issue is taken care of locally that adds up to a national impact.
I often pray for myself and my own needs but more often forget to pray for others who are truly in need. Prayer is powerful. Don't forget about it.
Government / Media Advocacy
And look for the documentary Flesh: Bought and Sold in the U.S. when it comes out.