Modern slavery and the hidden world of human trafficking
Friday, May 09, 2014
What is the largest illegal industry in the world? Drugs — that's pretty easy to guess. What is the world's second-largest illegal industry? Human trafficking, the majority being sex trafficking.
Human trafficking rakes in $32 billion annually, almost surpassing drugs as the No. 1 illegal industry. And sex trafficking is getting worse; it's growing so quickly that researchers are concerned it will soon be a larger financial industry than the illegal drug trade.
It is one of the most widespread, illegal activities in the world, yet no one ever really talks about it. The news rarely reports it, unless it's in another country, and the closest Hollywood has ever come to acknowledging it is in the movie "Taken."
Yet, it is a real threat, with approximately 27 million people being trafficked and kept as slaves at any given moment. Only 1 percent of the victims are ever rescued, and 2 of every 3 sex-trafficked victims are female.
Recently, 300 girls were kidnapped from their school in Chibok, Nigeria, and only a handful of girls have been found because they managed to escape while being transported through the forest. The group who kidnapped them is called Boko Harem, one of the smaller human trafficking rings.
The self-proclaimed leader, who has remained unnamed, expressed his desire to sell the girls for labor and sex purposes, stating that there was a market for selling humans, particularly young women. He also said women were slaves, whose main purpose was to be married. "I will marry off a woman at the age of 12. I will marry off a girl at the age of nine," he stated.
Somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 are trafficked between borders each year, and 70 percent of trafficked victims are children, ranging from 11 to 18 years old. In a world where there are plenty of buyers, being underage isn't a deterrent; rather, it can be a selling factor for pimps, the people (usually men) who own the girls.
The average lifespan of a sex-trafficked woman is approximately seven years — many die from disease and some from violence. Bear in mind that these women, often children, have no way to get to healthcare centers, so STDs and other diseases, which are rampant in that industry, are able to run their course unchecked.
Some speculate that there are more slaves in the world today than ever before in history, and a large part of it is due to the Internet. In fact, Craigslist used to be one of the largest trafficking websites until they were required to shut down the adult services section of their site in 2010.
Children of all ages would post photos in the section, using keywords such as "innocent," "sweet" and "excited" to clue in customers to their age. Often they would have some sort of faceless photo to accompany their ad, which would say something along the lines of, "I'm young, sweet, and I love meeting new people!"
In truth, it's an ad for sex. And more often than not, the girls posting that are not doing it by choice. There are now several other websites that are used for the same function since the closing of Craigslist's adult services.
In the U.S., 100,000 to 300,000 girls are sold for sex every year, and most are between 11 and 14 years old. These young women are dragged all over the country, posting and answering ads. They are beaten when they don't meet their required quotas and are told to "act like they like it" when forced to have sex with strange men or women.
Sometimes these girls are required to have sex or perform sex acts with other prostitutes, at the request of their buyers. Many of them lose all hope of going home after a matter of days.
Women who are victims of sex trafficking are often sold to men for a certain length of time, usually 1,500 times per year. Some women report being sold for sex up to 10 times per day. In many documentaries, the victims linger on the pain, the fear and how they learned to take their mind out of their body during the act — their only defense to such a horrifying reality. Other girls have reported being beaten, urinated upon or gang-raped as a way to force them into submission.
So, the important questions to all these facts are: Why don't the girls try to escape? Why don’t the police do something to catch these predatory men and women and save the victims? Why is this not portrayed as a formal problem in the U.S.?
To begin with, these women can't leave. When they aren't locked up, they are under almost constant supervision until they are considered to be "broken," which takes years of being trafficked. The pimps will also threaten to kill their family or even the victims themselves, and often times go through with their threat if a victim escapes.
When two cousins were kidnapped in Ohio and tried to escape, their pimp threw the younger one down the stairs, as a warning to the older cousin in case she tried to break free again. Years later, after being saved, she still cannot look at the pimp's picture.
There are few ways a woman can escape on her own. Sometimes they only escape because they are beaten so badly they are left for dead. One policeman and his partner were in a brothel staking out the building when a 12-year-old girl threw her arms around the policeman, begging for help. When they came back with help hours later, she was gone. She's never been saved or seen since.
However, that girl was a rare exception. When most girls are rescued and asked whether they are being forced to sell sex, they often say no — and it's for the same reasons they don't try to run. They are physically and mentally forced into submission by these monsters, and they fear for the people they care about. This makes it incredibly difficult for the police to pin down victims and predators in sex rings, and can leave victims feeling more hopeless than ever.
It's uncertain why the U.S. doesn't portray trafficking as a larger problem. In fact, the U.S. spends 300 times more money per year to fight drug trafficking than it does to fight human trafficking.
Perhaps it is because so many people are involved in drug trafficking, between the rings, the pimps and the johns. Or perhaps it is the difficulty in catching the predators and saving the victims.
Either way, it is past time for the U.S. to inform the public and to treat the women saved as victims, rather than law-breakers.
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