People are still being viewed as possessions

 In 1865, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was passed, abolishing slavery. Given that sliver of historical knowledge, if you were approached by an average American citizen on the sidewalk and asked if slavery existed in the United States today, chances are that you would look at them quite confused and state that of course it does not and that it hasn’t for decades. And chances are that they would nod in agreement.

So, what would the two of you say if a third individual came up and stated that you were both wrong and that slavery did in fact still exist? And what would you say if that individual continued to inform you that it was not just in the United States, but worldwide that there were 20 to 30 million victims of slavery that still existed in an industry known as human trafficking, and that this industry was the second-largest grossing illegal crime in the world behind drug trafficking?

Before getting into the meat of this topic, it should be stated that all the facts within this column are from various websites sponsored by Not for Sale, End Slavery Now and The Polaris Project.

I assure you, you would probably be taken aback and feel unsure and very uncomfortable. Truths such as this typically make us feel as such, and that’s why so many people are still uninformed about it.

Human trafficking is the forced labor of a person by means of physical work, bonded labor, child labor, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation (otherwise known as sex trafficking). The individuals who run these trafficking rings are known as “pimps” or “johns,” and they are incredibly clever.

The first question people usually have about human trafficking is how is it possible that this is even going on in our modern world? We have so many advancements in technology and surveillance—there is no way that this is real. What people fail to realize is that it is technology that is making it so easy for human trafficking to occur.

Pimps use cell phones, dating apps, social media, email, you name it. They use it to prey on vulnerable people and lure them into the trafficking trade. Runaways are especially prime prey for pimps in America. They shower the runaways with gifts, affection and attention. They give them false promises to hope for and meaningless gifts to hold on to. They then bring them into the industry, making them believe that they are going to become models, actresses/actors, anything that their hearts desire.

Suddenly these young adults find themselves in a predicament that is close to impossible to escape on their own. They know no one, are being forced against their will to perform various acts, are being beaten and their pimps threaten to hurt them or their loved ones if they try to leave. It’s nothing short of terrifying.

These victims are then sold via the internet, through texting, phone calls or just on the street. Yet, more often than not, if a victim on the street gets caught selling themselves, they will get prosecuted, not their pimps, because they are believed to be doing it on their own free will.

The next thing people question is how can there be so many victims if it’s mainly an issue isolated to the United States? The thing is, it is not isolated to the United States alone. There are many victims here in our country that are not domestic and are here illegally. America is the second most popular destination zone for traffickers to bring over-sea victims because they are incredibly easy to blend in and sell here.

But how do these victims get trapped over here? The traffickers will find people who come from poor backgrounds and promise them a better life, money to send back to their families and marriage for young unwed girls. They then smuggle them into America and force them into unpaid labor.

These victims then find themselves alone, terrified, typically unable to speak English and here without documentation. They are smart enough to know that if they try to find help from law enforcement, it is very possible that they will get in trouble for being here without documentation, even though it is not their fault.

This is only the tip of the iceberg on information about human trafficking. It is an extremely complicated and ever-growing industry that needs to be brought closer to the forefront of ongoing problems in the world. The organizations listed earlier, (Not for Sale, End Slavery Now and The Polaris Project) are working to put an end to modern day slavery once and for all. But it starts with awareness of the truth of what is going on, no matter how uncomfortable it is. It is not just a small group of people that can make the change; we all need to step in.

Slavery didn’t end with the 13th Amendment. But with everyone’s help, we can be the generation that ends it for good.

 

Jordan Bierbrauer is the Opinion Editor for The Collegian and can be reached at [email protected]