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but seriously, what is trafficking anyway?

So you might be wondering by now, what is human trafficking? After all, I keep running my mouth about it. Maybe you have some vague ideas, like doesn’t it kind of have to do with slavery? Or maybe you have a huge brain and you know all kinds of stuff about human trafficking in there. In which case, I’d totally love for you to share with me, since I kind of just found out about trafficking. And I was super embarrassed when I realized this kind of stuff goes on in the world today, in my own city! As it turns out, I’m not a brainiac and I still have a lot to learn. Don’t be ashamed, friends; we can’t know everything. But we can do something with the things we do know.

The question is: what is human trafficking? The main idea is this: trafficking occurs when one person obtains or holds another person for compelled service. (You can thank Hillary Clinton for that spicy definition, which I took from the 2011 U.S. Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.) When one guy tries to keep another guy for some reason, that’s trafficking.

But that’s sort of vague, right? And maybe you’re still confused, because that could mean a lot of different things, really. Here’s the deal. “Human trafficking” is a blanket term that covers a lot of different circumstances. There are many particular cases that look nothing alike but still fall under the category of human trafficking. Seriously, there’s so much information that I could write a book about this stuff. Thankfully, I don’t need to, because a bunch of people already did that. Someday soon I’ll post a list of books and things you can check out if you really want to know more.

Here are a few different forms of human trafficking. (Again, you can look at the above link to see where I got this information.)

Involuntary servitude, aka forced labor, is one kind of human trafficking.  This happens when one person makes another person work for against his will. You might see this kind of trafficking in the Ivory Coast in West Africa, where men and boys are forced to harvest cocoa beans that we use to make our chocolate. This kind of trafficking occurs in the United States when girls or women are kept (involuntarily) as household servants without pay. One of my friends was trafficked to the U.S. for this purpose.

A subcategory of forced labor is forced child labor. The circumstances are the same- except that a child is forced to work against his or her will. One example of child labor occurs in northern India, where children are kidnapped and forced to weave carpets for as many as 20 hours a day.

Sex trafficking is another kind of human trafficking. In cases of adults, this happens when a  person is forced or manipulated into prostitution. In cases of children, this happens any time a child is used for commercial sex, whether they were “willing” or not. Sex trafficking happens a lot, everywhere. To give one example, this kind of trafficking is very common in Europe. Women from the Balkans are lured into Western Europe by promises of jobs that could provide for their families. When they arrive, they are forced into prostitution. When I was in Peru, I met 12-16 year old girls that were victims of this kind of trafficking. It’s important to know that sex trafficking occurs frequently in the U.S., also. The sex trade is a huge industry in our country as in the rest of the world, because there is a lot of demand for sex. The organization I am interning with, On Eagles Wings Ministries, runs two shelters that are especially focused on victims of sex trafficking.

Debt bondage is another form of trafficking. This happens when a job recruiter offers someone a job for a cost. For example, if I were an immigrant wanting to come to the U.S., I would be interested in finding a job. But it would cost me a lot of money just to get to the U.S. So a recruiter could say “I’ll pay for you to get to the U.S. and then I’ll give you a job. All you have to do is work off the debt.” Some people think this sounds fair. The problem is that the debt is used as a form of leverage to control the worker. Some recruiters will add to the debt as time passes, or tell the worker they owe an incredibly high amount of money, so that he is never able to leave. Then the debt can be passed down from generation to generation- in some countries of the world, individuals are still working to pay off the debts of their ancestors. This kind of trafficking still occurs in many parts of the world today, including the U.S. But to give a historical example, debt bondage was used by plantation owners in the South after the Civil War so that they didn’t lose their free labor. Plantation owners would give a former slave a job on the same plantation where he was a slave. Then, the owner would give the slave a house, clothing, and food each year, which he would have to pay back later on. By the time he harvested his crops and paid what he “owed” the plantation owner, there would somehow be no money left over, no matter how much he produced. So he’d have to take out another “loan” for food and clothes and seed for the next year, and go through the same process all over again.

Child soldiering is another kind of human trafficking. This occurs any time a child is forced or tricked into being a combatant in an armed forces. Child soldiering is especially famous in many countries in Africa, where various armed forces in various civil wars have recruited children. Children have been used as combatants, cooks, spies, and messengers. Girls are often used for sexual gratification for soldiers. You can read one riveting account of a child soldier from Sierra Leone in A Long Way Gone, by Ishmael Beah.

This answer is by no means complete, but I hope you can get an idea about trafficking in general terms. It happens a lot of different places, in a lot of different ways, to a lot of different people. Abe Lincoln may have signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but there are still a lot of people in the world who are in some kind of bondage, whether you want to call it slavery or not. Now, I’m not totally crazy- I realize that keeping a blog and making some artwork isn’t going to abolish slavery. I’m not here to do that. I’m here for two jobs:

1. To let other people know what’s out there, because I didn’t know! And ignorance, sadly, is not bliss.

2. To support a few individuals who are committed to freeing some of those still in bondage today. See, I’m not going to change the world. But I know some people who are trying their best! But helping people costs a lot of money! And you don’t really have time to make money when you’re busy trying to change the world. So they need people like me to say “Hey! I have some art. I really like art. I’d like to sell some art, so you can have some money, so you can change the world.” It’s kind of average, really. But I’d love your support, and I’m betting they would love your support, too. So keep reading, keep praying for the victims of this crime, and who knows where we’ll end up.


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