January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. Human trafficking is in essence the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring, or the receipt of persons using force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of exploitation be it through prostitution, other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services as well as the removal of organs.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation, an estimated 40.3 million people are trapped in human trafficking situations around the world, of which 24.9 million people find themselves victims of forced labor (16 million in the private sector which includes agriculture, construction work and domestic servitude, 4.8 million in forced sexual exploitation and 4 million in forced labour imposed by state authorities). The remaining 15.4 million people find themselves in forced marriages. Most importantly, it happens everywhere.
Vulnerability is the key factor exploited by traffickers. This vulnerability can include socio-economic inequalities, political instability such as war, violence, poverty, food insecurity, housing insecurity, mental health issues, cultural attitudes that marginalize individuals based on ethnicity, gender, age, or disabilities. While the crime disproportionally affects women and children particularly in the commercial sex industry, the crime can affect persons of any gender, ethnicity, and age.
While laws exist against the crime, the biggest challenge lies in how the culture we live in may be enabling the crime to continue to perpetuate. We are aware human trafficking exists, it is time to dive deeper and understand how and why it continues to happen. What can we do in our everyday lives that can help minimize vulnerabilities to the people in our own community? Educating ourselves and more importantly learning what role can we play in helping to eradicate the crime is crucial.
By upholding the dignity of every person around us, protecting those involved in labor or services to remain free from exploitative and abusive practices, we can help create a culture that will not allow people to be treated as commodities.
For additional resources visit www.polarisproject.org
If you or anyone you know needs help:
CALL 1 (888) 373-7888 or TEXT “BEFREE” to 2337
Monthly column written for St. Joseph Catholic Church, Tampa, FL