Human trafficking is a practice I condemn deeply, particularly the practice of sex trafficking or sexual slavery, because it could have touched very close to home. My wife went to college in the city of Constanta, Romania, which is one of the main cities in the country where abductions and other crimes of sex trafficking occur. When we met, she still had about two years before graduation. Because we were apart for long periods of time, and she was and is very beautiful, I had this constant fear of her being a target for sex traffickers. Thank goodness nothing happened.
My fear may sound absurd to you, but it was real to me, and it’s real to the parents of girls in that city and in other large Romanian cities. Constanta in particular, being a port city on the Black Sea, invites a lot of unwanted attention from criminals of all varieties. Girls are routinely abducted there and carried off to Middle-Eastern countries, where they’re either made part of some filthy Arab’s harem or forced into prostitution.
Romania is one of the major trafficking source countries for women and children in Europe, among others such as Albania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Just next door to Romania, the Republic of Moldova, Bulgaria and Ukraine also have the dubious distinction of being among the main trafficking sources for the world, along with Thailand, China, Nigeria, Albania, and Belarus. So you see, the entire Eastern Europe region around the Black Sea is a hot spot for human trafficking. I’m not saying this of myself, but many statistics bear this out. Check out the reference links at the bottom of this article and see for yourselves.
Girls and children abducted or manipulated into going abroad may be taken through a transit country like Mexico or Israel, or end up in a destination country, which is usually rich enough for the “customers” to be able to afford the human trafficking “products”. The list of the biggest destination countries is as follows: Thailand (also a major source), Japan, Israel (also a transit country), Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the US.
After talking with people in Romania, I found out that a lot of girls from the country end up in Germany and Turkey. Not all are physically coerced into going there. Criminals exploit lack of opportunities, promise good jobs or opportunities for study or marriage, and then force the victims to become prostitutes, or they may abduct them outright. Through agents and brokers who arrange the travel and job placements, women are escorted to their destinations and delivered to the “employers”. Upon reaching their destinations, some women learn that they have been deceived about the nature of the work they will do; most have been lied to about the financial arrangements and conditions of their employment and find themselves in coercive or abusive situations from which escape is both difficult and dangerous. They are psychologically manipulated by skillful, experienced traffickers into the practice of prostitution and are kept in that lifestyle by any means necessary, such as continual psychological or physical abuse or drugs.
Another tactic is for a trafficker to seduce a girl, pose as a couple as they go abroad, then, while the girl is still in love with him, get her to sleep with other men in order to make money while they “start from scratch”. He’ll keep saying he can’t find a job yet, she’ll keep sleeping with other men for money, and before she knows it, she’s a prostitute, and he’ll waste no time calling her one, each and every day, beating her down psychologically till she’s too broken down to resist the sordid lifestyle. When she’s broken, there’s no need for the captor to pretend they’re a couple, so he’ll revert to the job of an outright pimp.
The girls’ families usually know nothing of their girls’ whereabouts and doings. The girls tell them they’re going abroad for jobs, then, when they’re already caught in the web of prostitution, will lie to them and tell them they’re working somewhere, out of shame for what they’re doing. The girls are usually over 18, they’re going willingly, the police can do nothing about it, and once they’re abroad, it’s too late. Some people I talked to were pragmatic, even downright dismissive. “They’re old enough to know what they’re getting into,” they said. “If that’s what they want to do with their lives, it’s their business.”
The vile practice of human trafficking is a profitable one. People in Romania can usually finger the ones who are doing it, and can tell you how quickly they got rich, how many houses and cars they have, and so on. The sad part is that there’s little the police can do, unless abductions are involved. Even then, since the victims are taken to other countries, any moves require close cooperation with police forces in those countries, who may or may not care at all, so authorities are stuck.
Human trafficking is condemned and forbidden by the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children (also referred to as the Trafficking Protocol), which is a protocol to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. The protocol defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
While the UN and many civilized countries condemn the practice, and many celebrities have signed on to the cause of fighting human trafficking, little headway is being made. In part, this is because collaboration between police forces in various countries is difficult, as few protocols with too few teeth are in place for this sort of thing. Also, governmental organizations set up for the purpose of fighting human trafficking are busy bickering among themselves over the definition of human trafficking. Finally, what makes this a difficult fight is that at least where sex trafficking is concerned, the majority of the girls go willingly, because they’re duped into it. Some are even okay with prostitution, though they may not be aware of the real working conditions until it’s too late.
Human trafficking is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. The US estimates the market at up to $9 billion, while the EU laughs at that estimate and states it to be around $42.5 billion. No country, rich or poor, civilized or not, is immune from the problem of human trafficking, which can take many forms, but is most often identified with the exploitation of women and children for the purposes of prostitution.Victims of traffickers are usually transported over state borders, though it’s not a pre-requisite, since they can be also coerced and manipulated in their own countries.
Still, good news exists when it comes to catching the criminals involved in this practice. Just a few years ago, while living in the DC area, I heard that a brothel disguised as a massage parlor, staffed by South-Asian women, was closed down, but not before the investigation revealed that prominent politicians and other men of supposed standing in the local community frequented the place, some quite often. In October of 2009, US authorities broke up a child prostitution ring where 52 children were recovered and 60 alleged pimps were arrested, during a three-day operation, tagged Operation Cross Country IV. Law enforcement actions were taken in 36 cities across 30 FBI divisions nationwide. It was part of the FBI’s ongoing Innocence Lost National Initiative, which was created in 2003 with the goal of ending sex trafficking of children in the United States.
The movie “Taken”, released in 2008, starring Liam Neeson, does a good job of showing what an abduction situation for the purposes of sexual trafficking looks like, how one can begin to tackle the situation, and how entangled the whole web of human trafficking really is, with many interested parties holding significant stakes in the matter, including the police, who are often on the take in order to turn a blind eye toward the matter. In the movie, Brian Mills, the main character, manages to track and save his daughter as she is exchanged through the hands of several captors, though in real life, this seldom happens. I’m not knocking the movie — I loved seeing all those sex traffickers get maimed, tortured and killed, because it’s what should happen to all of them — but the people who do this usually prosper while countless women, children and men suffer at their hands.
The Vancouver Film School also put together a short documentary about human trafficking, which they recently released to the web.
In the end, I think the problem of human trafficking can be tackled along multiple avenues:
- Prostitution and other forms of human trafficking should be made illegal. On one hand, I can understand arguments for making prostitution legal, such as the ability to provide medical care to prostitutes and to check on things a little better. On the other hand, you’d be legalizing a business whose product is the exploitation of women as sex objects. A bad practice shouldn’t be made legal just because some people choose to engage in it.
- The burden of the punishment for human trafficking should be on the shoulders of those who are behind the scenes — not the prostitutes or human slaves themselves, who should be helped to reintegrate into society — but those who organize the business of selling them to the public and “recruiting” them. The human traffickers themselves should bear the heaviest legal punishments that can be meted out, probably on par with murderers. The clients themselves should have to pay significant fines if caught trying to solicit prostitutes or purchase human slaves. Heavy fines are a great deterrent for this sort of thing.
- So that the bickering can stop over the definition of human trafficking and ways to combat it, separate organizations ought to be set up that deal with each category of offenses that have been grouped under this umbrella. In other words, sex crimes ought to have their own set of laws and organizations that fight them, and other kinds of human trafficking offenses ought to be separated under their own sets of laws and organizations. For example, I think someone that sells women as sex slaves ought to be punished differently and more severely than someone who sells men or women into indentured servitude, and someone who sells children into sexual slavery ought to be punished most severely.
These are just a few of my thoughts on the matter, but if you have anything to contribute, please comment below. For more information on human trafficking, please consult the following resources, on which I drew for facts and figures as I wrote this article: