Abused and depressed, Maria finally escaped her life as a sex slave in the United States after being trafficked here from a Latin American country. Although Maria was lucky enough to escape, she had little time to start rebuilding her life before finding out that her sister was murdered by her traffickers in her home country as punishment for her escape.
This is the kind of control and fear instilled by human traffickers over the 27 million people enslaved in our world today. Human trafficking is a horrific crime in which people are taken by coercion, fraud or force and used for commercial sex work or forced, unpaid labor.
“We think we got rid of slavery a long time ago but the truth is, it is alive and well. This is modern day slavery,” Sr. Terry Shields, board member, treasurer and founding member of Dawn’s Place, a safe house for trafficked women in Philadelphia, said.
Trafficked victims, which include young children, are stripped of their innocence, hopes, dreams and dignity as they are forced to sell their bodies in the brothels of China, labor as household servants in India or are chained to sewing machines for 14 hours a day in California. They sew your clothes, make your chocolate, build pieces of your cell phone, serve you at restaurants and paint your nails at salons.
“You could go into places in the United States and have no idea that the person helping you is enslaved,” Sr. Arlene Flaherty, justice and peace liaison for Catholic Relief Services, said.
Most of these people will go years without seeing daylight, as they are kept in locked rooms where they only see other trafficked victims, their traffickers and their clients or customers. Often they are in foreign countries where they do not know the language and have no one to run to for help. They are beaten, raped, starved, drugged and humiliated daily.
Human trafficking affects virtually every country in the world. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 80 percent of internationally trafficked victims are female and 70 percent are trafficked into the sex industry.
Traffickers prey on the vulnerable- those living in extreme poverty. Women who are deprived of control over their own lives are especially vulnerable as are those trying to escape war or corruption. Women like Maria, whose story was provided by Shields, were approached by men and promised a new life of opportunity and wealth in a developed country, only to learn later they were deceived.
“Where there is poverty and deprivation people take great risks in order to find jobs, and sometimes they fall into the hands of people who end up being traffickers,” Flaherty said.
Women and children in developing countries who have little opportunities and no education to improve their lives or make money are most at risk, along with refugees who are looking for a better life.
“Catholic Relief Services looks at all programs around the world in conflict areas, such as those affected by war or a natural disaster, because you need to be more vigilant in times of chaos. When people are migrating it’s a chaotic situation and traffickers take advantage of that and abduct more women and children during this time,” Flaherty said.
Trafficking is fueled by the demand of sex tourists, or people who will pay to have sex, and by the demand for products at cheap prices.
“In our country, we want things at a cheap price with little care if the workers were violated or abused,” Flaherty said. “Students should support fair trade and fair labor practices to make sure people are working freely and receiving fair wages. Get involved with programs that support the poor.to help these vulnerable people have opportunities so that they don’t fall into this kind of life.”
Another part of sexual trafficking is that there is a kind of culture of sexual exploitation. There is a market for pornography in the United States that makes it seem okay for women to be used as objects.
“The demand for pornography is a large industry for young men who are consumers of commoditized and exploited women,” Flaherty said. “The demand for this leads to the demand for strip joints and more.”
Traffickers find vulnerable women and children to exploit inappropriately and illegally in order to meet the demands of people throughout the world. They make large sums of money by using free labor and collecting money from people paying for sex with the captive women and even children.
Even if victims are rescued from this modern day slavery, they are left traumatized and their lives are shattered from the physical, mental and psychological abuse that they endured.
“The big thing is for men to realize the implications of their actions on others. If there is a demand for this activity then there will be a supply, but it will come at the cost of human lives and dignity,” Shields said.
“We need to work to help and give hope to people so that they can live life freely and to the fullest, which is what every human being deserves,” Flaherty said.