Hello, friends. Welcome to a new year! 2024. We’re kicking it off with a celebration of Human Trafficking Awareness Day – a national day that has been celebrated every January 11 since it was established by the U.S. Senate in 2007, nearly 20 years ago now.
As the whole month of January is dedicated to human trafficking prevention, you might be seeing a lot of other anti-trafficking organizations sharing statistics and info to bust common myths about trafficking, highlight who is most vulnerable, and shed light on the ways survivors continue to struggle to seek justice or get the help they need to reintegrate and heal. This is all valuable information, and we hope you’ll find it helpful.
However, it is also high time we collectively endeavor to think bigger.
It is true that human trafficking is about the individuals who are at risk.
It is also true that human trafficking is about global supply chains, about how much of what is advertised to us and what we are interested in buying comes with little to no oversight or information about the working conditions in which they are made. It’s about expecting more from legal frameworks, implementation, supportive measures to ensure compliance, and effective enforcement to ensure fair trade practices are not trampled in the rush to bottom dollar. People’s need for employment does not outweigh their need for safety and dignity at their workplace. Consumers should be able to shop and safely assume the products they buy are made ethically, or, at the very least, products should be transparently labeled so consumers can easily make informed decisions.
It is true that human trafficking is about the traffickers and exploiters who prey on the vulnerable.
It is also true that a significant portion of those exploiters came from the very same circumstances as their victims and just ended up on the other end of the dynamic. We need to think more deeply about addressing the circumstances that put both actors in the game, even as we continue to pursue justice for harm committed.
It is true that effective law enforcement is needed to combat this crime, and they need the resources to do so.
It is also true that it remains a considerable challenge in many parts of the world to train law enforcement to recognize human trafficking and respond in a way that is sensitive to victims and survivors. There continue to be significant gaps in knowledge, and too many victims are inappropriately charged with immigration or other criminal infractions rather than correctly placed with supportive services. There are stellar examples, such as the collaboration between the Royal Thai Police, the Thailand Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce (or TICAC), the FBI, and Homeland Security, alongside their NGO partners, to ensure a victim-centered approach, and there are many ongoing local and regional efforts to provide professionals with increased training and resources. More examples like these are needed globally, and more public awareness is needed about the current gap between the goals and the reality.
It is true that people migrating, especially through illegal or irregular channels, are at high risk of becoming trafficked.
It is also true that making it harder to immigrate makes people more likely to choose irregular channels. Meanwhile, trafficking of migrants still happens on perfectly valid visas. It’s a very complicated issue that resists simple solutions and requires a variety of careful, thoughtful, targeted and evidence-based responses. How do we make migration safe, humane, streamlined, and tracked? Can we also support policies that reduce the need to migrate in the first place?
It is true that human trafficking is about these big, complex global processes.
But it is also about what happens right at home. It’s about our kids feeling that they have an unconditionally loving and safe place to turn when they need attention, affection, and understanding. It’s about our kids and everyone in their social network collectively taking their privacy seriously. It’s about youth understanding their rights to consent – both physically and online – and also understanding the dangers of sharing sensitive imagery, even with someone they trust. It’s about our youth understanding the consequences and repercussions of sharing sensitive imagery of someone else without their consent. And it’s about youth being able to spot predators’ tactics so they don’t fall prey to their lures.
Human trafficking is complicated, and it won’t be solved in a day. But solving it requires that we grapple with these bigger, harder questions. If there is any saving grace, it is that human trafficking is not a stand-alone problem. It is deeply intertwined with many other pressing concerns about equity, responsible stewardship, globally fair working standards, and strong families and communities. To the extent that we can make progress on any of it, it’s progress made on all of it.