In light of the ‘Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich’ documentary released by Netflix in May 2020, along with hundreds of other human trafficking scandals, there’s rising concern about global human trafficking. We need to talk about this dire situation more urgently.

Hundreds of thousands of people are victims of human trafficking each year and the terrifying part is that it happens right under our noses. As a young woman, it’s frightening to think about the real possibility of leaving my home in the morning and never coming back.

Human trafficking is one of the most heinous crimes on the planet because it is a grave violation of human rights. The crime involves forcibly trapping people through violence, coercion, or deception in order to exploit them for financial or personal gain. It occurs in many different forms, meaning victims may end up in sex trafficking, involuntary labor, organ harvesting, crime, war conflicts, and horrific modern slavery syndicates.

The International Labor Organization estimates there are 21 million victims of human trafficking globally.

It’s all fueled by capitalism, patriarchy and notions of power within our society. Those who have the least privilege are the most vulnerable because, unfortunately, they are also the most invisible. We currently have a unequal global structure where wealthy, white men are able to exploit the rest of the world. The exploited groups of people are inevitably more vulnerable to human trafficking as they’ll do pretty much anything to improve their lives and make a living.

Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry with no signs of slowing down. Traffickers use a variety of control tactics like physical and emotional abuse, isolation from friends and family, or making the victim ‘feel special’. They might also use their charm or deception tactics to gain the trust of a person they plan on kidnapping. The traffickers will make promises aimed at addressing the needs of their victims as a means of imposing control.

As a result, victims become trapped and even fear leaving the situation because of the power dynamics between them and their trafficker. Perhaps a child has been kidnapped by an adult, or a young woman has been kidnapped by an elder man. These factors alone make it far easier for the trafficker to maintain control over their victim as society grants those in power with more privileges.  

Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a specific profile for human traffickers or their victims. These are people of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds, and can be identified in cities, suburbs, or rural areas. Nevertheless, women and children are still the most vulnerable. As reported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), women and girls account for approximately 71% of victims and children make up almost one third.

It’s important to note that victims aren’t always trafficked across borders either. It can take place within a single country or community. Generally, people get entangled in human trafficking when they are living in poverty, facing discrimination, or runaways seeking a better life. On average, 1 in 3 runaways will end up in commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of leaving their home. Human trafficking rings are often disguised as promising work opportunities and victims only realize the darker truths when it’s too late. However, many people are kidnapped in broad daylight while at shopping malls, airports or simply walking on the streets.

Some of the most common recruitment tactics associated with human trafficking that you should be aware of include:

  • Grooming victims online 
  • Luring victims through seduction and false promises of romance 
  • False or misleading job advertisements
  • Abduction or kidnapping from private and public spaces
  • Recruitment by former victims who often misrepresent the situation to victims
  • Selling family members/friends through illegal trade
  • Taking advantage of one’s religious or spiritual beliefs to trap them into a life of trafficking

In one scenario, I recall a flight attendant named Sheila Frederick who saved a teenage girl from human trafficking back in 2017. While performing her duties on a flight to San Francisco, Frederick noticed a forlorn teenage girl traveling with an older, well-dressed man. The pair seemed quite odd together and the man got defensive every time Frederick tried to speak to the girl directly.

She eventually signaled for the teenager to go to the plane’s bathroom and leave a note indicting if she needed help. Once it was confirmed that the teen was in danger, authorities were asked to retrieve the young girl from the aircraft as soon as it landed.

Another well-known case was Alicia Kozakiewicz’s abduction on January 1, 2002. She’s considered the first highly-publicized internet-related child abduction victim. Alicia was only 13 years old when a 38 year old internet predator spent about 6 months grooming her through an online chat room. He made her believe they were good friends by listening to all her problems, giving her useful advice and being as friendly and attentive as possible.

“I walked out the front door and found that the boogie man is real.” – Alicia Kozakiewicz, child abduction and sexual abuse survivor

On New Years Day in 2002, Alicia accepted an invitation to meet her “internet friend” in person, only a few blocks from her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  As soon as the predator saw Alicia, he forced her into his car and drove her to his home in Herndon, Virginia, where she was held captive in the basement for 4 days.

During her time in captivity, Alicia was chained by the neck and sexually assaulted while her torture was live-streamed online. Eventually, an online user who came across the livestream informed the FBI, and Alicia was saved from her captor. Honestly, it’s stories like this that make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Cases like Alicia’s also highlight the role of the internet in human trafficking, sex trafficking and child abduction. The internet gives traffickers an enormous “playing field” to find and groom marginalized individuals. Sexual exploiters scour social media and online chat rooms, looking for young victims that are easy to groom.

For example, the online chat website, Omegle, has become a cause for concern as it makes it so easy for predators to connect with young children and even see them via a webcam. Recently, the website has gained popularity, especially since large YouTubers like James Charles are making videos where they use the website chat to strangers online. Unfortunately, this encourages their young, impressionable audiences to do the same and put themselves at risk.

Above all else, we cannot continue to pretend human trafficking doesn’t exist. One can start by looking out for human trafficking indicators at all times. For example, Sheila Fredrick noticed a distraught teen traveling under strange circumstances and felt the need to investigate further. Sometimes, we have to trust our instincts. Moreover, you should be hyper-alert of job opportunities that seem too good to be true and make odd requests like meeting for an interview at an unofficial address.

Although human trafficking isn’t a light-hearted conversation, you can always strive to raise awareness in your community and support anti-trafficking efforts. I personally make donations to the anti-human trafficking initiative run by the Salvation Army in South Africa. However, on a global scale, you can work with Stop The Traffik, Freedom Network USA, Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, and many more.

It might feel impossible to completely immerse yourself in this cause. Activism fatigue is a reality that many of us face, especially in 2020 when it’s felt like the world is falling apart. Nevertheless, I challenge you to find out more about human trafficking and research the stats in your city or town. You might just be surprised at just how common the phenomenon really is. It only takes a matter of seconds for you entire life to change if you or someone you know is human trafficked.

 

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  • Luale Monze

    Luale Monze is a well-versed journalist, copywriter and social media strategist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Luale won't shy away from starting new projects, collaborating with fellow creators, and learning as she goes. With a BA in Journalism & Media Studies and a desire to tell meaningful stories, she is ready to take on the world.

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