The detail that most affected my personal slavery footprint was the purchase/ownership of products like stereo equipment, cell phone, computers, television, BluRay and CD players and the discs that go with them, etc. I’m sure to be in good company in a world where even modest U.S. households are filled with technology. It seems obvious to point out that these items could be constructed without the benefit of slave labor. But that would raise costs and as a result, end-user prices would go up accordingly. With so many consumers focused on getting the biggest bang for the fewest bucks, ensuring a fair wage for everyone along the production line seems antithetical to higher sales figures. Besides, it would surely mean lower profits for the business owners or stockholders, and we can’t have that. The ongoing debate about raising the hourly pay for fast-food employees demonstrates this pretty clearly.
It’s a safe bet that the majority of technophiles aren’t giving up their gadgets anytime soon, slaves notwithstanding. The captive workers behind our gadgets are forced into mines and factories under the most appalling conditions, working sometimes as much as twenty hours each day. Remember the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in 1911? Over 140 immigrant workers were killed by fire or smoke, or who jumped to their deaths. They weren’t labeled slaves, but the reason so many died is because the doors to the stairwells were locked to prevent them taking unauthorized breaks. At the time that disaster was used as an incentive to improve conditions for sweatshop workers. But slavers don’t care about such things; working conditions for their enforced labor make the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory look like a cakewalk.
But mining and manufacturing aren’t the only trades where you’ll find trafficked individuals. Slavery also presses adults into agricultural labor, recruitment for armed conflicts, arms and drug trades, household servitude, even begging on the streets. But it doesn’t stop there. Some are sold for organ and tissue removal, surrogate birth-mothers. Children are snatched and sold through illicit international adoption or as mail-order brides. I didn’t get the above details on any one website. They’re everywhere. Just google “human trafficking” and you’ll see them too.
The most prevalent use of trafficked women and children occurs in the commercial sex trade. Prostitution and pornography are multi-billion-dollar profit-making businesses, and always seem to have an eager market. Slavers and their networks are not about to give this up easily or quietly.
But the sex industry doesn’t offer the glitzy upscale lifestyle the media sometimes depicts. At least, not for the victims. In the New York Times article “The Girls Next Door,” a special agent with Immigration and Customs Enforcement described one scene as the “squalid, land-based equivalent of a 19th-century slave ship with rancid, doorless bathrooms; bare, putrid mattresses; and a stash of penicillin,” and drugs to induce abortion; the scene he describes was inside an outwardly average Victorian-esque house in Plainfield, New Jersey, where four underage Mexican-national sex slaves were found and rescued (2004). Vanity Fair ran an in-depth article (May of 2011) about the efforts of one female cop in New England to help a handful of trafficked young women. Disturbing glimpses into the lives of these victims told a harrowing tale of the strength, determination, and pure, raw luck that got them through years of sadistic mistreatment by their pimps. Two of the girls were brought into the trade at the age of 13 and were finally rescued around the age of 18. Another, 15 years old, was stuffed into a duffel bag and dumped in the middle of a six-lane highway by her pimp. The girls were threatened with violence to themselves or their families, tortured, beaten, isolated from everything they know. Rape, dehumanization and other forms of physical intimidation became a way of life for them. For the thousands upon thousands of others who were not rescued, it still is.
In case you think this doesn’t happen here in the good old U.S. of A., think again. The young women featured in the Vanity Fair article were all born and raised in the United States. And they are not alone. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, over a quarter of a million youths — runaways or thrown-aways — are at risk of becoming victims. The average age of girls trafficked into prostitution is 12-14. Trafficked boys and transgender children are even younger — between 11 and 13 years of age. The pimps are demanding, expecting workers to turn 10-15 tricks per night. When they don’t meet their quotas, the punishment can be quite severe.
Some states are beginning to tackle the sex trade and its potential thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of trafficked workers by enacting new laws and/or going after the Johns. The theory is that if they can stifle the market, they can stop (or severely diminish) the trade itself. Even the Air Force is cracking down on “juicy bars” outside the gates of Osan Air Base in South Korea. Their reason? Too many of them are associated with human trafficking.
But what about women (and men) who willingly choose the sex trade and actually like it? (Are there any?) Are we infringing on their rights by zeroing in on prostitution as a likely forum for trafficked individuals? If so, where and how do we draw — and then walk — that delicate line? Like any highly charged issue, the question of whether or not prostitution is a “victimless” crime is up for debate. Some of the arguments on either side can be seen at Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues
What do you think?
ABC News, http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/victim-human-sex-trafficking-20139472
Federal Bureau of Investigations, http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/march_2011/human_sex_trafficking
Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues, prostitutionprocon.org/
—Drema Deòraich (some original links may no longer work – 9/7/13)