January 11 is national Human Trafficking Awareness Day.
Actually, all of January is Human Trafficking Prevention month, designated by President Obama in 2010. January 11 is just a single day we can all focus our attention on. Another is February 1, which is National Freedom Day.
Why do we need a whole month? And why do we need a specific day within the month? Well, I’m not sure we do. I do think it’s important to have one or the other, but having both is nice too.
It’s important because we need to be reminded that slavery is still a problem in our society. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the 1860s, and we’re all taught that it ended slavery in the United States. I know that I was raised to think of slavery as an archaic, cruel institution, but that we as a society had seen the error of our ways and had become wiser–even if true equality was a work in progress.
It’s disturbing to realize that slavery is still going on. It’s just less socially acceptable now.
These days, slavery happens behind the scenes, and we call it “human trafficking.”
It takes different shapes:
Sex trafficking is when someone is forced or coerced to exchange sex acts for money, or some other form of payment (like drugs). Women, children, and men can be victims of sex trafficking. It happens in hotels, in apartments, in suburban residences, online, and virtually any other setting you can think of. It happens to US citizens as easily as immigrants. Money doesn’t have to be involved for a situation to be sex trafficking. Child sexual abuse and porn rings count.
Forced labor is when someone is forced or coerced to perform manual labor with little or no pay. It could be in a restaurant or hotel, or in the fields as a migrant laborer. It can happen to men, women, and children.
Debt bondage, or bonded labor, happens when someone is tricked into incurring some sort of charge (or believes they’ve incurred this charge)–such as paying someone to smuggle them out of a dangerous region. They’re forced to work to pay off their debts. They might continue to rack up debt, and be made to continue working. Sometimes “debt” is passed down through generations, keeping an entire family enslaved.
Forced marriage, or early marriage, is when girls are forced to marry before the age of 18, often as young as 11 (or younger). It’s a practice that’s still, unfortunately, accepted in many parts of the world. The girl’s husband is often much older, and her marriage may mean she enters a life of servitude, where she can be sexually trafficked and made to perform domestic labor.
That’s a quick run-down of human trafficking. The ways it manifests are much more nuanced. You can read more at AntiSlavery.org.
Human Trafficking Prevention Month is important because humanity is important. There is still such a thing as fighting for the basic human rights of all people. Even in 2015, those aren’t automatic givens. It’s important to remind ourselves of that. It’s important to remember that everyone has the right to choose the way they work, and to make a profit from their labor. Everyone has the right to sexual autonomy.
People who enslave, exploit, and manipulate others are pathetic and disgusting.
Preventing human trafficking is about awareness, first and foremost. So thanks for reading this article. Share it, and maybe consider donating to one of the organizations on this list.
L. Marrick is an author, ghostwriter, and suitcase entrepreneur—which is a hipster way of saying she travels and works from her laptop. Her memoir, “Working Girl: 132 Somewhat Moral Values I Learned from a Sex Worker,” tells about when she answered a shady classified ad and wound up working as a sex worker’s personal assistant. Her blog at SexualFreedomAndSlavery.com is where she writes about human trafficking and shares updates on her book tour. Her professional website, Copy&Sundry, is where she connects with ghostwriting and blogging clients.
© L. Marrick 2014. The content of this article, except for quoted or linked source materials, is protected by copyright. Please contact the author at the above links to request usage.