“If social workers are to assume a leadership role in ensuring and promoting human rights, they need to be knowledgeable about human trafficking and modern-day slavery and apply their tools and skills broadly and creatively, taking into account issues of culture, power, privilege, and oppression. This effort includes collaborating across professions; intervening in local, state, and national policy arenas as advocates and thought leaders; recognizing, assisting, and supporting victims and survivors; and galvanizing others to do so as well.”
-Social Work Speaks, 2015-2017
Each one of us needs to answer two questions, and we can only answer these questions for ourselves. Number one: Am I willing to live in a world that condones slavery? Every country in the world has laws against human trafficking and slavery, including the United States—it is called the Thirteenth Amendment. Yet in our progressive world, more globally connected and technologically advanced than ever before, there are more people enslaved today than at any other time in the history of the planet. It is estimated that 43-45 million people are enslaved around the world (Walkfree Foundation, Global Freedom Network). This impacts all of us, in ways we might not expect. The local grocery or retail stores stock an abundance of choices at affordable, competitive prices, but we never collectively stop to ask: Who grew this? Who picked this? Who transported this? Who made it? If we, as a society, ask these questions and do not like the answers, then we will be compelled to act to change them. To some, that may seem too heavy a burden to bear, but action is necessary, and ethically cannot be ignored.
The second question we must ask is: When are we going to stop allowing children to be treated like a commodity? Children are bought and sold every day all over the world, all over the United States, and all over the state of Michigan. According to the Southeast Michigan Trafficking and Exploitation Crimes Task Force (SEMTEC), the average age of minor girls they rescue from street prostitution today is 13 years old. A few years ago, the average age was 16 years old. If there was not a demand, the supply would not be there. Who is creating this demand, you ask? Husbands, fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers, white collar, blue collar, old and young. Human Trafficking is pervasive and must be addressed, and in order to act effectively, we must be informed.
The definition of Human Trafficking is using force, fraud or coercion to lure victims into labor or sexual exploitation. Trafficking is a misnomer; much of the time the person is not transported anywhere. They are often kept near or around their neighborhood. It is exploitation of the individual that constitutes trafficking. Human trafficking is hidden in plain sight.
Human Trafficking and Slavery is a $150 Billion industry around the world; it is second only to the Arms Trade in profit (International Labor Organization). Trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. Organized crime, gangs and individuals are realizing the potential money to be made through human trafficking. After all, drugs are sold and gone and they have to buy more… a person is sold repeatedly. (DHS) The victims are subjected to drug abuse, rapes, beatings, physical abuse, poor health and lack of food. The average life span of a trafficking victim is 7 years. (CNN)
If you have seen the movie Taken that was out a few years ago, it offers a narrow view of how traffickers obtain their victims. Actually, the kind of abduction depicted in the film accounts only for a small percentage of how victims are trafficked. There is no consistent face of trafficking, no easy way to predict who could be trafficking. They can include pimps, mothers, fathers, loose-knit criminal networks, and international organized criminal syndicates. Traffickers are great profilers and manipulators; they will identify, target and leverage their victim’s vulnerabilities in order to create dependency. They will work for up to six months, giving praise, giving compliments, giving gifts, and manipulating the victims emotionally. This process is called “grooming” the victim. They make promises aimed at addressing the needs of their target in order to impose control. Eventually, many victims willingly leave their home and family for the promises of the trafficker. Once the victim leaves home, the trafficker will employ a variety of control tactics to retain control of their victim, including physical and emotional abuse, sexual assault, confiscation of identification and money, isolation from friends and family, and even renaming victims. As a result, victims become trapped and fear leaving for myriad reasons, including psychological trauma, shame, emotional attachment, or physical threats to themselves or their children’s safety (DHS).
While poverty can be one of the factors leading to victimization by a trafficker, human trafficking victims come from all walks of life, including affluent communities. Young teens (mostly girls, but some boys as well) are being recruited from middle schools and high schools in nearly every city in America.
Major sporting events, conventions, and tourist areas are prime targets for human traffickers. In Michigan, deer season particularly in the northern regions will bring traffickers and their victims to be offered up as prostitutes (Child Rescue Network).
Organ harvesting has been tied to human trafficking, and has become a booming business in the 21st century on a global scale. It is estimated that illegal organ sales can generate up to $1.2 billion in profits per year spanning many countries.
The organ trafficking trade involves a host of offenders. As the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN GIFT) noted, there is a recruiter who seeks out the ‘donor,’ there is a transporter of the organs, there are staff at the hospital or clinic that receives the organs, and of course the medical practitioners who perform the transplants. There are also middlemen, contractors, buyers, and the banks that store the organs/tissues (Decoded Science).
Where did the surgeons performing these illegal organ transplants receive their training? Most likely they were trained in the United States or Europe. Where do the hospitals or clinics where the transplants take place receive their durable medical supplies? Again, they most likely receive their supplies from supply companies in the United States or Europe. To create meaningful change and stop the exploitation of human beings, medical schools, hospitals, or medical supply companies must also ask these questions, and be proactive in preventing the continuation of this industry.
Impoverished people may sell their organs to survive. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that human dignity is being undermined by the vast profits involved, and the division between poor people who undergo "amputation" for cash and the wealthy sick who sustain the body parts trade. More than 10,000 black market operations for kidney transplants take place a year in places like India, China, Thailand and Latin America. (World Health Organization)
Notably, many illegally-trafficked body parts are harvested by any available means, and gladly received (no-questions-asked) by the person willing to pay top dollar for a kidney, a heart, or a hip. Traffickers may trick or force a victim to give up an organ. In addition, once trafficking victims are too sick or no longer useful, there are extreme cases in which victims are outright murdered for their organs (Decoded Science).
Red Flags/Signs of victims
Signs to look out for in your community include when a person:
- Is not free to leave or come and go as they wish
- Is under 18 and providing commercial sex acts
- Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
- Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
- Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
- Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
- Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
- Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of their work
- Has high security measures in their work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.
What can I do?
First, we must educate ourselves about human trafficking and slavery. Everyone has a role to play in fighting human trafficking. There is now an abundance of information from very good resources such as:
- Polaris Project, they provide the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888)
- WalkFree Foundation, based in Australia has a Global Slavery Index from 167 different countries to track improvements in those countries
- Global Freedom Network is a joint declaration of religious leaders around the world against modern slavery. Their goal is to work with governments in their regions of the work to help support and hold them accountable for fighting modern slavery
- The United States Justice Department Website has a wealth of information regarding human trafficking, including fact sheets and current cases.
- The State of Michigan Attorney General’s office has a website dedicated to human trafficking laws, fact sheet, current cases being worked on and additional resources that maybe helpful.
As of 2014, Training for Medical Professionals requires the promulgation of new training requirements regarding human trafficking that would apply to most medical professionals (2014 PA 343 [SB 597]). There are many classes online as well as in-person workshops you can attend.
Second, a quick reminder that the primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, marginalized, and living in poverty (Code of Ethics). Remember, our professional ethics is the core of social work.
The core values of service, social justice, dignity and self worth, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence, all play a role in what we can do and should do to help this tragic issue.
Ethical Principle: Social workers’ primary goal is to help people in need and to address social problems.
Value: Social Justice
Ethical Principle: Social workers challenge social injustice.
Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people.
3.08 Continuing Education and Staff Development
Continuing education and staff development should address current knowledge and emerging developments related to social work practice and ethics.
Social workers should strive to become and remain proficient in professional practice and the performance of professional functions. Social workers should critically examine and keep current with emerging knowledge relevant to social work.
6.01 Social Welfare
“Social workers should promote the general welfare of society, from local to global levels, and the development of people, their communities, and their environments.”
6.04 Social and Political Action
(a) “Social workers should be aware of the impact of the political arena on practice and should advocate for changes in policy and legislation to improve social conditions in order to meet basic human needs and promote social justice.”
(d) “Social workers should act to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and discrimination against any person, group, or class”
As of 2014, it is now a law in Michigan to report any suspicion of child trafficking. Human trafficking of a child offense that must be reported by mandatory reporters to Child Protective Services. 2014 PA 344 [HB 5239] amends MCL 722.623.
Third, your local state representative or national representative and ask what is being done to eradicate human trafficking in Michigan. What new laws are being written to help the victims of trafficking? Should we have a State hotline, specifically for Michigan? What is being done to education the public on human trafficking? According to The Anti-Trafficking Review, the US spends about $120 million a year fighting human trafficking. However, according to the National Drug Control policies, the US also spends over $15 billion on fighting drugs.
The safety of the public as well as the victim is paramount. Do not attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions. It is up to law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking. If you think there is someone caught in human trafficking, please call The Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888), the local FBI task force (313-965-2323), or 911.