Observing the 2012 Human Trafficking Awareness Day
This week US citizens observed National Human Trafficking Awareness Day through acts of education, legislation, and enforcement; whilst, around the world, other people highlighted or tackled this global problem in their own countries.
According to an annual report on human trafficking released by the US State Department in June last year, 27 million men, women and children are exploited through human trafficking. Worldwide, at least two million children are estimated to be trafficked victims of the sex trade; and, in military conflicts, it is not uncommon for children to be forced to bear arms. In releasing the report last year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlighted the importance of international cooperation in addressing trafficking, and cultural issues associated with it.
Under the United Nations’ Palermo Protocols, human trafficking encompasses cases where victims are born into slavery, forcibly transported for exploitation, consented to work with a trafficker, and/or were forced to participate in criminal activities. The Protocols also recognize the unique status and rights of children.
Reports from across the United States show a number of communities taking local action to solve, or otherwise highlight, this global problem.
In Southern California, Sister Caritas Foster is an advocate for the area’s victims of human trafficking. Commenting on the area’s involvement, she stated: “We in the San Francisco Bay Area are one of the largest receiving areas with our borders and coasts”. For over four years, Foster has worked on educating the public on human trafficking, speaking to civic and religious groups and describing the power traffickers hold over their victims through vivid accounts of situations trafficked individuals find themselves in. Many have no idea where they are located, suffer under the constant threat of deportation, and most often lack the language abilities to seek help.
Los Angeles politician Don Knabe said human trafficking was not a distant problem but one that hits close to home. As the county supervisor overseeing the fourth district in Los Angeles County, Knabe cited figures from the Probation Department showing 84 percent of arrests of children on prostitution charges in 2010 were in his district; he believes the overall problem for the county is much larger, and wants the Probation Department to establish a special unit dedicated to sexually exploited minors.
Northward in Seattle, Washington, members of the King County Sheriff’s department realized that law enforcement had to deal supportively with the symptoms of human trafficking — rather than putting victims in jail. This gave birth to the “Genesis Project” where sheriff’s deputies offer potential victims of trafficking a comfortable safe haven with amenities for 24 hours, and put them in touch with social services for counselling, job training, and education advice.
Politicians from several states have sought to address the connection between tourism and human trafficking; Indiana’s state Senate unanimously passed a human trafficking bill on Tuesday morning. Current legislation only considered forced marriage and prostitution as human trafficking; loopholes in the existing laws allowed some forms of human trafficking to escape prosecution. Lawmakers in the state hope to toughen their human trafficking laws, and have new legislation on the statute books in time for the Super Bowl, due to be held in Indianapolis on February 5. The just-passed bill now goes to the House for approval.
Also on Tuesday, lawmakers from Hawaii held a special hearing on human trafficking. Kathryn Xian, of Pacific Alliance to Stop Slavery, says traffickers capitalize on the state’s tourist-based economy. She introduced a package of seven bills she says will help prevent human trafficking in the state.
At a national level, the US government continues to work abroad on the issue of trafficking; Luis CdeBaca, a special ambassador for human trafficking, is working with Myanmar, commonly known as Burma, as the country seeks to improve diplomatic relations with the United States. Myanmar was identified by the US State Department as having one of the worst records of forced labor, and as a country that lacks necessary laws to curb human trafficking.
Trafficking, the global picture
Although National Human Trafficking Awareness Day is a US-based effort to recognise, and highlight, this issue — as a topic of global concern being highlighted through the United Nations, others around the world continue efforts to increase public awareness and tackle trafficking.
Forty-six women from the international group Operation Mobilization sought to raise awareness by climbing Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. The summit is called “Uhuru Peak”, with Uhuru meaning “freedom” in Swahili. Each of the non-professional climbers raised US$10,000 to help those affected by human trafficking.
In the Middle East, several countries are reported to have problems with human traffickers recruiting unemployed gay Kenyan men to become sex slaves. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are supposedly the more-common destination countries into which Kenyans are lured with offers of high-paying jobs. However, in the United Arab Emirates — where no law prohibits trafficking, but homosexuality is illegal — the problem is compounded.
Enforcement of existing laws, and acting against trafficking, are seen as key steps in reducing the activity. Showing that no country is unaffected, Northern Ireland police are currently investigating five sex trafficking cases; and, on Monday, Filipino police rescued fifteen women following a tip-off regarding women recruited, and being held, prior to being sent to work abroad.
In the Northern Ireland situation, Detective Superintendent Philip Marshall stated that fifteen men are to be contacted, suspected of having paid for sex with trafficked women. Identifying victims within the UK, or victims seeking help, is becoming more challenging with the sex industry having switched to using hotel rooms as-opposed to street corners. Many victims of trafficking are found to be unaware of where within the country they are.
In the Philippines situation, Zamboanga City police are still seeking the recruiter of the fifteen women rescued in Rio Hondo.
A range of complexities are involved in the sentencing of both those convicted of human trafficking, and their victims. In one Canadian case, 43-year-old Hungarian Lajos Domotor pled guilty to trafficking men and women into forced labor. Following being charged with conspiracy to commit human trafficking, he developed terminal stomach cancer and has been given a 10 to 15 percent chance of living five years.
In the UK, officials are seeking to detect exploitation prior to sentencing — as a counter to the high number of foreign women in jails, frequently having been victims of trafficking. One in seven women prisoners across England and Wales are foreign, with the primary offenses being drug or immigration-related. A report into the issue recommends sentencing decisions should consider the role of women, and of coercion, in such cases.
Artists also have a special role to play in the education and awareness of the public. The first opera about sex trafficking will premiere in Liverpool, England, on March 7. Anya17 was composed by Adam Gorb with a libretto written by Ben Kaye. Performers will come from Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic contemporary music ensemble 10/10. Funding for the production was provided in part by the United Nations.