Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New Yorker Special on Trafficking

From The New Yorker:

The upcoming May 5th edition of the New Yorker features a lengthy article entitled, "The Countertraffickers: Rescuing the victims of the global sex trade." on trafficking in Moldova. This article is extremely useful to learn more about the many facets of trafficking and the response to trafficking. The main focus of the story is the work of a reintegration specialist for the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Moldova and her tales of success and challenge in her years of work on this issue.

Rotaru, who is twenty-six, works for the International Organization for Migration, a group connected to the United Nations, in Chisinau, Moldova. She is a repatriation specialist. Her main task is bringing lost Moldovans home. Nearly all her clients are victims of human trafficking, most of them women sold into prostitution abroad, and their stories pour across her desk in stark vignettes and muddled sagas of desperation, violence, betrayal, and sorrow.

Her allies and colleagues in this work are widely scattered. An ebullient Dubai prison officer named Omer, who calls Rotaru "sister," has been a help. So have Russian policemen, an Israeli lawyer, a Ukrainian psychologist, an Irish social worker, a Turkish women's shelter, Interpol, and various consulates and embassies, as well as travel agents, priests, and partner organizations, including an anti-trafficking group called La Strada, which has offices downstairs from Rotaru's and a dedicated victims' hot line.

The article does go on to introduce the reader to some of these colleagues. The article also provides a bigger picture of human trafficking and responses to it.

There are roughly two hundred million migrants today - migrants being defined as people living outside their homelands. The reasons for this are globalization, and wars, and new border freedoms, and, above all, disparities in economic opportunity. Along the nether edge of the huge movement of people, human trafficking thrives.

Migrant smuggling is different from trafficking. Migrants pay smugglers to deliver them, illegally, to their destinations. The line into trafficking is crossed when coercion and fraud are used. (This line is not always clear, and many migrants endure varying degrees of mistreatment.) Trafficking can start with a kidnapping. More commonly, it starts with a broken agreement about a job promised, conditions of work, or one's true destination. Most victims suffer some combination of threats, violence, forced labor, and effective imprisonment. The commercial sex industry, according to the International Labor Organization, absorbs slightly less than half of all trafficked labor worldwide. Construction, agriculture, domestic service, hazardous industries, armed conflict, and begging are some of the other frequent sites of extreme, illegal exploitation.

Not all trafficking is international. India, for instance, has an immense domestic network, with large numbers of children being sold and resold, for labor and household servitude and prostitution. No reliable numbers exist, though. For cross-border trafficking worldwide, estimates range from half a million people annually to several times that figure.

The article also takes time to point out the difficulties facing organizations trying to work with victims including domestic violence, psychological problems, risks of re-trafficking, mistrust of authorities, victim-blaming, etc. All of this comes out in detail through interviews with various people, organizations, and victims. As well, the article points out that awareness can only do so much to prevent people from becoming victims. Even is a victim is aware of the problem, they often feel it is somehow distant from them or that it won't happen to them personally. This is also the case with former victims who decide to go abroad again: they think they're smarter now and can avoid any such situation.

One victim's story is also quite important for breaking the notion that it is just uneducated, poor people who are tricked into trafficking:

Were all her beneficiaries from broken, violent, alcoholic, impoverished families?

"Not at all," she said. "We received a call from one of our embassies last year. A girl from a prominent family had been trafficked. They wanted to keep the case quiet, of course. So this tragedy happened to her, but she has good parents. Bright future. Not like most girls."

The only area the article doesn't really cover is labor trafficking, child trafficking or trafficking of men. Obviously, as the title suggests, the article is meant to explain more about women caught up in the global sex trade. However, organizations like the International Organization for Migration also deal with the growing field of labor and child trafficking. In fact, it has been found that sometimes the two areas are overlapping and people are trafficked for both sex and labor. Also, especially women and children, are at risk of sexual abuse if they are trafficked for labor.

One area that does graze the issue of child trafficking are the risks of "social orphans" or children who are missing parents because the parents have gone abroad. This is also a major issue for Ukraine. For the most part, no one knows what happens to these children once they leave the orphanages.

The article follows the trail and structure of organized traffickers, delving into areas of corruption and poor attitudes among law enforcement, courts, and government ministries that only fuel the problem.

If you do not have time to read the article right away, there is an audio clip interviewing the author about the article with some of the interesting pieces there.

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