Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Same Crime, Different Face

Earlier this year, the BBC aired a five part series called “Working Lives” about modern day slavery. I recently caught one part of it on BBC International. This particular part of the series focused on Kenyan women who found themselves enslaved as domestic workers in Saudi Arabia.

What struck me about this segment of program was that the focus was not on prostitution or the sex trade. Certainly these women were particularly vulnerable to sexual assault by the men in the households where they were held captive but they had not been trafficked with the intention of being forced into prostitution. Those who take an avid interest in anti human trafficking efforts are aware of just how many guises this crime can be committed under; there are a multitude of variations on the theme, each one murkier than the next and consequently more difficult to identify.

But the general public knows only what the media deigns to highlight and sitting in an editor’s chair, the unfortunate truth is still that sex sells. Your average citizen is already disinclined to spend too much time thinking about human trafficking and the devastating impacts that it can have. But they are more likely to respond viscerally to the story of a 14 year old girl who was forced into prostitution than they are to the story of a middle aged man who has spent his life in indentured servitude. Both crimes are equally abominable and both victims equally deserving of our attention and our empathy.

As a journalist, I’m glad for any article that focuses people’s attention on the severity of the threat that is posed by human trafficking. If that means story after story about all the women and children who are trafficked and forced into the sex industry, then I’d write each one myself if I could.
Whatever it takes to make people aware that their involvement is required to put an end to the trafficking of persons. But the advocate in me is driven by different sensibilities. It’s not enough to talk about human trafficking in the context of sexual exploitation.

The fact is – according to a 2005 study by the International Labor Organization (ILO) – less than half of all the people trafficked annually are involved in the sex trade. Many more of them are trafficked for labor purposes although this does not prevent them from being sexually assaulted or raped as well as overworked and otherwise abused.
When a crime has as many faces, literally and figuratively, as human trafficking then the efforts to combat it must be equally varied.

This crime doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t recognize borders, religion, socio economic realities or cultural differences. It impacts all of us in one way or another whether we realize it or not.
And for as long as there is one man, woman or child – one human being - anywhere in the world that is being trafficked and enslaved, all the rest of humanity is held captive right along with them.

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