Sex Trafficking: Are You Shocked? Then Do Something

by September 18, 2013
filed under Activism
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This video has paraded its way across my Facebook newsfeed recently. Maybe you’ve also seen it on yours. Hosted on the popular site, Upworthy, the title, reads Who Doesn’t Like To Watch Half-Naked Girls Dancing? These Guys, After They See Why It’s Happening.

Judging by the responses from the people in my network, this video has certainly grabbed attention from nearly everyone who views it. “Appalled that this is going on!!!” a commenter on Facebook said.

Plain and simple, the facts about sex trafficking are appalling: Between 500 thousand and 3 million women and children are enslaved in the sex trade today. Sex trafficking pervades every country and culture, but can be roughly drawn along all-too-familiar lines: Poverty, drugs and domestic abuse (both physical and mental) are common tools used to trick, lure, and trap women against their will into the sex trade. In Albania, a common ‘source’ country for Eastern Europe trafficking victims, a woman’s risk of being trafficked is so high that the US 7th Circuit Court recently ruled that the conditions of being young and living alone qualify Albanian women for asylum in the US.

While sex trafficking is particularly prevalent in areas like Eastern Europe and Asia, where dire economic situations accelerate the rate of victimization, thousands of women and children are trafficked for sex into the US each year. Investigations have found sex slavery in America hosted in nail salons and on the classified pages of the Internet.

Despite these incredible statistics, true solutions to the sex trafficking problem have been few and far between. It’s only very recently – within the past year, in some cases – that US states have put measures in the books to help trafficking survivors, like laws allowing trafficked people to expunge criminal prostitution charges from their record or regulations stipulating that any minor in sex work is treated as a trafficking victim rather than an offender. Even though these regulations are a great step forward, they’re remedial measures – laws focused mostly on helping survivors rather than stopping the problem.

Don’t get me wrong – it is an undoubtedly a very good thing that more people are learning about sex trafficking through campaigns like this. But sometimes, when I see the shock and outrage on my Facebook newsfeed, I can’t help but think: Where are the solutions? Where are the steps forward? Why are so many anti-trafficking conversations merely about raising awareness and not making an attempt to actually make a difference?

Awareness of an issue is all well and good, but it becomes pointless when all it does is bounce around in an endless echo chamber of public horror and shock. Viral videos, jaw-dropping statistics and the public awareness they bring are phenomenally useful – but only up to a point. After we’ve become cognizant of an issue like sex trafficking, we need to stop simply sitting in the horror that we feel. The task that this video gives us is to find a way to turn Facebook shares and video views into concrete action towards changing the terrible reality that thousands of women experience every day.

So now that you’re aware, what can you do to help end global sex trafficking? It’s hard for any one individual to feel as if they have an answer to an issue that’s the product of so many global problems. But there are concrete steps to take.

The Polaris Project, one of the leading anti-trafficking organizations, has compiled a rating system for US state laws on trafficking. If you’re in a US state lagging behind the rest on anti-trafficking policy, call your lawmakers and press the issue. The Polaris Project also provides free resources for law enforcement and others on recognizing and preventing trafficking. Ensuring that your local law enforcement is aware of these resources and that they’re posted for others is also a good step.

Brushing up on initiatives to end demand for commercial sex in the US is a good way to engage in a larger conversation about stopping sex trafficking at its source. Also, donating to organizations like the Somaly Mam Foundation and Safe Horizons is helpful.

And, lastly, keep sharing videos like Stop the Traffik’s – you never know how it might affect someone’s future.

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