Public Policy Committee of AAUW California
by Michele St.Clair
Human trafficking doesn’t affect us, right? So why should we care about something so remote and a problem we can’t do anything to stop anyway?
Well, human trafficking is not remote. It’s right here in California, in our own neighborhoods. And there are things we can do to help curb it.
Based on statistics kept by various organizations, California has a disproportionately large share of this extreme violation of human rights, in spite of a series of laws that the California legislature has passed to try to reduce its incidence.
As globalization erases the borders between countries, the challenges of stopping the flood of human exploitation continue to multiply. Human trafficking has grown to be one of the largest organized criminal activities in the world, second only to drug trafficking. Social scientists estimate that 27 million women, men, and children are victims at any given time. AAUW reports that human trafficking has also emerged in the past decade as one of the fastest-growing criminal activities in the world. And the consequent human suffering is immense.
Traffickers use violence, debt bondage, and other forms of coercion to manipulate victims into engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services against their will. “Human trafficking is a violation of human rights where an individual is forced or tricked into work and unable to leave for any number of reasons,” says Tiffany Williams, advocacy director at the Institute for Policy Studies’ Break the Chain Campaign (www.ips-dc.org). It’s important to note that this definition rests on force and coercion, not movement across borders. Indeed, much of human trafficking is done for the purpose of extracting labor services.
Labor-trafficked victims are coerced, but instead of being sexually exploited, victims are abused in a variety of labor settings including domestic work, small businesses, large farms, and factories.
This form of modern-day slavery uses trickery, force, and coercion, and it can be found in our very own neighborhoods. Surprisingly, in bedroom communities some unscrupulous couples keep housekeepers and nannies in modern bondage. Teachers are brought from overseas and forced to sign over 10% of their salaries. Undocumented agricultural workers are often taken advantage of by “coyotes” and agribusiness to work long hours for little or no pay. Underage boys and girls are tricked into sex slavery. (In fact, due to their extreme vulnerability, all sex workers under the age of 18 are considered to be trafficking victims.)
Though the epidemic of human trafficking affects people from all backgrounds, social classes, and cultures, it disproportionately affects women and girls who account for 55% of forced labor and 75% of all trafficked victims around the world.
This is why AAUW has made human trafficking one of the issues it officially works to eliminate.
We as individual AAUW members can help in a number of ways. Inform your friends and family, and your neighbors about the widespread incidence of human trafficking. Be alert to possible instances of labor-trafficking in your community. When meeting with elected officials, inform them about the facts and your concerns. Sign up for AAUW Action Alerts and follow up when AAUW emails them to you.
Should you become aware of suspicious activity that suggests human trafficking, it’s important to report it. To do so, call one of these hotline numbers:
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center Hotline 1-888-373-7888
The U.S. Department of Justice Hotline 1-888-428-7581