Today, according to the U.S. Department of State, over 20 million lives are chained. They are the victims of human trafficking. In our so-called civilised world, human beings are being traded for multiple purposes such as forced labour. However, in the article ‘What is Human Trafficking?’1 it is stated that 79 per cent of trafficking is for sexual exploitation. The U.S. Department of State’s ‘Trafficking in Persons’ reports place the average age of a sex-trade victim at just twelve years old. And despite over a century of feminism, the U.S. Department of Justice notes that 80 per cent of trafficked victims are female. It is deplorable that less than two per cent of offenders are prosecuted, a figure angrily highlighted by the abolitionist campaign ‘a21’2. This is organised crime at its most lethal. And no corner of the globe is untouched by this modern-day slavery.
The U.S. Department of State reports that human trafficking, after drugs, is the second largest illegal industry in the world. It is a complicated issue affected by poverty, corruption, market trends, cultural views, third-world development and politics. One common scenario is for traffickers, disguised as businessmen, to approach poor villages in regions such as South-East Asia, Eastern Europe, South America and Africa. They prey on the vulnerable and lure these young people into their slimy grasp by offering them opportunities to work or study in a more prosperous city. The chance to become educated or earn money to send home to their starving families is too good for many to resist. They accept. But the dream becomes a nightmare. The innocent are beaten, raped, drugged, starved, and sold. Teenagers—young girls and boys—are smuggled over borders only to wake in brothels where they are someone else’s property. Australia, as a destination country for human trafficking, is not exempt from this global crime. Project Respect3 is an Australian NGO that estimates 1000 women are trafficked to Australia each year, mostly from nations like Thailand and China, and are then held in debt bondage. There are more people enslaved today than any other time in world history. How did it come to this?
The media has desensitised us to sex and violence. Scoff as you might, but there has been research into the correlation between the media and societal problems. In his article ‘The Death of Childhood’4, David Buckingham notes that there is ‘debate among researches about the casual relationship between rates of drug-taking or sexual activity or violent crime and the viewing of television.’ Academic researchers aren’t so much concerned with sex and violence being glorified by the media. Instead, they are worried, according to Buckingham, about the ‘kind of consciousness it produces’. When brothels around the world are filled with women and children who are perpetually drugged and abused, because they belong to someone else—someone who is reaping the profits of this multi-billion dollar industry—it doesn’t take a genius to realise something is drastically wrong with our collective ‘consciousness’.
Most of us are stirred by the injustice of this situation. We think it is horrific, and those who profit from sex-trafficking are monsters. Yet, according to the ‘2015 Annual Report’ by Covenant Eyes5, an Internet Accountability Software, one in eight online searches are for pornography. Since the beginning of this year, there have been over a billion pornographic hits, and every second the figure continues to skyrocket. The Covenant Eyes report states that by 2017 a quarter of a billion people are expected to access adult content from their devices. So what is the big deal? These statistics confirm there is an unprecedented global market for sex. Could these figures be encouraging the sex-trade monster? Statistics like these certainly do not help this international humanitarian crisis. In fact, the media’s sexualisation of woman and children no doubt makes it worse. Hollywood still places more emphasis on the female body rather than her character. Now that we have mobile devices it is easier than ever to view content that treats her as a product: a mere object that serves someone else’s gratification. We have taken the most human of acts—to love— and replaced it with a lust that scours the globe to prey on the weak, needy and vulnerable so they might be sold into a life that no human being should ever endure.
Every thirty seconds a human life becomes the victim of human trafficking2. Every thirty seconds... That is a statistic that should not exist. Something needs to shift in our global consciousness. Two centuries ago, after decades of raising his voice for the voiceless, William Wilberforce led an abolitionist movement that finally caused the world to wake up and change its consciousness. The British Parliament outlawed the thriving business of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and rendered it unacceptable to chain human beings into slavery. Today, we are again in desperate need for a generation to speak up for the voiceless and call for a true free love movement. Because, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘When any man, woman, or child is enslaved anywhere, it is a threat to peace, justice, and human dignity everywhere.’ We need to respect each other with a love that is pure and does not seek to exploit others for the selfishness of its own pleasure. We need a love that would sacrifice something of itself because it places value on human lives and understands that true intimacy is sacred, and not a commodity. This is a love that is free. And this love will break chains of slavery.
* The author recommends that you visit http://www.a21.org, a non-profit organisation committed to abolishing injustice in the 21st Century, if you want to find out more and help combat modern-day slavery.
Words by Amy Manners
1. Compiled by XP Missions at http://www.xpmissions.com/what-is-human-trafficking/
4. David Buckingham (2000) “The Death of Childhood,” in After the Death of Childhood: Growing up in the Age of Electronic Media. London: Polity Press, p. 34.
5. Available at http://www.covenanteyes.com