The Unkindest Cut to Human Trafficking

If you’ve ever done any in-depth study of human trafficking, one very disturbing pattern always arises. When you look at the people being trafficked and the perpetrators, they often come from the same country, the same language group, and oftentimes, they share the same hometown. Indeed, a lot of traffickers are sometimes extended relatives of the people they’re victimizing.

What’s going? You have to understand that human trafficking is a crime of opportunity. When the situation is right, and everything falls into place properly, human trafficking never arises. However, when the situation changes and people find themselves in a tight financial bind, people would need money really badly. This can lead to all sorts of exploitative situations. What makes this very tricky is that the difference between an exploitative relationship and a situation where a family friend or relative is simply trying to help a person can be hard to define. Still, the victim detects it at the last minute. At this point, they are a day late and a buck short.

For example, an uncle is able to get a tourist visa for his nephew to go to the United States. On the surface, this looks very regular. This happens all the time after all. However, it may well turn out that there is an understanding, based on the culture of the people involved, or in express contractual terms, that the nephew is going to pay the uncle a certain sum of money. Presumptively, this figure will cover the cost of passage, as well as the living costs of the nephew.

It may well turn out that the nephew is having a tough time getting a job in the United States given the current immigration crackdown. What happens next can be safely described as human trafficking. The uncle would get the nephew a “job” that involves the nephew staying in a house and doing work all day, every day. Nobody knows about the operation, and the work is the most menial and most physically demanding type of work. The nephew is just happy to be in the United States, but that excitement wears out after five years of doing back-breaking labor.

As I mentioned previously, human trafficking is one of those crimes that people only realize when things have become really abusive. Five years of back-breaking labor in a closed-off house or compound would definitely qualify. This is the unkindest cut to human trafficking because it often starts out innocently involving family members or extended relatives. Eventually, it degenerates because they use obligations, cultural traditions and norms to enslave people effectively.

Campaigners and advocates against this type of crime must be cognizant and familiar with certain cultural norms, so they would be able to detect human trafficking early enough. We must not wait until people muster up enough courage to call because they’ve been whipped too long. We can’t wait until women have been raped repeatedly before they find their situation desperate enough to risk calling the local police’s attention. We need to intervene sooner rather than later, and this means cutting through the tangled web of culture tradition and obligation, as well as family relationships, to identify victims and save them.