The Way I See It - A long way to go

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Success often comes in small steps spread over time. A recent article from the local Seattle office of the FBI underscores one of those moments, “SEX TRAFFICKING CONVICTIONS, Seattle Gang Dismantled.” The article describes the outcome of a complaint for sex trafficking filed in 2008 against the West Side Street Mobb gang. As a result of the investigation and prosecution, 20 victims, including 5 juveniles, were rescued, and 10 members of the gang are now behind bars.

But the evidence is that human trafficking, whether for sex or labor, whether of women, children or men, is a growing global epidemic. Many ordinary citizens as well as celebrities and government agencies recognize that the U.S. also has a significant problem within its own borders. We are a part of that “global epidemic.” The U.S. State Department estimates (2005) that close to 800,000 persons were trafficked across international borders that year, including 10 to 15 thousand brought into the U.S. What that number doesn’t tell us is how many persons are “home grown” slaves. (Yes, that is the correct word.) I’m guessing the amount of involuntary internal trafficking is substantially larger than the estimates of international trafficking. Trying to search government documents for meaningful statistical data leaves the impression that data collection and reporting on trafficking is not a very high priority, although who would ever say that trafficking is acceptable?

The most recent U.S. Dept of State “Trafficking in Persons Report” (2009) provides some further insight on how really important eliminating trafficking might be.

Globally, the number of prosecutions and convictions by year is:

Global Law Enforcement Data

Year Prosecutions Convictions

2003 7,992 2,815

2004 6,885 3,025

2005 6,178 4,379

2006 5,808 3,160

2007 5,682 3,427

2008 5,212 2,983

Looking at 2005, 6,000 prosecutions is not a lot compared to an estimated 800,000 internationally trafficked persons. The number is less than a tenth of a percent in fact. Wealthier and more industrialized countries tend to be significant consumers of international trafficking. But the number of prosecutions pales when compared to just the U.S. Federal criminal prosecutions, which totaled almost 170,000 for 2009 alone. Add in the other major G-8 countries and I estimate that maybe 1 percent of the total criminal prosecutions globally are for trafficking. In short, there is a big problem with a heinous crime that is getting little governmental attention.

A more positive sign is that there appear to be a number of individuals and organizations, including the U.N. and a number of governments, who are working on education and prevention. It is unclear, however, how effective these efforts are. Understanding the effectiveness of those efforts requires even more data than just prosecutorial information, and it is probably harder to get due to the lack of centralized and coordinated reporting.

There is a possibility that the underlying cause of human trafficking is economic, wherein money is more important than any other value. If trafficking for labor were the major percentage of the total trafficking, that would be a reasonable assumption. But the sex trafficking part of the trade is by far the largest part. It seems to be especially oriented toward victimizing younger women and children of both sexes. So other causes like sexual predation are combined with monetary motives to add further complexity to finding solutions to the problem.

Another area of oppression that our species exhibits takes the form of domestic violence. As in sex trafficking, by far the largest percentage of victims are women (estimated 85 percent.) It may be an unsubstantiated leap to connect the two behaviors to the same causes, but it might be worth considering. The commission of violence is some of our worst human behavior and we appear to be paying far too little attention to understanding and healing its causes. Instead, our responses are remedial and punitive; another case of "Apply the band-aid and maybe the problem will go away." Hello. Time to wake up. Humans have been doing this for too long. It's time to create a new approach. The old approach is not working.

About Ham Hayes

Closed Account • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Ham lived in Bellingham while writing for NW Citizen from 2007 to 2011.

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