It happens in large factories and behind small storefronts, in bustling first world metropolises and in hidden corners of the third world - all around the globe, the scourge of human trafficking deprives innocent men, women and children of their freedom, denying them their inherent inhuman dignity and exposing them to brutal violence. While many people think of slavery as an artifact of history, this is sadly not the case.
As Polaris, an organization founded to combat human trafficking, notes on their website, "There are two primary factors driving the spread of human trafficking: high profits and low risk." At first glance, it would seem relatively uncomplicated to address these two factors - to reduce the profitability of the enterprise, the market for slave labor (in its many forms) needs to be eliminated, and the second issue can be addressed through a combination of increased law enforcement focus on the problem and greaterawareness among the public of the signs of human trafficking.
This is, of course, easier said than done, and there are already numerous NGO's and law enforcement agencies working on this issue, but if we are serious about ending human trafficking, it is imperative that we muster all of the resources available to us from within civil society. Schools, religious institutions, private businesses as well as nonprofits at the local, national and international level must be fully vested in the fight against this social ill.
In the United States we must be willing to lobby our members of Congress to tackle this issue which should clearly not divide along partisan or political lines. Fortunately, several members have spoken out on this issue and indicated a willingness to push forward legislation on human trafficking, including Representative Lois Frankel (D-FL) and Representative Bill Posey (R-FL). Each of these public servants has also sought to bring a variety of community partners into discussion around this issue, with Representative Frankel hosting a round-table in the summer of 2013 which included nonprofit organizations, local and federal law enforcement, and government social service agencies. More recently, Representative Posey organized a symposium on human trafficking in Melbourne, Florida in mid-January.
Each of these members of Congress is setting a good example by being proactive around this nonpartisan issue and engaging individuals and organizations outside of the legislative branch. These actions represent important steps forward in the US, but human trafficking is also a major global problem.
The Middle East is just one region where human trafficking is a major concern, and with so many areas either contested or under limited central government control, it’s not hard to see how the criminals engaged in this activity can take advantage of fluid borders and lax law enforcement to smuggle and exploit their victims.
As The Protection Project at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies has documented, human traffickers frequently use Egypt as a transit point to move their victims, who may also be subject to sexual exploitation and even organ harvesting while inside Egypt. While Egypt has enacted legislation to fight human trafficking, it seems unlikely to me that the security services and police are devoting much time to this particular problem, given the violent political and sectarian unrest that has gripped much of the country in recent years.
Given the destructive and wide-spread nature of this problem I think it is incumbent upon those of who care about human rights and human dignity to speak out and encourage greater awareness of the fact that this crime is constantly being committed all aroundus. To do any less would be a moral outrage and consign even more innocent victims to the darkness of modern day slavery.
Copyright Daniel E. Levenson 2015.