The issue of human trafficking has reached a tipping point. On the same day that I pass by The Body Shop, and see their request that customers sign a petition to stop “sex trafficking of children and young people,” apparently co-sponsored by UNGIFT and UNICEF, a student admits that until I began introducing him to the existence of the issue, he was utterly unaware that people were being bought, sold and exploited around the world.
While many people remain unaware that men, women and children are subjected to indentured servitude, debt peonage and other forms of human trafficking, celebrities and corporations and even conservative American politicians have embraced the issue, at least aspects of it. Angelina Jolie and Microsoft Corporation, through their co-funded and founded organization KIND (Kids in Need of Defense), fund pro bono legal training for unaccompanied children, including children who are trafficked. In her capacity as YouthAIDS Global Ambassador, Ashley Judd has become an advocate against human trafficking. Gloria Steinem and Catharine MacKinnon lend their cultural and legal feminist star power to aspects of the issue. Conservative and moderate politicians such as Olympia Snowe support bills directed towards international violence against women, including human trafficking.
If corporations situated in the Northern Hemisphere; and conservative, moderate and liberal politicians; and celebrities; and law enforcement and all branches of government are lined up in support of aspects of the issue, then why have we failed so miserably to find and then secure assistance to victims of human trafficking and why have we failed to prosecute traffickers? The answer of course is multi-fold, but part of the problem lies in the bifurcation of the issue. The Body Shop wants us to sign a petition to prevent sex trafficking of children. What about the trafficking of Sri Lankan and Nepalese men into Iraq and Afghanistan to provide support services to US troops and their allies? Angelina Jolie and Microsoft will help unaccompanied children. What about agricultural laborers threatened with blacklisting if they complain about non-payment or exploitation? Gloria Steinem and Catharine MacKinnon are concerned with the lack of consent inherent in sex work. What about women who agree to sex work but then have their earnings withheld until they “pay back” their traffickers?
The issue is complex (as IntLawGrrls Janie Chuang and Dina Francesca Haynes have regularly articulated here and here), and the interest of celebrities, politicians and the corporate world is not only laudable, it is often rich and deep. The people who elect to become involved in the issue often become very knowledgeable about it, and yet each selects one aspect in which to become involved, further bifurcating the issue, polarizing the debates and alienating victims who do not fit within their funding or client profile. It is likely the interest in human trafficking will remain for some time. Let us work on making that interest as rich, as meaningful and as holistic as possible.