Force, Fraud, and Coercion

Force, Fraud, and Coercion. These are the three catchwords that differentiate human trafficking from other forms of manipulation and exploitation. They are the ways that humans get into the trade and the way that they are kept in. I think that to really understand human trafficking, one needs to have a true understanding of these three terms.

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FORCE

The first way that people are trafficked is through the use of force. This may be the primary vision that people have when they think of human trafficking. Force could include anything from kidnapping to starvation to forced confinement to drug dependence to abuse. A person who is forced into sex trafficking, for instance, may be picked up off the street, shoved into a van, and driven to a foreign place where he or she would be made submissive through rape, physical and verbal abuse.  Around the world, people are quite literally stuffed into trucks, the hulls of ships, even packaged up and sent across borders by traffickers.

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Many traffickers use drug dependence to manipulate their victims. Women in brothels are provided with drugs and form addictions to them. Even if they are able to escape or are rescued by aid workers, they will return to their pimps because their withdrawals from the drugs are too painful to bear.

Another way that traffickers keep their victims in check is by forced confinement, keeping them under lock and key with guards patrolling their very move. They control living conditions of their slaves. If there is any chance of revolution or backlash, a pimp can simply cut off water or electricity, essentially forcing those who have been trafficked to follow their rules. They will only let them out under close supervision, and some may even collect rent! This throws victims into an endless cycle of debt.

Pimps may keep girls under their control through force, abusing them physically, sexually, emotionally, and verbally. Read more about this in my description of Guerrilla Pimping.

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The second form that traffickers use to lure people in and keep people in is fraud. This form is quite multifaceted and can come in many disguises. One of the most common way is false promises, whether of employment, marriage, a better life for one’s children, education, etc. In the documentary, The Price of Sex, many of the women enticed into the sex trade were done so through fraudulent promises (usually of better jobs).

(for more on these women’s stories: read Broken People)

Many people are more likely to trust one of their own kind, whether that be religion, ethnicity, or even gender, and are most vulnerable to fraud coming from these people. A newcomer to the US from Cambodia may be offered assistance by a fellow Cambodian in finding work. She may put her trust into this person’s hands, unsuspecting the “helper”s true purpose of handing her over to a trafficker for monetary compensation. Without language, cultural, or legal knowledge of a place, a person becomes increasingly susceptible to fraud.

Fraud also includes false promises of immigration status. A person will pretend to sponsor another’s immigration, paying for legal documentation, only to demand repayment once the person has crossed borders. This hurtles a person into debt bondage, another rampant form of fraud. In the case of debt bondage, a person is either forced to or coerced into taking out a loan, only to have labor demanded for repayment. Because the debt just keeps increasing, this form can keep generations upon generations enslaved.

This form is especially prevalent in Pakistan, where 1/100th of the population is enslaved by debt bondage. Hear the story of one family:

 

COERCION:

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And the final form is coercion. A pimp or trafficker may coerce a victim by threatening him or her. The pimp may threaten to harm them or their family. They may threaten to tell their family or community, something which to a person from a culture based around honor and aversion from shame, is a detrimental concept. They may threaten blackmail with photos, confidential information, etc.

In many cases of coercion, a trafficker will hold onto a person’s legal or travel documents, making the victim dependent on the trafficker. Especially for an immigrant, being in a country without documents could be an easy reason or deportation. Without his or her documentation, a person is much less likely to escape from a pimp, for he or she recognizes the danger of being on the loose, undocumented.

 

Yet in most cases, these forms are not used independent of one another.  In Teresa Flores’s case, her pimp payed a lot of attention to her, smiled at her, and kindly offered her a ride home from school one day (fraud). Instead, he drugged and raped her (force). Then, took photos of her and threatened to show them to her father and his boss, essentially humiliating her and getting him fired (coercion).

 

There is no one way that a person gets trafficked or controlled. Because traffickers use such a multitude of tactics, it is so much more difficult to eradicate those base causes and prevent a person from being trafficked in the first place. And because the multifarious ways that pimps keep their victims under control, it is also extremely difficult to rescue a person from human trafficking. Once you can begin to understand these three forms, though, you can start to really appreciate the complexity that is human trafficking.

To read more about Force, Fraud, and Coercion, read How Human Trafficking Works.

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Broken People

“I have the same thoughts now as I did back then. I wish I’d never been born. I’d be better off dead than living like this.” Living like this meant living in a brothel, treated like some sort of cheap commodity day in and day out. Having been taken from her home in Moldova when she was only 18 years old, Jenea was lured to “Moscow” with the promise of a cleaning job. She would be making $200 a month, indescribable riches compared to the measly sum she was making in the fields. With the permission of her parents, she left her hometown. Little did she know, she would never return.

In the airport, she realized that “Moscow” was really Turkey. Warned that if she went to the police, she would have to pay back her own travel expenses, the documents and ticket costs, Jenea realized that she was trapped. And in debt.

Jenea is one among millions of women who are essentially modern day slaves- sold from traffickers to pimps to eager clients from around the world. Initially, these women are locked into the brothels by their debts from travel, but quickly those debts multiply with steady ferociousness. Each action is accounted for– room and board, showers, clothing– and not a single dollar that they earn reaches their pockets.

More than just debt keeps them in the brothels. They are trapped in. They are beaten and raped to the point of utter submission. They are threatened with death. They are put on drugs so that even in the rare situation of escape, many return on account of withdrawals. As documentary filmmaker, Mimi Chakarova puts it, “They’ve been broken and believe there is no other choice.”

The issue of human trafficking, however, goes deeper than Jenea, feelings trapped and degraded as a human being. It goes deeper than the boys forced to pound clay into bricks for hours on end to pay off an unpayable debt. It goes right down to the way we view the human beings around us, not as people, but as potentials for profit. Humans are used across the globe to boost status, to boost power, to boost wealth.

Though human slavery is illegal worldwide, it is looked over so frequently, because those with the power to stop it have vested interest in its continuation. Police officers make money off of bribes from pimps. Government officials frequent brothels as customers. Products can be made much more cheaply, when the workers ARE NOT PAYED for their labor.

But not only do the people with political or economic clout keep such a system going; so do the consumers. We have created an industry for human trafficking. In our purchases, we endorse the forcing of children into factories where they lose their childhood, their opportunity for education, and sometimes, even their fingers; we applaud the debt bondage of men, chained to their jobs in mines and fields as the only way to pay off a constantly growing debt; we condone the system in which harvesters never see more than a couple of dollars of their sales. Each time we buy a top from Forever 21 or a tablet from Kindle or a pair of shoes from Lacoste, we are supporting the exploitation of human labor.

Quotes from The Price of Sex, a chilling documentary by Mimi Chakarova. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9eBkIy4Uag