Many people who are trafficked, whether for labor or sex, are physically moved from place to place. Sometimes by car, sometimes by ship, and sometimes by airplane. This past month, San Jose Mineta airport employees were trained to spot victims of human trafficking. As Congressman Mike Honda stated, “We value freedom and therefore must be compelled to protect it and that’s why we’re here today.” Significant signs include people who don’t have the normal luggage, those who can’t speak for themselves, and those who are not allowed to be separate from another person. If authorities can catch the crime in action, we may be able to prosecute traffickers and protect victims before it is too late.
“And everyone kept talking about following international conventions and respecting human rights. But no one could tell me where the woman was going to sleep while were so busy defending her rights.”
–“Slave Hunter” by Aaron Cohen
Ever since reading this line, it has been reverberating in my mind. Sometimes, it is so easy to get caught up in the intellectual analyzation of human rights issues that the people become no longer the point. In the Dominican Republic, Aaron Cohen was able to free a girl, but then had no where to place her but a Catholic convent in the countryside. As a city girl who has worked some of the most high class Japanese clubs, this did not feel like freedom… but it was better than the brothel she was in, I suppose. While there is political action in place and training of law enforcement, there also need to be safe-houses and rehabilitation. There needs to be job training and counseling. Social justice is a powerful tool, but cannot happen in the absence of people’s basic needs being met. We cannot forget that there are people each and every day who go to sleep each night, knowing that a never-ending pattern of abuse and humiliation is all that stretches before them. We cannot forget the girl who wakes up in the morning, realizing that all she has to face is one more day of being raped by strangers. We cannot forget the man who will be bent in half, picking cotton, knowing that it is unjust that he is not being paid, but not having the language or knowledge of the law to back him up. Human trafficking is not just a criminal industry. It is not just a political problem. It is not just an issue of supply chains and societally constructed norms of desire and fulfillment. It is an issue of individuals… of individuals who need to be protected and freed.
I know this is not exactly human trafficking, yet in some cases, trafficking is an extreme version, an extension, of sexual abuse. Across the world, girls and women, in particular (but boys as well) are abused– made to dress, touch, suck, perform, and surrender– in ways that no one deserves to be treated. This is not an issue specific to a single population, it is not confined by race or socio-economic status or education. It is an issue that manages to transcend all boundaries.
According to RAINN (the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network) every 2 minutes, someone in the US is sexually assaulted. 54% of those assaults are never reported to police, and 97% of rapists never have to step foot in a jail. They never have to spend a single day, living with the consequences of their crime. Yet the survivors of assault — they live with the consequences every day.
These girls are among us. Some of them are us.
Project Unbreakable has risen up as an outlet for pain, and a blinding light of exposure to the pervasiveness of sexual assault. Their mission is to “increase awareness of the issues surrounding sexual assault and encourage the act of healing through art.” Since the project began in 2011, over 2000 photos have been collected, featuring victims of sexual abuse holding posters of quotes from their abusers.