Human Trafficking in the US: Misconceptions vs. Reality

Human trafficking in the United States has a racialized and classed history. Concerns about trafficking began with anti-slavery and anti-prostitution movements in the 1800s, and moved into a “white slavery” panic, the fear for middle-class white women’s innocence and place in society.  It is easy to see these fears manifested in discourses surrounding human trafficking today. Movies that center around human trafficking many times show “innocent girl-children exploited by treacherous, unscrupulous pimps and criminals,” (Szorenyi et al, 2014) with a racialization of the perpetrators. Human trafficking and sex trafficking have come to be synonymous, when in actuality there are many forms of trafficking besides sex trafficking.

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The Enforcement Gap and the New York City Police Departments Treatment of LGBT Human Trafficking Survivors

Human Trafficking is a phenomena that occurs in all 50 States within the United States of America, largely occurring in large population or commerce hubs.6 Of these states one of the largest sites of trafficking is New York State, with dense population centers such as New York City which boasts 8.5 million individuals alone.7 This city serves as the perfect grounds for the trafficking of persons, especially of those who fall under the LGBTQ+ community. New York City has historically served as a haven for the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the stage for clashes between the community and local law enforcement. These clashes unfortunately continue on today between the New York City Police Department as individuals identifying within the LGBTQ+ community who experienced anti-LGBT violence 48% also experienced police misconduct. On the whole of the LGBTQ+ community surveyed in New York 54% were stopped by police which is compared to the 28% of non-LGBTQ+ individuals.4 These trends create barriers for law enforcement which directly effect the ability of law enforcement to identify and enforce policy around human trafficking. It is these barriers and their effects within New York City’s LGBTQ+ community that we will view with a critical lens today.

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The Rohingya Crisis: Human Trafficking in Context


Since the late 1970’s, the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burma) has enforced discriminatory policies on a multitude of minority ethnic groups, the most known of which are the Rohingya Muslims. These policies include denial of full citizenship to Rohingya Muslims, extortion and/or arbitrary taxation, seizure of land, forced eviction and demolition of homes, extreme limitations on movement within the Rakhine State and elsewhere via necessary movement permits, and legal/ financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingya Muslims were and still are forced to work on infrastructure and in military camps for little or no pay in Myanmar.

There are several instances of mass migration of the Rohingya to Bangladesh, then their repatriation. It is a cycle that leaves these desperate people vulnerable to several forms of human trafficking, primarily young Rohingya women and girls (however, there are several documented cases of labor traffickers targeting Rohingya men). Within this blog post, I will further explore the background/causation of the mass migration of the Rohingya into Bangladesh, and the trafficking that occurs within the camps and the region.

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The Sochi Olympics and Migrant Labor in Russia

Bird’s-eye view of the Pyeongchang stadium from

Sochi Olympics fail 34 from Wonderful Engineering

February 25th marked the end of the recent 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games. With general feelings of success, the world’s participating nations are now left to bask in their accomplishments, praise the achievements of their heroic olympians, and prepare for the coming Tokyo Olympic Summer Games to be held in 2020. In the wake of the heady days of competition with both the Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to a close, organizers in South Korea are planning to demolish several of their new buildings, according to npr and vox news outlets. This type of news stands in stark contrast to the events of only four years ago, with the international scandal that was the Sochi Winter Olympic Village. The internet was flooded with vines, tweets, and articles (like “Epic Construction Fails at Sochi Winter Olympics in Pictures” from the website Wonderful Engineering) documenting the perceived hilarity and “fail-“ure of Russia’s olympic construction project. However, these jesting images obfuscate the dark truths about the Sochi construction project. Specifically, the Sochi Olympic Village was built on the backs and often lives of migrant workers from Russia itself as well as the Balkans and Central asia who were unwittingly trafficked into construction jobs. This specific context is important to explore as an instance of human trafficking because it changes the image of the victim and draws attention to a different economy, one less empathetically charged more complexly integrated into institutions.

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Contextualizing Human Trafficking

Contextualizing Human Trafficking and Forced Labor

In the previous blog post, many of us noted the importance of the aesthetics of humanitarian communication affecting the ethics of solidarity, or how one seeing violence affects the way one reacts to said violence. Further, this problematizing of violence in itself shapes laws to counter the violence which we see, whether that is forced labor or trafficking. Yet, many of these laws are general and this is why it is so detrimental to contextualize trafficking to further understand the issue itself. To explain trafficking and forced labor and its causes and entanglements in different cultural, political, and economic forces is no easy task. It is, like this prompt states, complex and varied across contexts, which is why one needs to consider the importance of contextualizing forced labor.

The Need to Contextualize Human Trafficking and Forced Labor

In the introduction, I called attention to the fact that many laws that are set in place to counter forced labor or trafficking are, in a sense, general. Today, it is “widely recognized that effectively tackling forced labor in the global economy means addressing its ‘root causes’”, with many believing poverty and globalization to be the ‘root causes’ (1). Yet, these two terms are too broad to fully explain what causes the exploitation of workers and their work. This also limits ways in which policymakers can address the issue; “if we cannot understand the issues we face, we are limited in what we can do about them” (1). It is not that these root causes do not matter, it is just they do not present lawmakers with the full picture. When we contextualize human trafficking or forced labor, we are better able to understand other types of trafficking or forced labor and better counter the issue. How do we better understand trafficking and forced labor though?

According to Confronting root causes: forced labor in global supply chains, forced labor is not simply caused by poverty and globalization. It must be approached with a “systematic and informed fashion” since forced labor is itself systematic (1). It is embedded in “deeper socio-economic structures that lie at the core of the capitalist global economy” (1). Because of this, Confronting asserts that instead of “simple consequence(s) of greed or the moral shortcomings of individuals, forced labor in global supply chains is a structural phenomenon that results when predictable, system-wide dynamics intersect to create a supply of highly exploitable workers and a business demand for their labor” (1). Forced labor resembles the economic system of supply and demand with its dynamics causing forced labor to be: poverty, identity and discrimination, limited labor protections, and restrictive mobility regimes (1). These dynamics are on the supply side that create a “pool of workers vulnerable to exploitation” (1). Forced labor, on the demand side, is created by concentrated corporate power and ownership, outsourcing, irresponsibly sourcing practices, and governance gaps (1). These dynamics “create pressure within the market for highly exploitable forms of labor or open up spaces with which that labor can be exploited” (1). With this in mind, I believe it is easier to understand trafficking and forced labor and therefore contextualize the issue. From here I would like to explore actual examples from the recent past or today that can be looked at with this new focus.

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Bride Abductions in Kazakhstan and Human Trafficking Discourse: Tradition vs Moral Acuity


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, there have been efforts in Kazakhstan to:

             a) return to tradition and leave the practices of the Soviet Union in the past and

             b) to modernize the legal, political and economic systems of the country.

These two distinct efforts do not always mesh well together. The efforts to return to traditional ‘Kazakh’ practices often chafe against certain human rights practices, including women’s rights. Within the past 30 years, perceived traditional marriage practices, such bride abductions (also known as bride kidnappings), have returned to certain parts of Kazakhstan. These specific marriage practices are a prime example of the inconsistencies and moral and cultural dilemmas that occur while pursuing the two above goals. Continue reading

Our Troubled Youth: Children Used as Soldiers in Somalia

When you started your day today, you probably groaned at the sound of your alarm clock as it went off next to your bed. You look over and sigh, knowing that you have about five classes to get to today, and your first one starts in about an hour. You hit the snooze button, rest for a few more minutes, before finally getting up and going to your class. You get to your class, you sit down, and open your laptop and get ready to take notes – or browse amazon for a new pair of shoes. You feel comfortable, listening to the words of your professor, knowing that you will be leaving this classroom in about fifty-five minutes. You know that if anything crazy were to happen on campus, the government would be there to step in and mediate the situation. Afterall, the police are only a few minutes away.

However, this picture looks a bit different in the country of Somalia, as children get ready to go to school they question if today is going to be the day the government’s Army or worse, the terrorist organization Al-shabaab, will come into their classroom and take them away from their friends and families in order to fight in the ongoing conflict. No child is safe, and if the teacher resists, they will be shot down in front of their students  to make them an example of what happens when you do not obey the ones with guns.1 This is the reality in Somalia, and several other nations around the world – Predominately in Africa2 – In which children are Recruited into being Child Soldiers by means of force, coercion, abduction, and threat to their families in order to Fight and Die in the ongoing conflicts in their nation.

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Contextualizing Forced Labor in the Strawberry Industry

Strawberries are considered the staple fruit of the summer. One main pillar in strawberry production is finding a way to supply these fruits year-round. A country that can do that, has gained a major foothold in the strawberry business. With the demand of strawberries increasing every year, farmers all over the world are looking for cheaper ways to produce their fruit. In this post, we are going to look at Argentina and California; locations that benefit from unfair labor practices in order to decrease their costs of production. We are going to identify the demand for these labors, the conditions in which these workers are subjected to, and lastly we are going to dive into some of the movements towards eliminating child labor in this industry and what can be done to improve them.

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Migrant Worker Exploitation at Case Farms Chicken Plant

Migrant Worker Exploitation

The exploitation of migrant workers is a problem in places all across the United States. One area where exploitation and abuse is extremely widespread is in the agricultural industry. In an article published in The Gaurdian, entitled “Field work’s dirty secret: agribusiness exploitation of undocumented labor”, author Sadhbh Walshe details the harsh and oftentimes illegal treatment of agricultural workers in the United States. As Walshe explains, “Most farm work in America is performed by immigrants, most of whom are undocumented and therefore exploitable”. The work performed by these immigrant workers oftentimes takes place under deplorable conditions. Walshe writes,

“When you consider what these jobs entail – hours of backbreaking work in terrible and often dangerous conditions, subsistence wages with little or no time off, and none of the protections or perks that most of us enjoy (like paid sick days, for instance) – it’s hard to see why anyone with other options would subject themselves to a life that is barely a step above slavery”.

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The Comfort Women of WW2

Human trafficking can be manifested in many ways, from sexual exploitation and forced labor, to organ harvesting as well as others. Here I will focus on the comfort women from World War Two. Women who were trafficked to being sexual slaves for the Japanese military, organized by the Japanese Government. I will give a brief history of how comfort stations came to be. What happened to the women, for them to have gotten trafficked, and for them once they were sexual slaves. What has the government done, and why is it important to write about it now. Continue reading