But What About Trafficking in the United States?

Laura Parker —  June 20, 2014

Human trafficking is everywhere. The mechanisms for slavery exist in nearly every country around the globe. Labor trafficking, sex slavery, indentured servitude– these are realities for an estimated 27 million brothers and sisters of ours around the world. Today. On our watch. 

And The Exodus Road cares deeply about all. of. them. 

However, 27 million is a large number for one NGO to tackle, and since our roots began in SouthEast Asia through our own undercover work and police partnerships there, today our main focus remains in this part of the world. About a year ago, we launched into India, as well, funding cases and delivering covert gear to quality field teams. And it’s a necessary location to work in counter-trafficking, as estimates show that up to 24 million of the 27 million modern day slaves exist in Asia alone (check out this report HERE). As an organization attempting to systemically create change, we strategically apply pressure to adjust the landscape of modern slavery. And what better place to start than in some of the countries where slavery runs most rampant?

We’ve also learned through working with police and NGO communities here on the ground that significant resources are lacking particularly in this developing region where the numbers of victims are most staggering– and that’s why we’re here.

It’s why I send my husband out into brothels to look for children. It’s why we work long hours to raise funding for equipment that trusted police partners have asked for. It’s why we advocate and travel and write and have meetings, and quite frankly, bleed-out. Because a girl or boy in a brothel, and even millions of them, are begging for freedom, are desperate for it. And it’s not a half-hearted effort that will provide it for them. 

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But having said all of that, we know, too, that the girl enslaved in a brothel could be in America, as well. 

And while the reported statistics of human trafficking and sex slavery are significantly less in the United States, we believe that freedom in the Land of the Free is something worth fighting for, too.

An estimated 40,000 victims were identified last year, according to the TIP (Trafficking in Persons) Report. Though they assume many more are present, the research remains inconclusive as to the current number of victims within the U.S. It’s also estimated that 100,000 children are victims of domestic trafficking right now and that 17,500 victims of trafficking were brought into the country last year alone.

- Modern-Day Slavery, NBC News

For the past eight months, my husband has been building trusted partnerships with several local government agencies in Colorado. This work takes time, and we’ve learned from experience that strategically fighting slavery must be done in partnership with local authorities. We’ve also been developing a program for local communities to actively become equipped to fight trafficking in their own neighborhoods, in partnership with police. We have sixty volunteers already signed up to run a pilot program in Colorado, and we’ll be hosting our first training for that program in late August. Our lawyers and our development team are still in process of setting up the program, both legally and effectively, but our hope is that by January of 2015, we’ll be able to provide average U.S. citizens with the tools necessary to really watch and combat trafficking, right in their own backyards. We’ll be revealing more over the course of the next few months.

We know that fighting trafficking on American soil will be slower and “less dramatic” work with much fewer tangible “rescues.” (Though even our beginning efforts have resulted in an arrest and rescue with local police in Colorado.) Trafficking in the U.S. is much more difficult to identify for many reasons and the laws about what an NGO can legally do are much stricter than in foreign countries. We know that; but we still believe in mobilizing civil society to rise up on behalf of the slaves in their own communities. Justice is in the hands of the ordinary, after all. 

Because, again, these things take time. 

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Some people have asked us why we host blogger or donor trips to SE Asia to observe human trafficking, since slavery happens right on American soil. Wouldn’t it save money? Wouldn’t it help “our” people more to just stay home?

My answer to that is simple: while the mechanisms of trafficking are the same in every country, it’s much easier to realistically observe and learn about it in places where it is most rampant– places like here in Asia, where such a large percentage of the world’s modern slaves walk the streets (or aren’t allowed to walk the streets). Since we as an organization are still developing our U.S. initiative particularly, we simply don’t have the infrastructure to effectively teach and demonstrate real cases of trafficking in America. Here, in Asia, we do.

Perhaps by next year at this time, we’ll be able to host blogging trips that highlight effective partnerships at “home” (for us) in America. But, for now, we feel confident that seeing slavery firsthand– and meeting those in the trenches sacrificing to fight it — is powerful in and of itself.

When we think of the scale of modern-day slavery, literally tens of millions who live in exploitation, this whole effort can seem daunting, but it’s the right effort,” Kerry said. “There are countless voiceless people, countless nameless people except to their families or perhaps a phony name by which they are being exploited, who look to us for their freedom.”

- John Kerry, in releasing the 2013 TIP Report 

Thanks, as always, for following along with us here at The Exodus Road. Please continue to read and share the stories that have been written this week about our time in the field by four seasoned writers. And please keep watch for reports about our upcoming program to bring freedom efforts to communities in the U.S., as well.

 
- Laura Parker, VP Communications, The Exodus Road 
*A note about statistics. The estimates around modern day slavery are extremely difficult to determine. Many organizations and government agencies report varying statistics, or even, as the Polaris Project says, claim that the results are too inconclusive to even estimate. If you want to learn more, check out any of the U.S. TIP Reports, especially the country summaries of places of interest to you. 

Laura Parker

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