Four Things We Need To Know About Human Trafficking

Faith Today’s Question and Answer section features leaders of EFC affiliate organizations sharing their vision. Nov/Dec spotlights Ed Wilson and  his work as executive director of International Justice Mission Canada. Below, he shares the four most important things we need to know about human trafficking.

By Ed Wilson

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Girls rescued from sex trafficking dance at the Mahima Home, an aftercare home in Kolkata, India (International Justice Mission).

As the leader of IJM Canada, an organization that combats violence against the poor in the developing world, I have the opportunity  to meet with remarkable women and men who have survived the global scourge of human trafficking.

Out of those experiences, I’ve concluded there are four things we all need to know about human trafficking:

Human trafficking is pernicious. Traffickers have no regard for the richness of the human mind and the dignity of the human soul. The person is nothing more than a chattel to be marketed for financial gain. Recent news reports of Bangladeshi slave ships parallel the horrors of the transatlantic slave trade, with reports of hundreds of people being held in what are effectively floating prisons. I’ve interviewed clients of IJM in India who were refused permission to leave a forced labour facility to seek medical attention for themselves, a spouse or a child or to attend the funeral of a parent. One young woman recently rescued from a brothel in Mumbai hadn’t seen sunshine for three months.

Human trafficking is pervasive.  Canada and the U.S. are rife with trafficking for both commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. It’s not just a developing world problem. Canada’s highest profile trafficking case to date involved the coercion of 23 poor and unemployed Hungarian men, lured to Canada with the promise of good-paying jobs. In reality, they became forced labourers—slaves. In October, a months-long investigation into human trafficking by multiple police forces from across Canada led to the rescue of 18 women forced to work in the sex trade against their will. Trafficking is pervasive because it appears to offer high profit and low risk to traffickers, but it also feeds on economic disparity, gender discrimination, and either the lack of capacity or the lack of will on the part of law enforcement agencies.

Human trafficking is personal. Trafficking is a personal tragedy repeated millions of times over. Organizations like Sextrade101 and IJM that provide survivors of trafficking with the opportunity to tell their stories enable us to recognize that the victim we see before us could be our sister, our daughter, our brother. On a recent trip to Kolkata, I walked through one of the red-light districts with some IJM colleagues and a few friends from Canada and saw only a line-up of women and girls of various ages and appearances waiting for customers. The next day, I visited a care home where 30 or more teenage girls who a few months ago might have been standing in that line-up were laughing, dancing, singing, and sharing their dreams for the future. My heart was broken to imagine those bright, beautiful young women being forced to offer their bodies for abuse night after night. My heart should have been broken on the walk through the red-light district, but it was not, because human trafficking had not yet become personal.

Human trafficking is preventable. We all can help prevent human trafficking. We can

  1. Encourage our faith community to become educated about human trafficking;
  2. Refuse to participate in the supply chain that makes human trafficking profitable through forced labour or the sexual exploitation of girls and women;
  3. Support legislation that holds perpetrators accountable and promotes dignity for victims of trafficking. The experience of IJM and other organizations have proven that a vigorous application of the law can prevent human trafficking. In Metro Cebu, the Philippines, IJM was able to demonstrate a 79% reduction in the number of minors available in the commercial sex industry after four years of casework in the area. Critical to this success was the creation by the Philippines government of a dedicated anti-trafficking police unit to focus its efforts exclusively on combatting sex trafficking.

Recognition of the pervasiveness of human trafficking becomes an opportunity for personal reflection. As Pope Francis has said, “Whoever uses and exploits human beings, even indirectly, becomes complicit in their oppression.” We can take action against this crime today by choosing to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Ed Wilson is executive director of IJM Canada.

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