Keep America Beautiful and Slave-Free
Keep America Beautiful was founded in 1953. A number of groups with passion for a cleaner America formed to cultivate awareness. They came up with catchy phrases like “Let’s pick it up New York” and “Don’t mess with Texas!” Signs were made showing people throwing trash away in garbage cans. Fifty years later, we find ourselves in a country that has steep fines for littering on the freeways—but those fines are not what stop us from littering, it’s the fact that you’d be mortified if anyone saw you do it! Littering is something all Americans have come to regard as being ignorant and wrong, and the result is that we all live in a cleaner place.
As odd as it sounds, the littering model can be extended to the issue of child prostitution and human trafficking; these are modern day slavery issues that exist on a massive scale, and yet awareness is minimal while social acceptance is everywhere.
Each day, in coffee shops and businesses around Seattle, we walk past newspapers like the Seattle Weekly, or The Stranger, where classified ads on the back are offering “personal services” provided by young people. Similarly, online advertisers like Backpage.com offer these same questionable services that are just a click away from that pair of skis you’ve been checking out. These venues have become the equivalent of retail showrooms for connecting customers and suppliers (often pimps) to fulfill demands that frequently start innocently; e.g. an affordable massage, cheap housecleaning, the ‘deluxe’ package at a tanning bed, a gag for a bachelor party, etc. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the individuals actually performing these services nearly always have a history that began with underage exploitation, manipulation, abuse, and enslavement.
Human trafficking is alive and thriving today; according to the International Labour Organization (ILO), an estimated 20.9 million people around the world are trapped in slavery at this very moment! Each year approximately 2 million children are trafficked and then sexually exploited or forced into slave labor. The ILO estimates that trafficking in humans is now a $32 billion business, and this global epidemic isn’t just in the far corners of the undeveloped world, it occurs in developed countries too– unfortunately the prosperity in America also makes our country a lucrative place for traffickers to do business. These modern-day slave traders operate highly profitable businesses under shady cover names. There are essentially two things that keep them from getting caught; one is the general public’s lack of awareness, and the second is their ability to play on trafficking victim’s fears, addictions, or language barriers to keep them silent. The United States defines human trafficking as follows:
“The recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.”
That’s a really long way of saying that someone uses their power to make someone else into a slave for their own personal gain. Unfortunately this act often goes unrecognized, with the majority of the public believing that individuals performing the labor are willing participants. Just as it does with littering, the power to act against human trafficking starts with each of us, the people of this great nation. The FBI has 40 interagency taskforces around the country and opened over 2,000 suspected human trafficking cases between 2008 and 2010. These taskforces are a good example of communities and law enforcement coming together to raise awareness, share information, and provide expertise to ensure better prosecution of traffickers and protection of survivors.
The solution to the human trafficking crisis is a combination of top-down and bottoms-up awareness and action. It starts with each and every one of us becoming aware of the problem and taking actions like calling our senators and congressional representatives to tell them we care, or reporting suspicious activity when we see it.
Over two hundred years ago, Edmund Burke famously wrote “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This quote is still true today for all of us─women and men alike. Let’s break the silence by creating awareness and education so that we can keep America beautiful and slave-free.
Suggested Next Steps:
- Call your senators and congressional representative and ask them to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the centerpiece of all US anti-human trafficking laws addressing both international and domestic slavery
- If you suspect trafficking or suspicious behavior call the nation trafficking line 1-888-3737-888.
- Read the Department of Homeland Security’s ICE website for signs of someone being trafficked.
by Kerry McCarter, WOV Greater Seattle
Kerry lives in Seattle and is a registered nurse who currently volunteers at local medical clinics. She is passionate about empowering women to reach their full potential, and lives this out through leadership roles she plays within Women of Vision, MOPS, and at church. Most days, Kerry can be found hanging out with her family, which include four kids who may even have more activities than their mom!