When I tell people I work in anti-trafficking, the two questions I get asked most often are “Where is the worst place for human trafficking?” and “How do I keep my children safe from human trafficking?” It feels to me that at the very core of these two questions is really just one question: How do I stay as far away as possible from this issue? This question is borne out of a completely understandable survival instinct. The reality is, however, that the only way to make sure that you are safe from trafficking is to recognize how near it is to you and to be consciously aware of how you are interacting with it.
In the US, human trafficking is defined as an extreme form of labor and/or sex exploitation that takes place under force, fraud or coercion. The circumstances described in this definition take place all around us. I know trafficking survivors who were exploited in elder care homes, in family restaurants, in hair braiding salons, in nail salons, in grocery stores, in prisons, in their own homes, in their middle and high schools, in factories, in door-to-door sales operations, on fishing boats, in places of worship, in foster care, and in the homes of neighbors. There is not one city or town in the US that is trafficking-free, and neither is any other country free of it. The key to keeping yourself and your loved ones safe from trafficking is not to avoid spaces where it exists, but to find the ways in which you benefit from it and refuse to be complicit any longer.
Eradicating human trafficking, then, means being aware. It means simply being aware of the space you take up in the world – of your own social footprint. It means understanding that no matter what, your actions will always affect the lives of others. It means understanding that your own life is constantly affected by everyone you know and by everyone you don’t know. Ending trafficking also means using that awareness in big and small ways to change how we consume.
Here are some small ways you can start participating in the eradication of human trafficking:
1. Be a deliberate consumer. Buy only from companies that are actively monitoring their own practices and the practices of their suppliers for exploitation. This process can be daunting once you start to think about the sheer number of products and services you consume every week, so take small steps. I start with one product at a time, find a brand that is actively involved in keeping its product or service slavery-free, then I become loyal to that brand. I started with chocolate and then moved on to berries, then jewelry, then tea, and on down my shopping list. Check out this article for apps that help you become a more deliberate consumer.
2. There are some products and services that simply do not have brands available that are free of trafficking. Cell phones, tablets and laptops, for example, do not have a trafficking-free brand. They all use coltan sourced from mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that have terrifyingly brutal practices. It feels a bit hypocritical at first to do anti-trafficking work on my laptop! What I’ve been doing on this front is make sure I limit my ownership of these types of devices rather than trading them in for the newer model every year. I also make sure I stay aware of advancements in this area. As soon as a brand begins to offer devices that use a coltan alternative or that source their coltan ethically, I’ll be first in line to buy it or to invest in the company. Check out this website for countries that do not produce certain items ethically, then cross check that country list with the information on your favorite brands’ labels.
3. Communicate with your local anti-trafficking organizations. Faith-based organizations usually have some services that they provide to trafficking victims and survivors. The police department’s major crimes unit might be able to tell you how you can help or can direct you to the organizations that they refer victims to for care. If there is a shelter in your town, find out if there is anything they need. Shelters often need very generic things, like toothbrushes and tampons. They also may need a skill that you specifically possess, like a workshop on budgeting household finances, or a beginners yoga class, or help planting flowers in the yard.
4. Care for yourself and the people around you. Sociological research shows that what makes people most vulnerable to being victims of trafficking is the same thing that makes people most vulnerable to being perpetrators of trafficking: an extreme need for belonging. Actual, sustainable trafficking prevention at its most foundational is, therefore, loving yourself, being yourself, loving others, and encouraging others to be themselves. Creating community and being connected is the safest way forward.
5. The national hotline for reporting suspected cases of human trafficking is 888-373-7888. This hotline is a very useful resource in several ways. You can call or text it to find out information about anti-trafficking organizations in your immediate area. You can call or text it to report a suspicious situation that you think might be trafficking. You can call or text it to get statistics on trafficking in your area (also available here). Finally, you can also call or text it to ask for assistance if you believe you are being exploited.