By Ginalynne DeCesare
August 23rd is marked as the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition. This date had marked the beginning of the end for the transatlantic slave trade. Unfortunately, this event did not mark the end of slavery altogether. Modern-day slavery in the 21st century is still a widespread and very real issue. Today, approximately 20-30 million slaves exist worldwide, and according to the U.S. State Department, “600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children”(United States Department, 2014).
First and foremost, human trafficking is best described as the trading of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor, commercial and/or sexual exploitation, the extraction of organs and/or other body parts, or for providing a spouse in a forced marriage. Human trafficking is a criminal business in which people are regarded as items that can be traded and exploited for profit. According to the International Labor Organization and Walk Free Foundation, an estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, “16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor” (ILO, 2017).
Using our sociological imagination, this issue is a personal matter (micro level issue) for those who have been enslaved. Their freedoms have been taken away, and their lives are put in the hands of the traffickers against their will. Because the social impacts of human trafficking are universal, according to C. Wright Mills, we must “connect individual problems with greater social issues in order to create changes that would solve the problems” (Mills, 1959). This does not mean that the trafficking victims are not viewed as a serious matter. It is those who have experienced the effects of human trafficking who must cope with the majority of its social impacts. In today’s world, we see human trafficking affecting millions of men, women, and children on an individual level, but since it is an international issue that is present in all countries and poses the threat of HIV and AIDS to spread and affect any and all of the population on a large scale, we must view it as a macro level sociological issue.
In order to solve this worldwide epidemic, we must look at what social forces are leading to the increase of these businesses. Social forces can be described as “the typical basic drives, or motives, which lead to the fundamental types of association and group relationship” (Fairchild, 1970). Looking at this issue from a worldwide perspective, we can come to the conclusion that globalization is one of the major social forces catalyzing the growth of human trafficking. In result of the rapid globalization over the last 50 years, “an uneven economic development between countries had increased, resulting in extreme poverty for many developing communities” (Abu-Ali & Al-Bahar 2011). With increasing inflation and lack of resources in these developing communities around the world, we must take a deeper look into Emile Durkheim’s structural-functional theory to see how this issue relates to social stability and instability.
In addition to rapid globalization, we must focus our attention to another negative social force present within this organization, stigmatization. Looking through Mead’s Symbolic Interaction Theory, we see stigmatization as the way society focuses on an individual in society rather than society as a whole. This form of public labeling is a very crucial factor within the Interaction theory, and these negative labels can be internalized by the individual. The society inside of this business is composed of the victims, the buyers, and the traffickers, and each group demonstrates some form of stigmatization. Beginning with the victim’s point of view, negative stigmatization can psychologically damage the victims, given the symbols and identities they are labeled with. As a result, this can permanently change their personality and behavior.
Comparatively, as we turn our attention from the victims and towards the ones responsible for spreading these negative stigmatizations, we can see how the traffickers obtain and hold their power over those being exploited. As I researched further into the theories we have discussed in class, I came across two that seemed to explain the victims’ situation, more specifically why and how it is so difficult for them to escape it. These two theories are the Conflict Theory and The Rational Choice Theory. The conflict perspective focuses on what ways this business relates to power, status, and access to resources” (Slavica, 2011), and The Rational choice theory is a thought based on the assumption that “people behave as they do because they believe that performing their chosen actions has more benefits than costs” (Chegg, n.d.). With this in mind, along with the lack of jobs, low wages and high living prices due inflation (due to rapid globalization), we can see how opportunity for human traffickers is created.
In the light of there being a lack of food, clothing, and housing, along with the unlikelihood of the government ever fulfilling these needs, a desire is created within their lower class citizens to migrate in search for better opportunities. It is in this case where they become a target for inhuman traffickers to bait them with fraudulent promises. These trafficked people are persuaded with promises of employment, higher wages, and insurance. Once these innocent human beings are collected and isolated, the traffickers use the conflict theory to their advantage. Because the majority of these poor victims seeking opportunity and security are women and children, traffickers (typically powerful males) take advantage of their weakness and exploit them through their trafficking business. Accordingly, though it is present, the concept of stigmatization alone does not first handedly cause or increase issues within this business, yet it negatively holds the victims back from ever escaping the malicious cycle of trafficking.
After viewing the individual consequences and the sociological theories within them, we must begin to view this issue economically. Viewing this issue from an observational and economic standpoint, I have found that economic and social stability is established from the high number of jobs that trafficked humans perform. This social stability is not solely created through the exploitation of these trafficked humans through sexual work, but also in areas such construction work, factories, domestic service, and agriculture. Wealth is generated into all countries throughout the globe through profitable businesses due to the low prices that owners have to pay for this cruel kind of slavery.
In spite of Human trafficking creating social stability in many communities throughout the world, we must acknowledge the counter effects of this business and its effects on society. Though social instability is caused in many areas, one of the most threatening products of this trade, are the awful conditions and lack of hygiene that the sexual slaves live in, increasing the chance of becoming ill and transmitting sexual diseases. Since human trafficking is an illegal business, the places where they take place are not regularly inspected, and therefore do not meet health and safety standards. As well as the horrible living conditions and spread of diseases, the trafficking industry generates a rate of violence, ultimately increasing the number of victims and deaths in the surrounding community.
In my final analysis with all sociological points considered, I believe the most beneficial technique in working to solve this issue, would to implement improved employment strategies in the countries of origin. Ultimately implementing reliable jobs in the destination country and the origin country would destroy the profit for Human Trafficking by challenging the societal conditions that sustain the exploitation of human beings, but would necessitate a multidisciplinary approach. Collaborative efforts among the officials in the law enforcement, medical workforce, border patrol, the community organization representatives, and mental health counselors can help to effectively address and assist the needs and demands of Human Trafficking victims.
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Human Trafficking by the Numbers. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers
Ross-Sheriff, F., & Orme, J. (2017, June 08). Human Trafficking: Overview. Retrieved from http://socialwork.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.001.0001/acrefore-9780199975839-e-945
Social Impact. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://htia.weebly.com/social-impact.html