People who hear that it is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month are likely to be overwhelmed by the thought of human trafficking and wonder what one person can possibly do to help. It is true that trafficking—the act of compelling someone to work against their will—is a complex issue with many root causes, including poverty, barriers to economic opportunity, and marginalization of certain groups. Unfortunately, as journalist Melissa Gira Grant documents, well-intentioned but misguided efforts to combat the problem often focus on the sex trade instead of first understanding the full breadth of human trafficking. The good news is many people are already contributing to the fight against human trafficking by addressing its root causes through work, volunteerism, and daily actions that are not exclusively focused on trafficking—for example, by improving education or advocating for workers’ rights.
The complexity of trafficking is precisely what makes these different approaches necessary, and shows that we can all be part of bringing an end to human trafficking. These six key areas have a significant impact on trafficking and can use your support.
Education and Youth Development. Teachers and other educators help fight human trafficking by conferring valuable skills to their students, which increases the likelihood that they will be gainfully employed in the future. Beyond the classroom, those who work in youth development, such as after-school programs or other youth-oriented initiatives, help young people cultivate life skills and relationships. Children and young people are particularly vulnerable to trafficking by virtue of their age and inexperience, so this guidance is crucial. Education opens a broad swath of opportunities and can be a powerful factor in helping to stem the tide of trafficking.
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LGBTQ Support. Young lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning individuals face additional challenges, especially if they are not supported by their families and loved ones. Runaway and homeless youth are at particularly high risk for trafficking, and significant numbers of the population are from the LGBTQ community. One of the ways to prevent youth from becoming potential trafficking victims is to provide vital support mechanisms such as safe housing, counseling, or other support services; continued education; and opportunities for employment.
Workers’ Rights. Lawyers, organizers, and other advocates who work with restaurant workers, farm workers, hotel workers, construction workers, domestic workers, and those in other low-wage industries are also making a dent in trafficking, as many of these same industries involve labor of people who have been trafficked. These advocates file lawsuits against unscrupulous employers, report labor violations to the Department of Labor, organize workers to help improve their working conditions, advocate for policies that provide better protections for employees, and educate the public on the various ways employers violate the rights of workers. Their work to raise awareness among these workers about their rights and basic labor laws is profoundly empowering and helps prevent and fight trafficking.
Immigrants’ Rights. Trafficking victims and survivors include U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, visa holders, or undocumented individuals. However, immigrants who have specific visas that are tied to a specific employer are at increased risk of trafficking and exploitation because their limited visa reduces the likelihood that they will complain if their employer fails to comply with labor laws. Further, unregulated overseas recruitment agencies often make false promises to migrant workers about the conditions of employment in the United States, rendering workers trapped with far less pay or much longer hours than they expected. Advocates working to change immigration laws to protect the rights of immigrants are effectively preventing many of the same problems anti-trafficking advocates work against, supporting and bolstering their work.
Feminist Organizing. Women’s rights activists contribute to the anti-trafficking movement by advancing educational and job opportunities for girls and women and disrupting barriers that stifle a young girl’s chance to learn or a woman’s opportunity to earn a just income for her work. Feminist advocacy around policies that close the pay gap between women and men, provide access to child care for working parents while maintaining fair pay for domestic workers, and protect the rights of immigrant women who are increasingly migrating to support their families all helps to fight trafficking. A large percentage of trafficking victims are women and girls who became trapped in low-wage sectors and the informal economy because they lacked skills or sufficient opportunities for employment. Removing these obstacles will facilitate the empowerment of women and girls and help prevent the circumstances that lead to trafficking.
Consumer Activism. Conscientious consumers who read labels and learn about the supply chains of the products they consume are also helping to stop trafficking. In addition to learning about whether an item was animal-tested or organic, it is important for consumers to educate themselves about who harvested the chocolate or who manufactured the clothing they are considering purchasing. Human trafficking can occur at any point in a product’s creation, so being informed and holding corporations accountable for labor practices is another way to confront trafficking.