When anyone hears the word slavery they often reflect back to history courses and think about the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, Abraham Lincoln freeing slaves in America or even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous civil rights speech, “I have a dream.”
People often take it as a badge of honor that they live in a nation that provides freedom to its citizens and conquered slavery.
The unfortunate truth is that slavery was never really conquered; it just took on a different shape with different methods. Human trafficking is a growing problem that must be stopped.
According to California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and California State Legislature, trafficking is a modern form of slavery that involves controlling a person through force, fraud or coercion to exploit the victim for forced labor, sexual exploitation or both.
“There are more slaves in the world today than at any other point in human history, with an estimated 27 million in bondage across the globe,” according to the A21 Campaign, an organization that is combatting human trafficking.
Rather than pass this off as an issue of concern only for developing nations, it must be understood that this is in our own backyard.
According to Rebekah Baird, a policy and advocacy associate at California Against Slavery, a non-profit, non-partisan human rights organization, California has three of the highest-intensity child-trafficking areas recognized by the FBI; Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
The Orange County Anti Human Trafficking Taskforce, a collective body of agencies that combat human trafficking and related crimes, identified and assisted 213 victims in Orange County between July 1, 2011 and December 31, 2012. This number only reflects the number of victims who were identified, not the total number.
Although organizations are making significant strides in fighting this horrible crime, A21 reports that only 1-2 percent of victims are ever rescued.
Someone may be telling themselves that this doesn’t quite concern them, but when will it start to? Will it grab their attention after one of their friends or relatives are abducted and sold into the slave trade? There is no discrimination in victims, they can be any age and any ethnicity.
Maybe this is stirring something within, but it may feel like it’s too big of an issue to tackle. The main point is awareness. When people are aware, they can find ways to help through organizations like CAS, A21 or the Polaris Project. These are just a few organizations that can help with this cause.
The more people that are aware of human trafficking, the more it becomes a greater risk for criminal businesses, especially in California.
“Awareness is rising, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” said Baird. “It’s a pervasive issue that some don’t know about and it needs to be talked about.”
In 2012 voters passed Proposition 35, Californians Against Sexual Exploitation Act which brought stricter laws to human trafficking. According to CAS, it was the first initiative in California history to have more than 80 percent approval rating and had more than 10 million votes.
Human trafficking strips its victims of their freedom and it violates their basic human rights. As college students, especially American college students, we have to exercise our voice. We can be a voice to the voiceless.
“Every victim of human trafficking is someone’s relative, real people,” said Baird. “If we don’t do something, who will? Once you know about it, you can’t, in good conscience look the other way and pretend you have not heard.”