In 2007, with no money to support her children and wanting to escape the violence of Honduras, Diana traveled to Mexico as an undocumented immigrant with the ultimate goal of coming to the U.S. where she believed her children would have a better, safer life. She and those traveling with her suffered hunger, cold and fear, walking day and night. When she arrived in Mexico she didn't have enough money to continue on to the U.S., so the Coyote with her - the man paid to facilitate her travel across the border - offered her a job taking care of children. But the "job" turned out to be forced prostitution. She and other women and girls, some as young as 14, were forced to drink alcohol and take drugs, and were told that if they did not comply they would be killed. Finally, one day Diana had had enough and tried to escape by train, but she slipped and her legs were caught beneath the train. She was taken to a hospital where she signed some papers she didn't understand; unknowingly she had agreed to have both of her legs amputated.
While Diana's story is horrific, it is not unusual. Across the globe, economic unrest and political violence have led to a dramatic increase in migrants moving to new countries in search of safer environments and better opportunities. But many of these families and individuals desperate to reach their destinations are at risk of becoming victims of human trafficking. Victims are captured, transported, transferred or bought and sold to be subjected to exploitation, from sexual abuse and forced marriage to exploitative labor and organ removal.
In Honduras - which is currently tied with El Salvador as the world's most violent country - many people like Diana, as well as children on their own, attempt to move further north to avoid the endemic violence and thus become vulnerable to criminal exploitation of the worst sort. To help prevent more people from falling victim to these crimes, from June to September the National Campaign Against Trafficking in Persons worked to help educate Hondurans on the potential signs of human trafficking to help identify those who have been trafficked as well as prevent those at risk from being exploited.
The campaign, launched by the Commission against Commercial Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking, the Government of Honduras, the Institutional Support Programme against Trafficking, and Global Communities with support from the U.S. State Department, was designed to create a culture where such crimes are not tolerated. Working directly in the community with schools and sports events, the program worked to help educate people on what the signs of human trafficking are, as well as emphasize the illegality of the act. And in areas frequented by tourists, the campaign used English to help spread the word to outsiders who could potentially identify victims.
In September, the International Day Against Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking served as the culmination of the campaign, with numerous events across the country. Along the northern coast, Global Communities partnered with Samaritan's Purse to put on an event at a local school to help youth understand from an early age on how to recognize and avoid trafficking; in Puerto Cortes, a port city near the border with Guatemala, an event took place at the city's main plaza to help raise awareness; around San Pedro Sula, a city that has long suffered from high crime and violence, the mayor led a march and urged people to become part of the solution to trafficking; and First Lady Ana Garcia Hernandez spoke at an event in Tegucigalpa to express her support for anti-trafficking initiatives.
Now that the word is out, Global Communities will continue to work throughout Honduras to educate people, coordinate government response, prevent the sale of human beings and assist those who have been victimized. I am confident that the campaign will continue to evolve and grow, ensuring that people not only become informed about the horrors of trafficking, but will also be in a position to help stop it.
On a visit to Honduras in 2010, I met Diana. Today, she lives in Tegucigalpa with her children and grandchildren. She has prosthetics and gets around in a wheelchair. She sells candies out of her house and is active in an organization that helps surviving returnees of illegal immigration who have suffered a physical accident. This campaign is a very positive step toward ensuring that people like Diana will not continue to fall victim to this terrible crime.