The See-No-Evil Issue of Human Trafficking

In the poodle skirt days of Pleasantville, the outrageous gyrations of Elvis distracted the public from acknowledging darker, more sinister threats to a seemingly perfect world. Today, we've all but abandoned that chipper delusion of perfection, but not the steady diet of petty outrages still consuming our attention.

Suffering from a chronic inability to separate the chaff from the grain, we prefer to focus on shiny objects. It's understandably easier to energize the empty manufactured fears of "lions, tigers, and bears," superficial tabloid diversions, and impotent outrages of the day than to apply time, energy, resources, and beautiful minds to addressing complex issues.

Yet, amid the chaos of current concerns, barbaric practices of once distant shores increasingly litter the evening news. With a new and surprising ferocity our modern flat screen televisions and smart phones tell very modern tales of pirates, beheadings, genocide, honor killings, and yes, it-can't-be-true, modern slavery.

Commonly understood as a phenomenon of unenlightened forefathers, or at least, of shadowy primitive cultures in other lands, the issue of human trafficking is more a part of American lives than we realize. Of the roster of surreal practices, this one occurs around us every day, and lest we unwittingly remain part of the problem, it's time to acknowledge its presence.

Right out of the box, the issue is clouded by its own masking label, for on its face, "human trafficking," doesn't seem to mean "slavery." It seems to mean, "driving people around" or "people driving around," and most of us don't find that particularly problematic. Immediately, one scouts about for bling-ier concerns with which to fuss and fume while anti-trafficking advocates are stuck with this stuffy, depersonalizing legal term that strips clarity from the issue, making it all the more difficult to explain.

And so we begin. In fact, the Italian verb traffico means "to touch repeatedly or handle." It still seems a stretch, but starts to make sense when we consider that a person can be sold over and over and over, day after day, year after year, handled repeatedly. It's about the sale of people, and the use of humans as a commodity, "inventory" for a business that nets the trafficking industry between nine and twelve BILLION dollars a year.

After drug trafficking, the trafficking of humans ties with arms sales as the most lucrative business for the organized crime industry. In 2010, the U.S. federal government spent over $15 billion dollars on the "war on drugs," yet, its budget to fight trafficking of people is approximately 0.1% of the drug war budget. For those 27 million people enslaved in basements, sweatshops, back rooms across the world and throughout our country, the lucrative war on drugs must seem an excruciating priority, as the war against human suffering and exploitation sits in the caboose of priorities.

As the issue takes shape in the public consciousness, the questions pile one upon another. What are slaves used for? How do you know? Who does this? Why don't they "rise up!" What is being done? Really? Here? Yes.

As a sordid, indelible stain on our national heritage, our national narrative teaches that slavery is an evil we conquered and relegated to the history books. Spit, spot, tick that one off as completed. Well. There's more work to be done, and we offer the following action steps that will help contemporary abolitionists in their efforts. Please, be a part of the solution.

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(previously published by !Vamonos! Ruidoso News, 5-20-11)