10 Things Learned about Human Trafficking
By Agnes Lam, Hagar Vietnam
1) Almost all the women and children victims we’ve encountered come from very broken families. Their family unit is not intact and often times extremely dysfunctional. For example, there are parents who have abused or sold their children and there are families suffering from debilitating poverty, various addictions and mental illness.
2) Raising awareness of human trafficking with at-risk victims will not necessarily prevent someone from being trafficked. This is only one piece, and often only a very small piece of the puzzle.
3) Many victims of human trafficking attract unhealthy and poisonous romantic relationships. In our work, the one thing that will throw off the progress of a client in our programs is meeting a boy/man who doesn’t respect their needs. Because these girls attract such relationships, a group of boys befriending a group of girls is also a popular means of trafficking.
4) There are many shades of grey when it comes to exploitation. On one extreme, some times individuals are kidnapped. Some people are tricked (e.g. told there was a good job). Some go after an opportunity, knowing that there is a risk, and find themselves abused and exploited. Some in theory know what they are getting into, but are then held against their will, unable to leave, the situation being much worse than they thought.
5) The internet is becoming a sophisticated tool in trafficking young people. Several clients from Hagar were trafficked related to debt-payment, promises of false jobs and and meeting men on the internet.
6) Learning disabilities and mental disorders can be a major risk factor leading to violence and human trafficking. In places where there is little awareness of these disabilities, these indiviudals often do not finish school, and have few opportunities for work. As one Hagar client shared with us, she was called ‘stupid’ most of her life. Traffickers prey on these vulnerable groups with low self-esteem and few opportunities.
7) The cycle of violence is very real. Even after being severely abused with broken bones, some clients still share that they want to return to their husbands.
8) Trafficking a human being is much easier than people could imagine. Before working with Hagar, I imagined human trafficking was gross kidnapping or sophisticated deception. Although this does happen, in actuality the stories of trafficking are quite simplistic—usually it’s more like…I met this women who promised me a job at the border so I went with her. Or I ran away from home, and this person promised to help me. This realization always makes my skin crawl as I realize how big this problem really is.
9) Supporting victims is much harder than just providing trauma-counseling and giving someone a job. Often times the problems the clients face are far more complicated than people think. For example, helping someone with a 2nd grade education is much different than helping someone who finished high school. It complicates things when a parent was involved with the trafficking (and we all know how hard it is to shake the influence of our parents). In addition to trauma, many clients also face several types of psychological distress and many have very poor decision-making skills.
10) A client’s sense of agency or ownership over the healing process is one of the most important factors determining whether a client will change their lives. Many clients come from a heavy cycle of dependency in their lives—almost like a boat out at sea without a sail, just living without any sense of control over one’s life. Helping clients recognize in themselves the ability to help themselves is the real beginning of transformation.