by Sarah Harfleet
Since when is it ok to put a price tag on a human being?
Between the early hours of your morning coffee and your head hitting the pillow, MILLIONS of men, women and children experience something most of us would find inconceivable. Something no human being should ever have to endure. From a 14-year old girl who is sexually abused about 50 times in a day, to a man who is physically forced to work as someone’s slave, a woman who may never escape from the underground trap of being bought and sold for her body, and a young boy who wakes up in unfamiliar surroundings without one of his kidneys.
Despite the horrific nature of human trafficking, it continues to boom as an industry – an estimated $32 billion dollar one according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime – growing year on year. Millions of victims are lured into this terrible fate with promises of a better life. Often, predators rely on vulnerability and seize the opportunity to trick, exploit and abuse their victims.
The need to raise awareness is absolutely vital to stop this modern form of slavery. Liberation Kilt Co (LKC) believes that together, as a global society, we can unite to fight this crime. LKC became a partner of the United Nations’ Blue Heart Campaign in 2015 and designed the LKC Blueheart tartan. The Blue Heart Campaign is an international initiative to raise awareness of the plight of trafficking victims and build the political will needed to fight the criminals who reap the profits from buying and selling people. Endorsed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), LKC’s Blueheart tartan is expertly woven by Bute Fabrics Ltd of Scotland, a renowned leader in tartan fabric production. Blueheart’s colours and lines symbolise the collective heartbeat of those who are being trafficked. The vision is to encourage people to show solidarity against human trafficking by displaying and wearing the design.
As part of the events and initiatives to commemorate World Day Against Trafficking in Persons (July 30), United Nations’ tour guides in Vienna wore Blueheart sashes with the official Blue Heart pin. Partnering with UNODC, LKC hopes to build awareness in order to crack down on human trafficking and put an end to this abhorrent industry. LKC will donate 20% of its profits from sale of Blueheart fabric to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking, which provides support for NGOs around the world helping victims recover from their ordeal, claim restitution and judicial punishment for their traffickers, and rebuild their lives.
7 things you need to know about the underground trap (and how YOU can help)!
1. The sheer SIZE of the industry
It’s growing at an unprecedented rate. Every day, more and more innocent people are lured into this trap. They are sold against their will and moved across borders. Victims are taken away from their familiar environments and can be taken thousands of miles away from their homes. According to UNICEF, this includes around 1.2 million children each year. The things that those children will witness and experience are things that no adult should ever see – let alone a minor. However, the monetary value of exploiting young children keeps this industry fuelled and expanding.
Approximately 45.8 million people in 167 countries are victims of human trafficking according to the latest Global Slavery Index, making it one of the largest criminal enterprises in the world. However, those who are trafficked are not always necessarily hidden away from plain sight and physically imprisoned. They are commonly abused and controlled psychologically in order to keep them from speaking out or attempting to flee. Victims may be prepped to give a specific story if they are ever asked questions. For instance, they might be told what to say if asked why they’re living in a large house with dozens of others, or their employer’s house. The psychological restraint means that it can be difficult to identify trafficked individuals. They may not know who to trust and can be threatened if they attempt to leave to situation.
2. The aftermath of abuse
Psychological and physical abuse is rife in the human trafficking industry. The small number of rescued victims are left traumatised and in need of significant emotional care and support to rebuild their lives. Physical injury is common, and specifically in the sex trade, victims are at high risk of contracting STDs and infections like HIV/AIDS. These victims are also often confined to a small bed where they are forced to service clients; they sleep on that same bed, which means that hygiene is extremely poor. Those rescued are usually found severely malnourished and need a careful medical treatment plan to help them to recover from physical trauma.
Those who have been trafficked are psychologically scarred from the unimaginable experiences they have gone through. Trusting anyone is a major hurdle given the trickster tactics to which they would have been subject to. The mental suffering of those who were seen and used as commodities is deeply tragic. Self-harming, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and a vast range of emotional problems can surface given the extreme events they have faced. Victims may be very reluctant to give evidence to the police, particularly in instances where they may be deemed an illegal immigrant due to fear of prosecution, making it harder to track down the culprits. Children who were trafficked at a young age never experienced the nurture and love that they deserve nor the education that so many of us take for granted.
3. Where it’s happening
Although human trafficking is a massive problem on the global scale, it may be happening right under your nose. The devastating fact is that human trafficking is a global operation and occurs on every continent. The trafficking criminals prey on innocent victims, luring them in to travel to another country, perhaps from Eastern Europe to the UK, with promises of a stable job and a new start. However, once they are in unfamiliar surroundings, far away from everything that they know, they are forced to work in a sex parlour as prostitutes. This could be in your local neighbourhood. The most important thing is to be aware and to be vigilant as traffickers are in the game of deception.
4. Misperceptions about gender
There’s sometimes a common mistake of who actually gets trafficked when it comes to discourse surrounding the gender of victims. Although the number of women trafficked is significantly higher and is estimated to be double that of men, victims are both men and women, and both need to be recognised in media discourse on this issue. Men are often sold into forced labour, working in appalling and illegal conditions. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also state that young boys are also often trafficked as child soldiers, and in some cases, sexual exploitation. Hence, criminals do not spare age or gender.
5. It’s not only sex
It is true that the biggest human trafficking demand is sex slavery of women. However, people are also trafficked for their organs which are then sold on the black market. Others are forced to work in extremely poor conditions or exploited in a way that is tantamount to slavery. People are snatched from their families and coerced to provide various illegal services. Victims may also be working in public service jobs like hospitality. However, psychological manipulation of victims helps the criminals to conceal the abuse (again, particularly if they have been moved across borders illegally). They are prisoners. At the end of the day, those operating within the human trafficking industry see humans as commodities – no matter how they are bought and sold.
6. The startling 1% truth
The most frightening statistic of all is that only around 1 out of every 100 victims is ever rescued according to the UNODC. That means that there is so much to be done to help the other 99% of trapped victims. Imagine if a loved one were suddenly taken and cast into this world of darkness. The tragic truth is that victims are often in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, UNODC and other organisations across the globe are working tirelessly to make the world a better and safer place and trace the complex chains involved in human trafficking.
The fact that only 1% of victims is ever rescued is heart-breaking enough. But on top of that, the criminals themselves, if caught, are not always prosecuted. The UNODC believes this can be due to victims being intimidated by traffickers and therefore choosing not to participate in investigations. Further, not all countries adopt the same stance on the sanctioning of the offences. This allows the enterprise to continue to accelerate in terms of risk vs. reward in the minds of traffickers driven by money. It is essential to heavily punish those involved in human trafficking. Not only to sanction them for the horrific nature of the crimes committed but also to make bold statements on the severity of the crime to deter its momentum. This requires unity on the legal front between all countries and a global level of cooperation between authorities.
7. How you can help
Raising awareness remains ever crucial to stop human trafficking. People with a limited knowledge or misperceptions about what trafficking can involve must become aware of the true extent of the industry. More awareness equals more global action and could help save millions of lost lives. Showing solidarity through symbolism such as wearing the Blueheart tartan increases the awareness and makes a zero-tolerance statement towards the buying and selling of people.
If you suspect or become aware of human trafficking, it is important to speak up on behalf of victims who may not have a confident voice to come forward. For example, if you spot any suspicious behaviour or characters who appear to be groomers, or any manipulative behaviour occurring, this could be an indicator that something untoward is happening. Report anything out of the ordinary to your local authority, should you suspect human trafficking.
Stop The Traffik have launched the Stop App where individuals can anonymously report trafficking taking place anywhere in the world. Often, those with knowledge of trafficking may be wary of coming forward due to fear of prosecution or association to the crime. With the Stop App, users are protected. However, Stop The Traffik clearly states that the app should be used in addition to informing the police. The primary purpose of the app is to build up a global picture of human trafficking to create more effective strategies for prevention.
For more information visit liberationkilt.com/tartans/blueheart.
The writer is founder of HandledPR and directs communications at Liberation Kilt Co.