There are an estimated 27.6 million victims of human trafficking around the world at any given moment. Human trafficking is considered the second largest growing criminal industry in the globe, only surpassed by drug trafficking.
Many of us don’t realize how prevalent it is — or how easily it could affect anyone, including children. A United Nations report found that in recent years, the incidence and prevalence of child victims of human trafficking have increased astronomically. The situation is as dire abroad as it is at home. Florida ranks No. 3 in human trafficking cases by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. Earlier this year, NBC 6 reported that 67% of human trafficking victims in Miami-Dade are local and 40% are minors.
The recently released film "Sound of Freedom" sheds light on the horrors of child sex trafficking. The thriller/drama is based on the true story of former Homeland Security agent Tim Ballard, his mission to rescue children from traffickers and a real sting operation Ballard successfully led in conjunction with Colombian authorities in October of 2014. A fan favorite, "Sound of Freedom" has earned more than $160 million at the box office and currently holds a 99% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.com.
To shed light on the plague of human trafficking and how we can combat it, Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice Suman Kakar, a human trafficking expert, spoke to FIU News.
“Traffickers treat people as commodities rather than as human beings. There is no reason for a child or any human being to ever be exploited.”
– Suman Kakar, associate professor of criminology and criminal science
What role does “Sound of Freedom” and storytelling in general play in creating awareness about human trafficking?
"Sound of Freedom" raises awareness about the important issue of human trafficking. Storytelling serves a key role in shedding light on issues of social importance and normalizes the discussion of often sensitive matters. It opens discussions on otherwise taboo subjects, and it is hoped that by raising awareness, further effort[s] will be directed toward addressing such issues and crafting solutions to curb their continued prevalence. “Sound of Freedom” and predecessor [films] focused on human trafficking play an important role in informing the general public on the ills of human trafficking and its prevalence in our daily lives, while stimulating discussion on what can be done to address this issue.
What is the state of human trafficking? What do we need to know?
Human trafficking is a problem of global proportions. It affects individuals in every social stratum and occurs amid our daily lives. To the surprise of many, human trafficking is not simply a problem in other countries. It is rampant across the United States and happens everywhere to people of all cultures and socioeconomic levels.
Human trafficking is a heterogenous concept. There are several types of human trafficking — labor trafficking, sex trafficking, organ trafficking and child marriage, among others. The socioeconomic forces that drive the growth of human trafficking, legal/regulatory systems in place, as well as strategies to curb its progression are specific to each subtype of human trafficking and significant research has focused on each of these elements.
We know that there are various ways that human traffickers trap people, whether through the abduction of children and adults or through scams and social media. What should people know to protect themselves and their children?
Poverty and vulnerability are two key factors that put people at risk for human trafficking. Individuals coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are often at a higher risk for becoming victims of human trafficking. There is an entire body of literature focused on understanding how victims are “groomed” by offenders to entice their entry into human trafficking. The internet and social media have amplified the problem, and it is important to raise awareness on novel means used to propagate human trafficking.
It is human nature to seek instant gratification and shortcuts out of poverty. Offenders exploit this desire by offering “quick fixes” to dire situations, i.e., free meals at high-end restaurants, promises of jobs offering high wages and debt satisfaction. Social media facilitates such transactions and the presentation of such “baits.” It is important for people to be cognizant of these strategies to adequately protect themselves and their loved ones.
“Many times, human trafficking happens under the guise of legal businesses.”
– Suman Kakar, associate professor of criminology and criminal science
What are we, as a society, doing to combat human trafficking?
Several efforts are underway to augment awareness of this important social issue. Advertising campaigns have been launched in public spaces like airports, movie theaters, hospitals and even shopping malls – aimed toward informing the public on human trafficking. A well-defined legal infrastructure for the control and prosecution of possible human trafficking offenses and improved law enforcement efforts are working toward combating human trafficking.
The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. government are doing a great job in many ways. For example, they provide trainings for businesses and organizations to learn more about how to combat human trafficking and to identify [its] signs. It’s crucial to educate people that work at points of entry for traffickers, including hotels, airports and hospitals.
As a corollary to efforts to improve awareness, victim advocacy groups are training at-risk individuals to identify the possible signs of human trafficking and how to avoid becoming involved in such situations. Cross-national efforts also proactively inform possible migrants about potential human trafficking “traps.”
Finally, educating people in schools and universities is key. Students take the word home and spread it to their family and friends. I teach two human trafficking courses, and some of my students have gotten so motivated that they have started or joined organizations to educate others in their community and craft innovative solutions to the human trafficking problem. It’s important to start educating people early.
To know: In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed key legislation, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), to combat human trafficking and protect victims. This helped define what human trafficking is.
What needs to happen to eradicate human trafficking?
Sex trafficking thrives because there is a demand. As a society we need to come together to protect children. Stricter laws and regulations will help in deterring would-be offenders.
The economics of labor trafficking favors its perpetuity. As consumers, we need to change our mindset and fight for a society where everyone has the right to equal pay, and no one is exploited. It is our responsibility to make sure that the products we are buying are manufactured and produced in a socially conscious manner.
Finally, global efforts need to be made. Collaborations across countries should focus on ensuring the enforcement of human rights protections.
You have dedicated yourself to researching human trafficking. Why are you passionate about this – what motivates you to keep going?
As a criminologist and sociologist, I have dedicated my professional career to understanding the causes and risk factors of crime and developing novel means to combat such social ills. Human trafficking is a particularly salient issue in today’s era. It is a crime of global proportions that affects all segments of the population, including children. I am hopeful that my efforts can effectuate positive change toward eradicating the problem of human trafficking and improving our society.
FIU students interested in learning more through Kakar’s human trafficking courses can check out her undergraduate course, CCJ 4694 - Human Trafficking, which is designated a Global Learning course and is open to students of all majors. It has been offerred every semester at FIU since 2012. Kakar also teaches a graduate course, CCJ 6696 - Human Trafficking (usually offerred in the spring).
Kakar's research focuses on human trafficking, child marriages, violence in families, policing, juvenile delinquency and crime prevention. Among her published books and journal articles is "Human Trafficking," a textbook which discusses the topic in-depth, featuring a look at global perspectives, theories for understanding the issue and an exploration of domestic and international efforts to combat human trafficking, among other topics.