Human trafficking was, until recently, the biggest nonconversation we had. Hushed-toned talk, relegated to dark corners and dingy alleyways, helped this human-rights crisis flourish below the radar. But dialogue about the fastest-growing crime on the planet, with more people enslaved now than any time in human history, is finally beginning to resonate.
So why the long silence?
Human trafficking is uncomfortable and uncomprehended. “Stranger danger” is a devil we know. A phrase we understand. We talk to our kids about kidnapping and date rape, thinking of the villain as singular — a lone anomaly that strikes — an incident to be avoided. Not the beginning of a nightmare to a life of bondage.
But if we realized our kids were being exported, while others were being imported, we would have cried foul sooner and much louder. It’s a difficult concept to wrap our heads around. How do you explain to the concerned volunteer who canvasses neighborhoods, lakes and wooded areas for a missing person to consider searching shipping containers instead?
Domestic abuse and homelessness are easier stories for the media to tell. Human trafficking? Not so simple.
It’s modern-day slavery manifested into forced labor, with prostitution, immigration, child abuse, smuggling, drugs, money laundering and organized crime all thrown together. A local reporter recently told me, “It’s a complicated, time-consuming topic. It would take an entire newscast just to explain what it is.”
Think it doesn’t happen here? Think again. All 50 states have reported incidents, and Florida is one of the top three destination points for trafficking worldwide. More than 20 million people are trafficked across the world with almost a quarter of them enslaved for sex.
It’s a $30 billion a year corruption that touches every one of us whether we know it or not. Get your nails done and it may be from a technician who’s not there by choice. The bracelet you just bought may have been made using a 10-year-old boy with little to no hope for tomorrow. Recently, a 14-year-old girl from Cocoa Beach was discovered, drugged and held captive by a man advertising her online as an escort.
We live in a celebrity-obsessed society that dominates what’s relevant. If there’s not a pretty face telling us we should worry, then there must not be anything to worry about.
Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and George Clooney are all well-known advocates for familiar social causes. But human trafficking is so buried most aren’t aware of the celebrities who help give it a voice: Mira Sorvino and Jada Pinkett Smith.
We know more about abused animals, thanks to Sara McLaughlin’s commercials, than we do about Ricky Martin’s testimony on human trafficking in front of Congress. And while it’s helpful for big names to bring insight to big problems we may not otherwise notice, it’s troubling so many wait for their favorite famous face to tell them where to focus.
It’s good news this discussion is becoming broader. Nonetheless, I’m concerned about our notorious short-mindedness. Our intolerance is often too temporary. Outraged one minute, apathetic the next. We jump on bandwagons because it’s cool to be part of a trendy subject.
But this is not merely a hot topic. It’s human beings entangled in daily horror.
Consider this well-known quotation: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” So what can you do? Talk about it. Your voice, added to others, helps bring human trafficking out of the shadows and into the light.
Welcome to the conversation. It will save lives. It will give voice to the voiceless and our collective persistence will bring freedom — one life at a time.