By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
National Congress of Black Women – Despite the economic and social trials and tribulations that many of us face, most of us will join in the common expression of thanks for the blessings of family, friends and life during this season. Whatever our faith, we’ll join the celebration of the winter holiday season. In truth and in our festivity, most of us are far removed from a travesty that has plagued humankind since time immemorial.
We have, unfortunately or unwittingly, turned a blind eye to the circumstance of Human Trafficking. I say unwittingly because the phrase human trafficking usually does not elicit an immediate and objectionable response. Most will question the term and ask for clarification, “Trafficking of humans, what does it mean?” To understand the scourge of human trafficking on an emotional level, we must reframe the term and the image that the words really reflect. We must call human trafficking what it is – SLAVERY! While forced labor remains an element of human trafficking, sex slavery is the primary result of this modern slavery. Young women are bought or kidnapped and shipped to areas where networks of prostitution have been established. The victims usually live in fear with no support system—no one to whom they can turn for help.
As a descendant of slaves, the condition of slavery is completely objectionable to me. On a brutally personal level, I consider the perpetrators of this offense among the lowest forms of life existing on Earth. I find it impossible to fathom how one human being can rationalize the total exploitation of the physical and emotional essence of another merely for profit. Unfortunately, like most who are familiar with this problem, I’ve been at a loss to conceive of how I can make a difference as just one person. The answer to that is more obvious than would be expected. It begins with interest, concern and information. It ends with commitment, involvement and action.
As early as 2004, (http://www.humantrafficking.org/events/51) Congressional Hearings were held in response to an investigative report aired in 2002 (Cleveland, Ohio’s Fox Affiliate WJW-TV). “This report indicated that U.S. troops in South Korea were patronizing bars and other establishments where women from the Philippines and former Soviet states were trafficked and forced to prostitute themselves.” The DoD IG conducted investigations in South Korea, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo and issued two reports assessing the U.S. military’s policies and practices with respect to activity that might fuel sex trafficking and prostitution. The reports contain numerous recommendations for action by DoD, including recommending a new department policy on trafficking.
In January 2004, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz issued a policy directive on human trafficking. Wolfowitz’s policy directive outlined four specific objectives, including anti-trafficking education requirements for all service members and DoD civilians serving overseas and the incorporation of language into DoD contracts for services overseas reflecting such trafficking-related prohibitions.
Our national interest in human trafficking is not exclusive to the involvement of our service members abroad. The U.S. State Department estimates that at least 14,500 people are trafficked to the U.S. annually. The city of Houston and the state of Texas are considered the epicenter of human trafficking in the US. The I-10 corridor is the most heavily traveled thoroughfare for traffickers and victims of international human trafficking. A quarter of victims who are rescued in the US are rescued in Texas.
President Barack Obama highlighted human trafficking at the United Nations recently. As individuals, we cannot combat a problem as wide-spread as human trafficking. However, we can become as familiar with this problem as possible and make our voices the voice of popular indignation. We can join with others to whom this problem is objectionable, and together direct the efforts of local and Federal officials to remedy this situation.
(Dr. E. Faye Williams is Chair of the National Congress of Black Women. www.nationalcongressbw.org. 202/678-6788)