When most people think about human trafficking, they think of it as an international problem, not something close to home. The reality is that labor and sex trafficking goes on right in this country, in this city and in this area.
A panel on human trafficking took place Feb. 12. As part of the One Billion Rising for Justice Campaign, the event sought to open up a dialogue in the Villanova community on such a pressing matter.
Several panelists who are experts in the topic of gender violence and human trafficking presented during the event, including faculty member and area coordinator for rhetorical studies Billie Murray, anti-labor trafficking attorney John Rafferty, Dawn’s Place Executive Director Sister Michelle Loise and “Project Dawn” graduate Anne Marie Jones.
Two of the featured panelists, Loise and Jones, represented Dawn’s Place, a non-profit organization located in Philadelphia that provides support for women who have been victims of trafficking.
Loise described the organization as a residential safe place for women to recover from the abuses they endured while trapped in commercial sexual exploitation, also known as sex trafficking. The home relies entirely on donations and aims to improve the lives of women who have been exposed to sex trafficking by helping them along in their healing and recovery process.
The victims of modern-day slavery who come through the door at Dawn’s Place need lots of care and have suffered unimaginable physical, emotional and psychological traumas. Traffickers commonly neglect to bring their victims to hospitals and push them to be numb to their pain and turn to drugs.
The most moving part of the event was when Jones, a survivor of sex trafficking, shared her story. Jones had grown up in a dysfunctional family in a household that was ridden with drugs, alcohol and molestation. Jones swore that she would never fall into the life she’d seen consume her family. But then tragedy struck and Jones’ life went into a tailspin.
She ended up living in the streets of the Kensington Avenue area in Philadelphia where she succumbed to the influence of a man who claimed he loved her, but was actually a pimp from New York City. Jones endured a life of hardship and pain under the sex trafficking industry. She was exploited, beaten and turned to drugs like cocaine in an attempt to dull the pain.
However, Jones was one of the few who managed to escape the life of of human trafficking, and she made it to Dawn’s Place where they helped her recover.
With her voice full of emotion, Jones expressed her gratitude saying, “Dawn’s Place saved my life. They helped heal me. They gave things back to me. I felt like I was home, I found that love I was looking for.”
Since graduating from Dawn’s Place, Jones has made progress in getting her life back. She now lives in her own apartment and is employed at Dawn’s Place helping to heal other women who have been through similar trials in the sex-trafficking industry. The heaviest part of this story is just how many people are living in these horrors and how few make it out to places like Dawn’s Place.
Pimps often lure in young girls by telling them they are beautiful and pretending to be model scouts. By the time these young women realize what is going on they have already been sucked into the industry. This is why Murray of the Communication Department incorporated a service-learning component into her class on human trafficking. The class, offered during fall semesters, is an interdisciplinary, multi-field approach to help health care professionals better assist victims of human trafficking.
As part of the class, students deliver presentations on human trafficking to at-risk young women such as those who attend Kensington High School, where sex traffickers often look for victims.
In the audience are girls who have experienced or personally know someone who is affected by sex trafficking. By educating these young women about this problem, students help them be better prepared to resist easy manipulation.
Although sex trafficking is often the first form of human trafficking to come to mind, it is not the only one. Labor trafficking is also prevalent and could be going on in any house in any neighborhood. Trafficking in the labor industry can occur anywhere including domestic workers, warehouses, construction, agriculture, dishwashing and landscaping. Basically anywhere there are people who need jobs and cannot afford to be picky about their employment, labor trafficking can be a problem. Traffickers lure people in by promising them valid employment opportunities and then yanking them away, leaving people trapped and exploited.
The case is often that people will bring in someone from their home country under the promise of employment and once they are here, simply not pay them. The victims are then trapped in a foreign country where they do not speak the language and are afraid or unable to get help.
Such a complex problem requires a multifaceted solution, and health care professionals are not the only people who can make a difference in the lives of people suffering under human trafficking.
Among trafficking victims there is a great need for legal assistance, so that law professionals like recent Villanova Law School graduate John Rafferty make their career helping exploited workers.
Rafferty works as an attorney at Friends of Farmworkers where he focuses on human trafficking. Rafferty works to identify cases of human trafficking in Pennsylvania and to empower victims of labor trafficking.
As to solutions to the problem of human trafficking, all the panelists agreed that this is a complex structural problem, and there is no quick fix.
Human trafficking is a systematic problem, which means that solutions will have to be interdisciplinary and will require everyone to look at the part we play in the system.
It is not just labor traffickers, pimps or prostitutes who are implicated. Everyone is involved in this system. Visit http://www.slaveryfootprint.com to get an idea of how many products and services that are products of slave work.
There are lots of people who do not understand that sex trafficking and prostitution are not victimless crimes, so these issues are not investigated properly. Pornography is closely linked with sex-trafficking because of the differences in the way it portrays men and women and because what starts out as being voluntarily filmed can easily turn into sexual exploitation.
Things like glorifying pimps, victim-blaming, and joking about prostitution all contribute to the rape culture that allows this system of exploitation to exist.
The key to fixing these structural issues is awareness. The panelists all expressed the importance of understanding the problem, especially for those in power such as police officers, judges and prosecutors.
This system of violence against people who can’t speak up is prevalent in our culture. It is vital to help these victims, seeing as they often do not have the means to help themselves.
In order to change the system, people must first change their own behavior by being aware of a culture that perpetuates harmful views on subjects like relationships, pimps, prostitution and what it means to be a man or to be a woman.
For more information and discussion on this topic, students can attend the lecture by guest speaker Benjamin Skinner, an author, journalist and expert on modern day slavery, on Feb. 25th at 7:30 pm in the Villanova Room.