WITH another shocking story of human trafficking in the Pacific, it is appropriate to revisit some of the previous columns on the subject. Please familiarize yourself with this information so you will be better able to protect yourself and your loved ones. And let’s burst some myths while we are at it.
You may be aware that there are over 25 victims of human trafficking in the world today. You may not know that 52% of the recruiters, those who trap the victims, are men, 42% are women and 6% are couples. First burst myth. Sex trafficking is portrayed, mainly by feminists, as a crime that men commit against women. Wrong. It is a crime that people who want money commit against those they can exploit. The fastest growing group of victims caught in the sex industry is boys under the age of 15.
We are starting to really understand the nature of this beast. By studying patterns, organizations such as the Polaris Project have been able to break down sex and labor trafficking into 25 distinct businesses. They are: escort services, massage parlors, street prostitution, residential prostitution, bars and strip clubs, pornography, personal sex slavery, phone and video sex for the sex industry.
Labor trafficking can be divided into: domestic workers, traveling sales crews, restaurants, street peddling, agriculture, health and beauty, construction, hotels and hospitality, landscaping, drug trade, arts and entertainment, commercial cleaning, manufacturing, carnivals, forestry, health care, and recreational activities.
If these lists give the impression that trafficking is all around us, you are correct. It has been called “the crime that hides in plain sight” for good reason. Second burst myth. When we think of trafficking, we often picture the creepy guy who hangs out at the airport or back alley waiting to grab a vulnerable young girl. And yes, there are those guys. But trafficking is extremely successful because it defies stereotypes. Traffickers can also be the middle-aged American chiropractor and his school-teacher wife who have come to the island for a vacation.
If you assume that most traffickers lock their victims into rooms and only let them out to have sex, then you have stumbled on the third burst myth. While captivity is sometimes part of the life of a trafficking victim, it is not always the case. The criminals prefer to use other methods, mainly force, fraud and coercion.
Force is violence or the threat of violence if the victim does not cooperate with the trafficker. Fraud, another method, is just as effective as violence and does not leave unsightly bruises and scars. Fraud involves saddling the victim with huge debts for airline tickets, food, rent and so on so that the victims can never buy their way to freedom. Women who have escaped from houses of prostitution found they could not even afford a bus ticket. Coercion is another powerful weapon in the hands of traffickers. They threaten that if the victim runs away, they will kill their family, they hold all their legal documents such as passport and drivers’ license and are told that if they go to the police, they will be arrested for prostitution and deported.
Before we run out of room, let’s burst a fourth myth. Trafficking is not the same thing as smuggling. A person does not have to be taken out of their own country to be trafficked. You would be surprised to learn how many victims of trafficking on Saipan are actually from Saipan.
The next time you visit a massage parlor, look for obvious signs like a buzzer to let people in, discreet parking and entry, and strange hours of operation. Remember, knowledge is power.
BC Cook, PhD lived on Saipan and has taught history for 20 years. He travels the Pacific but currently resides on the mainland U.S.