Heavy Traffic

Human trafficking has made its way into the American national
consciousness. For evidence of this, look no further than Oprah
Winfrey.
A recent episode of her show was devoted to
the issue, focusing on children forced into the sex trade. A
compelling story, to be sure, but according to Yasmin Nair of
Clamor, such depictions often devolve
into ‘falsehoods and hyperbole’ that cheapen discussions about
forced labor by focusing on human trafficking’s ‘sexy’ symptoms
instead of its causes.

Nair isn’t alone in her critique. According to Debbie Nathan of
The Nation, ‘the media favor
sex-trafficking stories over accounts of other forced work.’ The
reason is simple: Sex sells. Stories about forced prostitution are
more easily understood than stories where prostitution is chosen —
a common phenomenon, Nathan contends — and often more compelling
than stories of forced labor at restaurants and sweatshops.

Take the case of Ricardo Veisaga, reported by Kimbriell Kelly of
The Chicago Reporter. Veisaga, a former
seminarian with a master’s degree in political science,
immigrated to the United States from Argentina. Once inside the
country, Veisaga responded to a classified ad seeking employees
for a Chinese restaurant. When he showed up for the job,
according to Kelly, he was transported out of state and forced
to work 12-hour-days at the equivalent of 51 cents per hour. He
was the victim of violence, both verbal and physical,
incarceration, and constant intimidation.

Stories like Veisaga’s don’t often make it into the dialogue
about human trafficking. In fact, when the State Department
calculates statistics for human trafficking, people like Veisaga
don’t even factor in. ‘That’s because,’ according to Kelly,
‘officials only count victims brought to the US and neglect those
who were recruited within the country.’

‘Trafficking exists,’ Nair reports, ‘but it does not require
kidnapping or coercion, and it’s not always about sex.’ Rather,
Nair identifies the ‘systemic conditions of poverty’ as the causes
of human trafficking, and terms forced labor and prostitution the
symptoms. ‘Experts say trafficking within the US borders has long
been a problem,’ Kelly reports, ‘but what grabs the attention of
politicians and the public is usually cases of international
trafficking, often involving sex crimes.’ And that leaves people
like Ricardo Veisaga with little attention or recourse.

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Related Links:
Human
Trafficking.org

Related Links from the Utne Archive:
Stemming
the Tide of Trafficking in the Mekong Delta

Learning
the Thai Sex Trade

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