Human trafficking exists. In recent years, the problem has gained a more prominent place in the spotlight, and hopefully this isn’t the first time you’ve heard of it. The United Nations estimates that 2.4 million people are currently being trafficked, most of them exploited into sexual slavery. About 17,500 of those people (by some estimates) are brought to the U.S. yearly.
While this is a global, complex problem, there are ways you can be involved in finding a solution. It can be as simple as using your travel as an opportunity to help someone else.
How do you do it? First…
1. Be Aware
Mary Nighy’s powerful video Choose to See (starring James D’Arcy) follows a traveler as he leaves his hotel and chooses not to notice three incidents of slavery, until he encounters one instance he can’t ignore.
Often we do choose not to see. We choose not to tell anyone when the room service boy has a barcode tattooed on his neck, just under his shirt collar. We choose to look away when our waitress is replaced by someone new, just because we asked her where she’s from. We choose to close our minds to passengers on our planes who won’t let their travel companions speak.
The first step is to make the difficult choice to see. Be alert. Be ready to notice. And when something seems odd, don’t talk yourself out of it right away.
It’s frightening and terrible to come face to face with someone being trafficked or enslaved. But before you can act, you have to acknowledge what might be happening.
2. Be Savvy
Human trafficking exists. The most reliable way you can help stop it is by not becoming a part of it.
Risks start to rise if you are traveling alone, if you are a woman, and if you are young. My cousin knows this firsthand.
She was 22 at the time, traveling alone out of South Africa. After she bought some soccer souvenirs from the gift shop at the airport, she sat down to wait for her flight. A man, wearing a sweat suit and a few gold medals, a came over and started trying to talk to her. He had seen her buy the soccer things and claimed to be a soccer player himself.
Eventually, he tried to get her full name so that he could friend her on Facebook, and when that didn’t work he asked her to come with him somewhere else. She kept telling him no, politely but firmly, and he kept insisting, getting more frustrated with her as she refused to comply. He told her that in Africa they were friends now, so it was acceptable for her to go with him.
After this went on for a while, my cousin noticed a group of men walking towards her, dressed in expensive suits. The man talking to her subtly shook his head at the approaching fellows, and they changed direction to walk the other way.
Be Savvy Pt.2
There were several red flags that helped my cousin know what was happening:
- The man had been watching her before she knew he was there (he saw her buy the souvenirs).
- The man was trying to build a connection between them (he liked soccer, too).
- The man pushed the connection to try and gain personal information (Facebook).
- The man tried to isolate her (bring her somewhere else).
- When she refused, the man pushed (he would not accept no).
- The man took advantage of her foreignness (trying to take advantage of her cultural ignorance).
- And finally, the man had back-up (who he called off when she was difficult).
There are a few lessons you can use to keep yourself (and your travel companions) safe:
- Be wary of being buttered up.
- Say no. Then say it again.
- Do not go anywhere with anyone you don’t know.
Additionally, especially if you are traveling in your own country, you can seek help from others. Report the person to airport security. Or, at the very least, ask someone else (the mom with the baby) if you can sit by them.