by Brooke Hines
According to UN.GIFT, 'Human Trafficking: The Facts,' an estimated 2.5 million people are in forced labor (including sexual exploitation) at any given time as a result of trafficking.
This term conjures such an emotional response that some find it easier to look in the other direction. But there are members of the Joplin community who are standing up to the problem — a problem that is bigger than most could imagine.
“We must speak of the truth,” said Melissa Jackson, involvement program administrator of Rapha House in Joplin. ”There are 27 million slaves in the world today — that’s more than our children are taught about in school.”
The 2010 Annual Report on Human Trafficking defined “Human Trafficking” as:
“(a) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery."
Tresor Yenyi, a local human trafficking activist, gave a simpler definition.
“Human trafficking is the fact that one human being forces another on into doing something without their consent,” he said. “It is the worst way of taking advantage of others and the biggest shame for humanity.”
Yenyi, a graduate of Ozark Christian College in Joplin founded Mwangaza International to help his war-torn home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His dream for Mwangaza sprouted from encounters with trafficked women and child soldiers in the Congo. Today, Mwangaza helps human trafficking victims in the Congo by restoring their human dignity and bringing them hope. It advocates for them and empower them in every aspect of their lives.
Jackson broke down the ways victims are targeted.
“When you look at a global perspective of the ways people are trafficked, you can see there are three ways,” she said. “One, they are sold. Two, they are kidnapped. Or three, they are tricked. No matter where you look in the world, these are the basic three ways they are manipulated.”
In Cambodia, the children may be sold by their parents. In America, a girl may be tricked by a boy pretending to be her boyfriend. In Nepal, a boy may be kidnapped by traffickers looking for camel jockeys. In Haiti, a displaced child may be trapped into forced servitude. The demand for victims differs according to region and culture, but the deception used to obtain the persons transcends these borders.
A Deadly Demand
Jackson says the human trafficking problem revolves around one thing: exploitation.
“There has never been a time when a person has not taken advantage of another. It’s our nature,” she said. “This exploitation touches everything — what we wear, what we eat, what we demand. If you stop the demand, you wouldn’t have an issue.”
Rapha House works to stop this demand through education and advocacy in the United States. In Cambodia, the emphasis is on long-term rehabilitation for girls rescued from the sex industry. This requires working with families and communities to combat the issues that led the girls into the industry in the first place.
A Hope for the Hurting
“We have to remember that these people are not invisible and they are not numbers,” Jackson said. “They are living.”
Yenyi had a similar sentiment concerning the women he works with.
“I really feel like we have lost the sense of these women as human beings,” he said. “We see weak women looking down and covering their faces in the media. But that is not them. They laugh, they cry, they pray, they joke, they make fun of me.
“We forget that. They deserve to be seen in every facet of life. We need to know them for who they are.”
A sentiment that was repeated by each of these organizations is a call for education — to be aware of the problem and see how it can affect you, and perhaps how you may affect the problem. If people see the victims as they see their neighbors, perhaps their actions will reflect a common humanity.