By Hope O'Brien (Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011)
Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. To raise awareness of the issue, I asked PHR member Eric Goodwin to update us on the movement to end modern-day slavery. Eric is the founder of an organization called Human Trafficking Students and a candidate for an ALM in Government at the Harvard Extension School.
Today, 1-11-11, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It’s hard to know where we stand in the fight against human trafficking. With very few facts available, the clandestine nature of human trafficking, and the competing approaches to combating it, we struggle to understand and fight it. Further, the emotional response to some human trafficking, such as child sexual slavery, can serve to obscure hard truths. The priority of economic growth can apathetically pass over the truths of workers’ circumstances. Numbers of current victims range from two million to 74 million globally.
The approach to-date has largely been a legal response with successes measured in terms of laws passed and funding appropriated. While useful, this is inadequate. This is thankfully beginning to shift. The wide recognition of the good works done by community organizers like CNN Hero Anuradha Koirala is one example of that shift, though this remains the exception not the rule. But, we’re just getting started.
The US anti-trafficking czar, Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, has noted that social movements usually lead to laws, and he said “We’ve put the cart before the horse. We’ve done the laws, now we need to do the social movement.”
The AIDS movement beginning in the early 1980s took nearly 20 years to persuade the world that science, laws, and money alone could not address the challenge. Increasingly, social science research now serves as a lynch-pin for anti-AIDS program delivery. More importantly, community integration and leadership has taken center stage in health delivery. The anti-trafficking movement, by some measures, is roughly 10 years old. But, in comparison, this movement lacks a specific identifiable pathogen to fight.
Perhaps opportunistic infection more aptly correlates to human trafficking? Human trafficking seeks out and exploits weakness. Weakness due to poverty, war, gender norms, law enforcement gaps, or a parent simply turning their gaze away from their child for a mere few seconds. If human trafficking is like an opportunistic infection, we are currently lacking an effective immune system. But, we’re just getting started.
Health professionals are on the front lines of society’s immune system and have the unique authority to act outside of their traditionally recognized roles. Additionally, students have unique opportunity to act and to determine the future of their profession. The possibilities for health intervention in human trafficking and modern slavery are currently being researched by the likes of Massachusetts General Hospital via their Initiative to End Slavery. This represents a significant step toward the wider and more comprehensive approach needed. Since we’re just getting started, we now have the chance to determine what comes next.
A collaborative of over 25 Boston area organizations have penned a letter and a guide on how to get involved for National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. This may enhance your efforts to recognize and end human trafficking and modern slavery.