aka Modern-Day Slavery
Aly Diabate, at almost twelve years old, was promised $150 a year and a bicycle if he agreed to work in the cocoa fields in Mali. Instead, he was locked away and forced to work long hours, beaten daily with a bicycle chain whenever he faltered. 43% of the worlds cocoa still comes from these small farms on the Ivory Coast.
Somaly Mam was born in Cambodia, although she isn't exactly sure when since there's no record of her birth. As a teen, she was sold into prostitution and forced to marry a stranger. Whenever she disobeyed, she was tortured and raped. After watching her best friend being murdered, she finally made her escape.
Shaniya Davis, five years old, was sold by her mother to pay off a drug debt. After a six day search, she was found dead alongside a rural North Carolina highway. Her mother was charged with human trafficking, while the drug dealer has been charged with the little girl's rape and murder. Neither party has been on trial yet.
If you know anything about me, chances are you know speaking out about human trafficking is something I'm passionate about. I'm a firm believer that knowledge is power, and just spreading the word that this travesty still exists today helps save lives. They are people. They're brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, friends, lovers, neighbors. They're children. They're parents. They aren't criminals, as many are made out to be. They're victims. It could happen to any of us. We can't afford to keep our mouths shut and eyes closed anymore.
The statistics are frightening. Human trafficking is one of the largest criminal enterprises, second only to the drug trade. Approximately 3 million children run away from home in America every year, and within 48 hours a third of them are lured into prostitution or pornography. The average age of entry into the sex industry is only twelve years old. A victim is considered "used up" and "old" by the time they reach 17. The National Center of Missing and Exploited Children views over 10 million child pornography images and videos every year in an attempt to identify the victims.
A good question someone asked me recently: How can you tell when someone is a victim of trafficking? I feel like it's always better to be safe than sorry, and if you even remotely suspect something is wrong call the hotline and report it (or 911, in an emergency), but there are some signs that point to possible trafficking:
- Not free to come and go as they please/has to ask permission from someone who isn't their guardian/usually chaperoned when out in public
- Under 18 and in the sex trade (BIG red flag)
- Is unpaid/underpaid/only works somewhere for tips
- Not allowed to take breaks/works excessively long hours
- Owes a massive debt to someone without the means of paying it off
- Unusually extreme security at their work or home (barbed wire, boarded up windows, cameras, etc)
- They appear to constantly be fearful, tense, submissive, anxious, and depressed
- Flinches, avoids eye contact, doesn't speak
- Lacks healthcare, possibly malnourished, and very hesitant to accept any help from anyone
- Shows signs of physical abuse (bruises/broken bones)
- Has few personal possessions (especially no pictures and nothing of monetary value)
- Has no control over money, no bank account in their name, no credit cards
- They carry no ID or passport
- Someone else usually speaks for them
- Says they're "just visiting" when asked, unable to clarify where they "live"
- Knows very little about their surroundings
- Loss of sense of time (doesn't know the date, isn't knowledgeable about current affairs or pop culture)
- Inconsistencies in their life story
If you suspect human trafficking, call the hotline at 1-888-3737-888 in the US (if in another country, there's a link on my website to find your hotline). Put the number in your cell phone. Do it for Aly, and Somaly, and Shaniya, and for all the other survivors and victims, past, present, and future. Be a hero. You never know when you can save a life.