By Kiricka Yarbough-Smith and Roxy Logan
Q: What exactly is human trafficking? Is it the same as the smuggling people across a border?
A: There are some commonalities between smuggling and trafficking, but the two are very different. Smugglers are typically paid to transport a person who wants to go across the border.Human trafficking involves exploiting a person as a commodity—with or without crossing any borders at all.
It is true that with both international trafficking and human smuggling, there are usually “push” factors (problems in a person’s home country that make them want to leave) and “pull” factors (those that lead people to want to work in another country).These can drive people to travel, which then puts them at risk for exploitation from unscrupulous smugglers or traffickers, who may lie, charge outrageous fees for transportation, or even take their identity documents.
So these two issues are similar in that they both can involve concealing people and taking them across national borders. But trafficking does not always involve these things, and, under national and international laws, it always involves more.
Trafficking does not require anyone to cross a border. It can happen within a single city, state or country (this is “domestic” trafficking). It also involves force, fraud, coercion, or an underage victim, whose labor or body is sold for others’ profit. People may pay and consent to being smuggled across the border, then live in the new country as free individuals. Meanwhile, human trafficking victims are enslaved, often within their home countries, and do not truly choose to be trafficked.
Q: Isn’t it just young girls and women who are trafficked?
A: There is no one group that is trafficked, although some groups are targeted and exploited more often than others. Males and females of all ages, nationalities, ethnicities, and races are trafficked within and across countries for sex, labor, or both. Stories involving young women being sex trafficked often receive the most media coverage and public outrage, but trafficking is a crime that can reach the most vulnerable individuals in any group. In fact, both boys and girls are victimized through labor trafficking, domestic servitude, and sex trafficking for acts of prostitutionor child pornography. Both adult men and women are also trafficked, and adult men are even more likely than women to be trafficked for labor.
Q: Isn’t human trafficking just a problem in other countries?
Human trafficking is here in the United States, in every state. When advocates first started detecting human trafficking cases, they often involved victims from other countries. These victims were more likely to stand out and, therefore, be reported. Also, it was often more obvious that victims from other countries really were victims; advocates and law enforcement could see that abused people unfamiliar with our language who were brought here from other countries were indeed “victims” who could not be expected to ask for help or choose to leave their traffickers. Today, we know that most human trafficking is actually “domestic”—within our own country, involving our own residents as victims, buyers and sellers. These victims may know our language and technically be able to get back home, but they are so abused and brainwashed that they, too, are victims who cannot simply leave.
Human trafficking is a global epidemic that preys on individual vulnerabilities, such as poverty, and is driven by the demand for trafficked labor and sex. These problems persist in virtually every nation in the world, including our own. Like these other nations, the U.S. has extensive work to do in order to address the things that drive its trafficking epidemic.
Kiricka Yarbough Smith provides training and technical assistance to service providers as well as resources and referrals to survivors of human trafficking. She also serves on the Executive Committee of The NC Coalition against Human Trafficking (NCCAHT) and co-chairs the NCCAHT committee to develop and implement Human Trafficking Rapid Response Teams across the state. She is also a member of Partner’s Against the Trafficking of Humans. Kiricka currently serves as a faculty member for the US Department of Justice Office on Violence against Women and Futures Without Violence project, building collaboration to address trafficking in domestic violence and sexual assault cases. She has also partnered with the Children Advocacy Centers of NC to develop and implement a domestic minor sex trafficking curriculum.
Roxy Logan is an anti-trafficking activist, writer, and attorney. She currently serves as a board member and fundraising committee chair for the Rape Crisis Volunteers of Cumberland County. Previously, she assisted the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault with their human trafficking efforts. She earned her B.S. (magna cum laude) in Political Science from the University of Southern California, and her J.D. (cum laude) from William & Mary Law School.