Disparities in Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is the transportation or coercion of people to benefit from their work or service, typically in the form of forced labor or sexual exploitation. It’s a global issue affecting millions of people worldwide, but disproportionately impacting communities of color. Like all things that do, the underlying cause is a lack of economic opportunity.

When people think of human trafficking, scenes of kidnappings and interstate travel spring to mind. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s hardly ever the case. Most traffickers trick, defraud, manipulate, or blackmail victims into providing labor. In many cases, the trafficker is someone the victim knows and doesn’t require crossing borders. Thanks to movies, shows, and pop culture, our concept of human trafficking is slightly warped. Often, it involves leveraging victim’s vulnerabilities to create dependency, according to the Polaris Project.

Now that we’ve defined the problem, let’s look at how it impacts communities of color.

Even though human trafficking data is woefully incomplete, smaller jurisdictions provide a glimpse into the issue. For example, in Louisiana, 49% of child human trafficking victims are black girls, despite constituting only 19% of the state’s youth population. Across the country in King County, Washington, 84% of trafficking victims are Black, while only 7% of the population there is Black. Additionally, human trafficking disproportionately hurts migrants from Central and South America, mostly Latinos.

Communities of color disproportionately fall victim to trafficking schemes. Experts agree this is due to a widespread lack of economic opportunity, furthered by institutional racism. Redlining prevented Black families from settling in mostly white neighborhoods where their property could appreciate. Decades-old medical misconceptions prevent families of color from receiving proper medical care. Minorities’ reliance on low-income jobs leaves them more vulnerable to COVID-19.

All these undeniable aspects of life in our country, and dozens more, paint a picture of low economic opportunity for communities of color. This makes such neighborhoods targets for human trafficking. Trafficking is a manifestation of racism in our society. It wouldn’t disproportionately impact minorities but for the effects of institutional racism.

So, when you trace it back, racism is the primary reason people of color experience trafficking.

This is different than the racism spewed by people on social media and in grocery stores. It’s a permeating, underlying, almost invisible racism built into our institutions, social services, political discourse, and legal system. Of course, all of that was borne from the racism of individuals, whether they were aware of it or not. But today, it touches all our lives almost imperceptibly.

The root cause of trafficking demands our attention. By improving social support systems and widening opportunity, we can undercut the vulnerabilities on which traffickers rely. We can simultaneously help people live better lives and end this terrible, global, oppressive practice forever. But only if we recognize the institutions that created these environments and discuss how to fix them.

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