As co-sponsors of the March 1 event, “Lost Human: Trafficking in Our Own Backyard,” I would
like to thank the panel participants; particularly the two incredibly brave survivors who spoke
out against this heinous crime. I would also like to thank the committed students of the HEART
Initiative for their hard work in planning this very successful event.
I would like to put this in a larger context, however, and highlight the fact that this crime is
about power, control and extreme greed. The estimated $32 billion (United Nations,
2005) industry of human trafficking/slavery, and the closely related pornography industry, exist
largely because of a gender power imbalance, which affects the lives of women and children
throughout the world. Recognizing that young men are also victims of human sex
trafficking/slavery, the overwhelming majority of victims are female. Various forms of
discrimination (racial, class, religious, economic and gender) often lead to this grim conclusion.
The enormous appetite to abuse, manipulate, coerce and exploit humans is alarming. To
imagine the imprisonment, rape and torture of victims is disturbing enough, but to imagine the
twisted thinking, which makes it acceptable and justifiable for millions of “customers” to
participate, is nothing less than horrifying. Partaking in the torture of trafficked individuals
results from dehumanizing and objectifying the “other” and makes this participation acceptable
instead of recognizing that it is a crime against humanity. Various forms of gender inequality
(legal, economic, social and political) ultimately lead to the conclusion that women and
children are of little value and, therefore, consumable and disposable. As Wilmer pointed out,
most of us are unaware of the extreme prevalence of human sex trafficking and its strong
connection to pornography, and that most female actors in pornography are imprisoned and
Gender parity is a crucial piece of the puzzle for eventually putting an end to human trafficking.
Economic discrepancies, racism, religious persecution and other forms of discrimination and
oppression in any given setting are also pieces of this puzzle. Objectifying others because of
their differences and/or perceived weaknesses eventually leads to abuse, discrimination and
intolerance. Human trafficking is likely the most horrifying conclusion of this trajectory, but the
path itself often leads to struggles beyond comprehension.
We can expose these inequities and help victims of trafficking by engaging in the conversation
about extreme power imbalances, which exist along lines of race, socioeconomic status,
religious rights and gender identity; become activists for human rights on all levels; watch for signs of possible abusive situations in our everyday interactions; be informed consumers.
Check out the website slaveryfootprint.org for more info.
Betsy Danforth, Director
MSU Women’s Center