By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI
“WHAT TO DO? WHAT TO DO?”, cried my friend in frustration after reading about the 19 young Venezuelan women, between 15 and 19 years old, who were rescued following police operations in West Trinidad. The media reported that police have cracked a major drug and prostitution ring.
Pope Francis has stated that: “Human trafficking is an aberrant plague and a modern form of slavery.” Sadly, this multibillion-dollar global plague shows no signs of slowing down.
My plea goes out today to those who are enriching these criminals. Do you ever stop to think about the effects of your actions on the victims, on their families, and on the wider community? Pray for a conversion of heart so that you will desist from such action which can affect your ability to form loving, caring relationships.
Sarah Godoy, an anti-trafficking researcher and Professor at UCLA, has rightly said that we cannot end sex trafficking without addressing demand. She says both traffickers and sex purchasers are “equally culpable. Public discourse condemning commercial sexual exploitation has largely focused on traffickers, with significantly less attention and accountability placed on the conduct of sex purchasers… Sex purchasers…are rarely penalised or even addressed as exploitative, as evidenced by the countless euphemisms, like ‘Johns’ and ‘hobbyist,’ that reinforce an indifference—and almost benevolence—to their behaviours…
“If we as a society truly desire to eradicate commercial sexual exploitation, then we must explore and implement effective ways to dismantle all fronts—including sex purchaser’s activities that encourage and assist in exploitation.”
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Report on Trafficking in Persons: “Every country in the world is affected by human trafficking…Children make up almost a third of all human trafficking victims worldwide. Additionally, women and girls comprise 71 per cent of human trafficking victims.”
Have we in T&T bought into the throwaway culture that is so prevalent in our world today? Are those who are trafficked “products” to be discarded without any concern for their inherent dignity?
In their article entitled: ‘The Problem of Demand in Combating Sex Trafficking’, Linda Smith and Samantha Healy Vardaman state: “Demand is the push factor in the criminal business of sex trafficking…A culture of tolerance surrounds the marketplace of commercial sexual exploitation. The culture of tolerance is derived from a country’s history, ethnicity, religious practice, language, political and economic system, and other influences.
“Cultures of tolerance differ from country to country, and sometimes vary within countries or even cities but the essence is the same: societal acceptance backed by political tolerance.
“Marketplaces of commercial sexual exploitation require some level of tolerance within the community in order to exist…In sexually charged societies that both encourage promiscuity and covet the innocence of youth, it follows that the demand for young victims will rise to meet the cultural glorification of underage sexuality.”
The 19 girls who were rescued were 15 to 19 years old. Interestingly, National Security Minister Stuart Young has said: “As a result of what took place yesterday, there has been a flood of information from all over the country to the authorities with human trafficking.” If we all “rage” for justice, perhaps we will take appropriate action—together.
T&T is a destination, transit, and source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking. The Trafficking in Persons Act, The Sexual Offences Act, the Children’s Act and other legislation on their own will not solve our problem unless we step up and become advocates for the victims of human trafficking e.g. call the Counter-Trafficking Unit’s hotline.
As is stated on the unit’s Facebook page: “You may be a victim’s only chance for help. If you know of or suspect human trafficking, call the Counter Trafficking Unit hotline at 800-4288… All calls are toll free and anonymous.” Their Facebook page includes useful tips/signs to look for in our communities with regard to trafficking.
Pope Francis rightly says that human trafficking is “an open wound on the body of humanity…a crime against humanity …it touches the most vulnerable people in society: women and young girls, children, the disabled, the poor, whoever comes from situations of familial or social disintegration. We need a common responsibility and a stronger political will to succeed on this front….arresting the traffickers is a duty of justice. But the true solution is the conversion of hearts, cutting off the demand and drying up the market.”
Let’s put our heads together to rid our communities of this grave human rights violation.