“What are you doing to fight human trafficking?” is the emotionally charged question that my college-age daughters are finding is prevalent at school. Some fellow students seem to think this is a good way to measure anyone’s compassion for other humans. Governmental powers are passing politically popular laws. Statistics and stories abound to shock people into action. Unfortunately, much of this being done in spite of some important questions.
1. “Human trafficking” is a term not consistently defined in the conversation. Some people think that anyone saying this is only referring to people forced into sexual acts. Other people think it is anyone working under conditions they themselves would find intolerable. The irony of this is that it may be those very difficult jobs that save some people from selling themselves for sex. Not every economy is providing the same opportunities or same levels of prosperity to the affected population.
It is unthinkable to some that anyone would choose to sell their own bodies, so there is a tendency to include anyone who provides sexual acts willingly for pay in this group of “human trafficking.” However, not everyone sees the sexual act with the same degree of privacy or sacredness. If they aren’t harming anything other than sensibilities, it is no one else’s business. Some people are willing to forego the approval of some people in order to make a lot of money. It is true that some people may see this particular marketplace as their only or best option to survive, but that is not the same as being held by force.
2. The statistics are questionable. Not only is it very difficult to get statistics on such black market behavior, but with unclear definitions of what is being talked about it is hard to know what any given statistic is actually referring to. Sometimes the statistics are just talking about someone’s idea of who must be at risk based on what are considered unhealthy life situations. Some statistics are plain made up. Others don’t fit the popular paradigm and are ignored. If you watch this panel of well informed women, you will hear examples of some these problems.
3. There is reason to suspect that the newer, harsher laws “against” human trafficking are casting a very big net, harming the harmless and even hurting those they purport to help. Besides vague language and mandatory sentencing, it is hard to be satisfied with laws that often imprison the very people supposedly being exploited. Strict codification of punishment leaves no room for individual circumstances. Not all cases are the same as those used to stir up support for such laws, and that is assuming the stories aren’t being sensationalized for political clout. While it is obviously sad when anyone suffers violence at the hands of others, it is yet another type of exploitation to manipulate the presentation and callously share another’s pain for political gain.
There were already many laws on the books that could have been applied to these concerns. The only real reason to add more is for politicians to look good. With the new laws, one can easily imagine someone going to try to help someone, getting mistaken for an “illegal” client or pimp, and being thrown down a deep, dark hole.
4. De-criminalizing voluntary participation in activities would likely make it much easier to help those being forced into any type of labor. It would also make it less likely for corruption in the police force, since there will be no reason for bribes or threats. Resources could be more distinctly allocated to those in real trouble. Using vocabulary that is less presumptuous about causes, motives, and interventions would also help generate a more well-rounded evaluation of the problem and solutions.
Just as with so-called illegal drugs and the now defunct Prohibition amendment, creating a crime attracts those who are happy to engage in violence for the increased reward associated with the limited access. There are people who express concern that more people will be at risk if certain sexual behaviors are not regulated, but there are other examples of de-criminalization to suggest that the price for such things would drop and not be as appealing a risk for either the violent pimps or the voluntary laborer. This, of course, depends to some extent on how much the government insists on being paid for any marketplace transaction.
5. The focus on laws and manpower for prosecuting human trafficking are suspected to be much more expensive than measures to prevent it. This is not even assuming that such prevention needs to be government run. Many people want to help others. They can do that better if the government is not laundering and squandering their resources. Plus, they will feel more free to help if they won’t get in trouble for not doing it a certain way. Under the current system, there is high risk if actions are not approved and/or run by the impersonal government.
The emphasis should be on encouraging the economics and relationships that make it easier for people to make good decisions, not just catch them when “they are bad.” Less intrusion into families lives and less intrusion into economic freedom provide better chances for all of this.
6. There is no amount of intervention that will result in everyone making the best choices. There have always and will always be those hurting themselves, hurting others, and not really caring. Laws have never taken care of that, but tend to make everything more expensive and lead to even more corruption, because power provides the opportunity to take advantage of others. I am not implying that we should not speak up about problems, rather that it is basically impossible to help those who won’t be helped.
On a personal level, we will always have chances to help those in our various walks of life. We will each of us hopefully get more wise about how to do this, as well as prosper in ways that make it more possible. But there is no reason to take on the burden of all the ills of the world, of which there are many.
7. The supposedly obvious solution is frequently not the best way to help people. Is not someone who works hard to build up a business that provides jobs helping at least as much as someone who dedicates their lives to rescuing people from the clutches of despair? If there had been economic opportunity in the first place, maybe no rescuing would have been needed. And again, government intervention in families has a strong track record of breaking down family networks. Not all families are equally supportive of their members, but they all have bonds among members that cannot be duplicated by bureaucrats.
A study of actual economic trends as compared to government interference would help many people see how real freedom in the marketplace could help fight human trafficking. Everything doesn’t have to be equal for life to be very good for everyone. Sometimes the most helpful thing is to teach people (those who will listen) a combination of the value of freedom and an honest perspective on overall well-being.
It may be someone’s passion to go rescue people from unquestionably exploitative conditions. I applaud and encourage them, if they have the funds, have researched it well, and are proceeding wisely. However, we don’t all need to do that. There are many ways to help people. I suggest that for most of us that is by simply being there for the people you are in contact with, and contributing to the fabric of humanity where you live and work. We are finite humans. Let the ripples go out from there.