Hidden Chains Part 1

Harriet Tubman was a woman that I would classify as a firecracker: powerful and beautiful. She had incredible bravery, yet confidence in her cause, and a kind heart beyond description. Born into slavery in 1822, she managed to escape and help thousands of slaves escape as well as fight for women’s suffrage.

She said so poignantly, “I have freed thousands of slaves. I would have saved thousands more if only they knew that they were slaves.”

These past two years I have heard heartbreaking stories of “modern day slaves” that are unaware of their situation. This problem is not isolated to a specific region of the world, social class or ethnic group, but it continues to infiltrate all regions of the world, especially in the U.S. Data collected by the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking between 2010 and 2012 demonstrated that victims came from 124 countries. There are organizations and people making a difference, but much more ground needs to be made as it is an issue that is not widely discussed or addressed.

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime as the recruitment, transportation, transferring, harboring or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion such as abduction, fraud, deception, or abuse of power. It is also the trade of humans, most commonly for the purpose of sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation for the trafficker or others. Basically, traffickers feed off of vulnerable populations, which can include any of our little, big fighters, and misuse power to trap the victims in a scheme of exploitation for their particular gain. Collecting accurate statistics on the number of victims is difficult because of the underground circuits and as Harriet Tubman had stated, many of the victims don’t see their situation as actual slavery due to deception.

I want to break up this topic into two sections: Sex trafficking and forced labor and other forms of human trafficking.

Sex trafficking—based on the data collected from the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking—is the most common form of human trafficking, and the second most common form of trafficking behind illegal drugs. The International Labor Organization estimated that about 4.5 MILLION are trapped in sexual exploitation globally.

Trafficking of women and children is the most common form of trafficking in India, making up 76 percent of all trafficking cases. All of the states in India have cases, but the state of Tamil Nadu has been noted to have the most as well as Maharashtra, which is the state that we have been working in. It is one of the top 5 states with the worst cases of trafficking. A heartbreaking fact is that only 23 percent of these reported cases have ended in a conviction of the perpetrator.

The Indian government has, however, started to implement change. They have implemented a web portal where reporting cases has become easier. The government has also developed a program called Ujjawala (meaning bright or splendorous). The program focuses on aiding women and child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. The steps of the program are:

1.) Prevention
2.) Rescue
3.) Rehabilitation
4.) Reintegration
5.) Repatriation

These programs are much needed starts to the eradication of trafficking in India, but public education about the problem is also needed. All of the healthcare workers that I spoke with did not know about the severity of the problem within their own city. This statement also holds true in the U.S., especially in Columbus. A study found that Ohio cited 13 years old as the most common age for youth to become victims of child sex trafficking. From the study’s sample of 207 individuals, 49 percent were under 18 when they were first trafficked. Nationally, over 100,000 children are thought to be involved in the sex trade. To combat this problem and end this horrendous abuse, Attorney General Mike DeWine reconvened the Human Trafficking Commission in August of 2011 and helped pass House Bill 262, also known as the Safe Harbor Law. This law focuses on human trafficking and will increase the penalties for traffickers and improve care for victims. In order to prosecute those who are preying upon vulnerable populations, Ohioans should report any information they might have about human trafficking to BCI by calling 1-855-BCI-OHIO (224-6446). This will allow agents to work with local law enforcement to arrest and prosecute traffickers.

For more information on human trafficking and statistics, please visit the resources below.

Policy and Legislation
Recognizing the Signs
Polaris Project
Trafficking Resource Center

P.S. Please let us know if there are any topics you’re interested in, passionate about, or curious to learn about. Also, any feedback is welcomed and very appreciated.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained NHTRC Call Specialist. Support is provided in more than 200 languages. 

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Meredith Merkley

More about Meredith Merkley

Meredith Merkley was born in the mountains of Colorado, but moved to Ohio, New Mexico and then Arizona. She has a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Northern Arizona University. Afterwards, she packed her bags again and moved to Ohio where she graduated as a D.O. from the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently completing her second year of pediatric residency.

2 Comments

    1. This problem is such a silent one, probably because of its immoral, illegal associations. My only knowledge of something disturbing like this occurring here in Albuquerque was in 2009 when the bodies of 11 women were found on the West Mesa. I don’t know about the status of sexual trafficking here, but I will do some research into it. I have one question for you. You have brought to attention several areas of child health and welfare: education, nutrition, pre-natal and infant care, human trafficking, air quality. Do you work on all, advocate for all, or prioritize which you can focus on?

      1. Little Big Fighters

        Thanks for the comment! Here is a link sponsored by the Polaris Project that has information about statistics on human trafficking for each state: https://traffickingresourcecenter.org/state/new-mexico

        Our hope is to be informed about these issues in order to have adequate knowledge for our patients, families and communities, and to find where we can help out with the skills and training we have. We are still finding our place in this advocacy work and we each have specific passions right now, but as we are learning more about needs locally and globally. We are also finding more areas where we would like to be active personally or direct others to become involved.

        Our hope right now is to learn more about these issues, and to inform everyone reading this blog so that more and more people with diverse passions and talents can become involved in the advocacy work for our little, big fighters.

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