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What does empathy have to do with solving difficult human rights issues like human trafficking?

Significant human rights issues are never just criminal problems. There is always a cultural element enabling these abuses to take place. In the case of human trafficking, this element takes many forms such as:

  • Double Standards
    Society often glorifies male sexuality and pimp culture, while simultaneously degrading female sexuality. For example, think of the words our culture often associates with sexually promiscuous individuals. Males are often referred to as players or pimps, while females often are deemed as sluts or whores. The connotations for each respective gender are vastly different!
  • Emotional Detachment
    We often keep ourselves a safe distance away from truly engaging the issue emotionally. We detach ourselves for a number of complex reasons to help us feel more secure. Some of those reasons include: prior abuse or neglect in our lives, over sensationalism of the issue, or a perceived lack of proximity to the issue.
  • Unpreparedness to Act
    Our lack of knowledge, emotional unwillingness, or self-doubt may hinder our ability to respond in situations that we instinctively know are not right. Imagine coming across a 14-year-old girl who is dressed promiscuously and is in an argument with an older man who is clearly not her father. The majority of people will think something along the lines of, “It is none of my business to interfere”, or “I don’t really know how to intervene in this situation”, or “I wish I could stop and make sure she is okay, but I really have to get to that appointment. I hope she will be okay.”

There are three responses to the suffering of others:

  • Apathy: A complete disregard for the suffering and value of others
  • Sympathy: Feeling badly for those suffering, but not acting on that emotion
  • Empathy: An active response to the suffering of others

EmpathyVidScreenshotFoxSignificant human rights violations thrive in environments where apathy, and even sympathy, prevail. When a society adopts empathy and actively responds to the cultural elements enabling abuses however, issues like human trafficking can be eradicated.

To learn more about the power of empathy, take a few minutes to view these two videos from Dr. Brene Brown and Jeremy Rifkin.

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I know that child exploitation and human trafficking are big problems in other countries, but is it happening here in the US?

Yes. Since the inception of the FBI’s Innocence Lost Task Force in 2003, officials have rescued almost 3,600 kids from commercial sexual exploitation across the United States, and the true scale of the issue is much larger.

AngieSalazarCloseLook at the cultural problem of kids running away from home. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention estimates that 1.6 million youth runaway each year. Pair this with the estimate from The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, that in 2013, 1 of every 7 runaway cases reported to them was likely a victim of child sex trafficking. These combined figures suggest that well over 200,000 kids are becoming victims of sex trafficking each year in the United States!

Angie Salazar, a veteran Special Agent for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) states that “…there is not one place that we could safely say, don’t worry about it (human trafficking) in this area.” Case records show that her statement is backed up by extensive evidence showing human trafficking and child exploitation are occurring in big cities and in rural areas; at major sporting events and in oil and gas boomtowns; and in low-income, middle-income, and wealthy neighborhoods. It is pervasive, and as much as we may want to believe this is not a problem here in the United States that is just not true. Child exploitation and human trafficking is happening right in our backyard.

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How exactly do youth end up in exploitive situations? Are they kidnapped and forced into it?

ChildhoodTeenagerswalkingKidnapping accounts for a very small proportion of child exploitation cases. More regularly, a member of the victim’s family exploits a child to financially support an addiction they have, or to repay a debt. The most common method used to recruit a victim, however, is through Romeo pimping.

This is where a pimp uses psychological manipulation as the primary means of control. They come into the lives of vulnerable girls and boys online through social media, and in-person at places like school and the mall. Exploiters get to know a youths vulnerabilities in order to become the person that the child desires to have in their life. Once trust is gained, exploitation begins.

We have identified 5 disguises that a person looking to exploit someone may take on to gain trust.

  1. Pretender – Someone who pretends to be something s/he is not: A boyfriend, big sister, father, etc.
  2. Promiser – Someone who promises great things: An amazing job, a glamorous lifestyle, travel, etc.
  3. Provider – Someone who offers to take care of an individual’s needs: Clothes, food, a place to live, etc.
  4. Protector – Someone who uses physical power or intimidation to protect (and control) an individual.
  5. Punisher – Someone who uses violence and threats to control an individual. When the previous disguises have been exhausted, an exploiter almost always turns into a Punisher.

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