When Evil Hides in Plain Sight
By Maggie Thompson
There are more human slaves today than ever before in history.
Generating up to $35 billion annually, human trafficking has become one of the greatest human rights challenges of this century. In the United States (U.S.), there is a 147-mile stretch of Interstate 20 between Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Alabama called “Sex Trafficking Superhighway.”
Shockingly, 40% of human trafficking in the U.S. happens in the South. This is primarily due to the surrounding international travel hubs such as Atlanta and Houston. Although trafficking is so globally prevalent, it remains in the shadows of society. The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) African American Studies program hosted a documentary screening and panel discussion on human trafficking in September (2017). Carlon Harris, an African American studies major and graduating senior, made and presented the documentary.
Through his research, Harris is hoping to transform the subject of human trafficking to an everyday conversation piece by localizing the issue and bringing awareness to the people of Birmingham. “Human trafficking happens 365 days of the year. So basically it can happen anytime, anywhere. Most victims, they will pass you,” Harris stated in an interview with Birmingham’s WBRC Fox 6 News. Kathy Taylor, a survivor, and human trafficking advocate is the center of Harris’ documentary. On camera, Taylor answered questions and shared some of her own experiences as a trafficking victim including the fact that her victimization began on a college campus.
After the screening, panelists discussed the issues that accompany human trafficking, the steps law enforcement is taking towards prevention and what the public can do to help. The panelists included: Helen Smith of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sergeant Anthony Williams of Birmingham Police Department and Dr. Robert Blanton, UAB Professor of Government.
Human trafficking, which is fueled by poverty and gender discrimination, is estimated to surpass the drug trade industry in less than five years.
Subsequently, traffickers are becoming more powerful and knowledgeable as society continues to allow the submergence of the massive issue modern slavery has become. Although it is primarily men that run this trade, women are also included. Pimps and Johns are common names for these men and women. They control and terrorize these victims. Victimizers use fraud, force and coercion to lure their victims into captivity, sometimes even using victims as bait.
However, not all traffickers look or act the same.
Human trafficking does not discriminate and it is nowhere near being transparent. Therefore, anyone can become a victim or a victimizer. Some victims find that their only option toward escape is to become a victimizer themselves and view the “promotion” from prostitute to pimp as a natural process.
In conclusion, creating awareness is the first step towards ending human trafficking.
Panels and organized events that educate the public on the facts of human trafficking can act as a gateway to major prevention as well as putting an end to what has become the greatest human rights challenges of this century. The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Institute for Human Rights is working hard to promote prevention and awareness by informing students on the indicators of human trafficking and how to identify and help a potential victim.