Monday, November 1, 2010

The Semantics of Human Trafficking

If A equals B, and B equals C, then A equals C. Transitive relations. When I hold a glass of water and let go of it, it falls to the ground and shatters. Law of gravity and some physics theory that says brittle things break on forceful impact. We have seasons on this Earth because the world rotates around the Sun on a tilt, which is also why we have currents in the ocean. And that's that. Variations exist as do exceptions from certain rules, but I bet if I had persevered past Calculus and Physics and Bio101 those exceptions and variations would have rules and definitions for themselves as well. Science, math, physics, any sort of structured study is beautiful in that it is generally ruled by falsifiable theories and principles which begin to form facts and clear definitions.

On the contrary, the huge challenge that comes with any subject that seeks to study and define the movements of human beings is that you are immediately thrown into the deepest ocean of definitions for one term given by individuals who will slay you with their theories and proofs of why their definition is the true definition unlike all those other idiot experts. The "idiot experts" will say the same thing. I challenge you to ask just a handful of people around you what the definition of race and ethnicity is. I promise, your definitions will begin to cross. This is beautiful because it is breathing evidence of the diversity and ingenuity of humans. This is crippling because it deters our ability to understand and respond to the deep needs of individuals, groups and nations alike (almost as crippling as the fact that we need to define things to know that something is wrong and to respond to it). Catch my drift?

Human trafficking is one of the top 3 most profitable criminal trade in the world, but what is it? The US Department of Health and Human Services defines it as such:

"Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery.  Victims of human trafficking are subjected to force, fraud, or coercion, for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labor. Victims are young children, teenagers, men and women."

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 further defines these acts:

"Sex Trafficking:  the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act2, in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person forced to perform such an act is under the age of 18 years; or

Labor Trafficking:  the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery. "

The UN broadens it further on their Fact Sheet No.14, Contemporary Forms of Slavery by defining it as:

"The word 'slavery' today covers a variety of human rights violations. In addition to traditional slavery and the slave trade, these abuses include the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography, the exploitation of child labour, the sexual mutilation of female children, the use of children in armed conflicts, debt bondage, the traffic in persons and in the sale of human organs, the exploitation of prostitution, and certain practices underapartheid and colonial régimes."

This is followed by definitions of each of the above stated human rights violations. About three weeks ago I attended a presentation on human trafficking by the Commission of Human Rights in Tijuana with another organization I work with. This only complicated things further because not only was I struggling to understand the logistics of human trafficking, but I was trying to understand them in a foreign language. Spanish has two terms for human trafficking: "trata de personas" and "trafico de personas" which are apparently two very different things, but I still don't know what trata de personas means in this context. Basically, the main elements of human trafficking were defined as fraud, force and the issue of consent.

Now, how I define human trafficking, as opposed to those other idiot experts...hah. Credible as I am, I will not burden you with another interpretation of what human trafficking is. There are plenty of definitions out there already, and though they do provide valuable insight, I am no more closer to coming up with a concise definition. The one thing I do want to reinforce is that the numbers, the statistics and the lists of abuses are real peoples' lives and real atrocities that have been committed numerous times against someone. Like I have said before, the argument of numbers is a cold one because numbers have no existential purpose, but Alepho and Angel do. They were just numbers a second ago, now they are beginning to take a form. Does she know them? Is this just some sort of rhetorical device? What kind of a name is Alepho? Is Angel a stage name or is it actually his or her legal name? Is she trying to be deep and symbolic or something? If you are actually interested in whom they are, I can tell you but you have to ask. Regardless of what you are thinking, even if you think what I am doing is dumb, your thoughts are becoming more personal and are starting to connect to a somebody. Maybe instead of just saying there are 12.3 or 27 or blue or yellow million people in bondage and move on with our lives we should rattle off all their names and then after that instead of listing the various actions that constitute human rights abuses we should go through what abuses Alepho and Angel went through. That would take a long time.

On a personal note, I received some constructive criticism on my last blog and I do enjoy that. I will be responding to it in the future. I am a student, this is how I learn and grow, this is what I am used to and this is what I encourage you to do as well. Please do keep in mind that I am a person too and that I might cry and find you rather arrogant if you just say something mean with no greater purpose than to blow off steam.

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