When we use the term “human trafficking,” we mean a variety of illegal activities that share a common denominator: exploiting and controlling people for commercial profit.
Not every instance of human trafficking involves sexual abuse and exploitation. Many other industries, including hospitality, agriculture, and tourism can also rely on forced labor and coercion to turn a profit.
That’s why the US Department of State uses a definition that includes both major types of trafficking: sexual exploitation and forced labor. They describe human trafficking as “a crime whereby traffickers exploit and profit at the expense of adults or children by compelling them to perform labor or engage in commercial sex.”
Though our efforts at Rethreaded focus on empowering the survivors of sex trafficking, we want to educate our community on both major types. The core strategies used by traffickers in both cases are generally the same. They remove the ability of another human being to make free, beneficial choices about how they live and work.
Rethreaded harnesses business, and the dignifying power of work, to restore the power of choice and empower survivors to live the lives they want to live, free of the shadows of trafficking. But in order to do that, we first have to understand how trafficking works.
Understanding sex trafficking and exploitation
Sex trafficking is any instance when a trafficker forces someone to take part in a sexual act for profit, most commonly either prostitution or the production of pornography.
Traffickers can exploit both adults and minors, and the circumstances under which they are initially trafficked can vary widely. However, it’s important to know that very few instances of sex trafficking involve a kidnapping or a significant physical movement. Instead, many people are forced to work in hotels, massage parlors, or private homes that are in their home cities.
This happens often because of the way traffickers identify and “groom” their victims. Many spend time establishing a seemingly trusting relationship with a vulnerable person, utilizing psychological manipulation over physical force, who has a need the trafficker promises to meet.
For instance, people experiencing addiction, mental illness, homelessness, or estrangement from their families are much more likely to be targeted by a trafficker offering what feels like safety, belonging, and a caring relationship.
Because of this, some people may not even realize they’re being trafficked. Even if they do, traffickers are such effective manipulators that many believe they can never leave. When they try, psychological control often becomes physical, forcing someone to stay at the threat of violence.
The system traffickers have built to keep people under their control, and to prevent detection, is more elaborate than many of us want to believe. This means our strategies to combat trafficking have to be just as intentional.
How Rethreaded helps survivors of sex trafficking and exploitation
Rethreaded has created a safe community for survivors to receive the counseling, support, and work they need to start a sustainable new life that is built on the power of choice.
One of the most damaging aspects of the trauma associated with trafficking is the way it robs people of their ability to choose. Trauma keeps people stuck in survival mode, making it almost psychologically impossible to make choices.
Additionally, if someone else controls your money, where you live, what you do, how you spend your time, and how you use your body, it’s hard to imagine a life where you can exercise any freedom in these critical areas.
Even if a survivor gets away from a trafficker and tries to start over, without the support necessary to choose a new place to live, find a way to make an income, establish a community, and overcome deeply engrained trauma, it’s very difficult to successfully and permanently establish a new life.
That’s why we immediately connect our survivors to the resources they need to heal, establish bank accounts and learn about money management, secure safe housing, and begin work so they can earn a fair wage and learn the skills necessary to have positive options for future income and security.
Learning the basics about labor trafficking
The survivors we empower at Rethreaded have all experienced sex trafficking, but we also want to highlight labor trafficking, because it devalues two things we love: people and the power of work.
Rethreaded uses work as one of our key strategies to heal and restore people who have been exploited, but there are labor traffickers all around the world who use the opportunity and ability to work, instead, as a weapon.
The Department of Homeland Security defines forced labor as an instance when “individuals are compelled against their will to provide work or service through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.”
It receives less attention than sex trafficking, but it is possible that more people experience forced labor, with an estimated 24.9 million people (about the population of Texas) in forced labor conditions around the world in 2016.
With so many people living under forced labor, their specific circumstances are all very different. However, the common thread is that their employers are taking advantage of their work and not giving them choices to leave, complain, request different duties or pay, or otherwise exercise freedom.
This can be because someone is a family member of their exploitative employer, they are experiencing economic vulnerability, or they are an immigrant or foreign national.
When people in these higher-risk situations express any dissatisfaction with their pay or working conditions, a boss-turned-trafficker will often exercise coercion by threatening to report them to immigration authorities, to hold over them a financial debt, or to threaten violence.
Though Rethreaded’s programs were not designed to address labor trafficking, we want to work toward a world where no person is coerced, abused, or exploited for any reason, in any place, at any time. That begins with transforming Jacksonville into a city where there are trauma-informed resources available to all vulnerable people who live and work here.
What you can do to empower survivors
Every member of our community has a part to play in empowering survivors and making our city a safer place for people who are suffering and have no advocate. Here are a few ways you can consider becoming more involved in the effort to set neighbors free:
- Take a one-hour training to learn how to identify and report trafficking, as part of the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking.
- Join us for a Volunteer Thursday, which is a three-hour commitment to come to Rethreaded, learn about our mission, and breakdown airline seats to be made into our leather goods lines.
- Donate financially, trusting that every dollar you give will go directly to benefit our survivors. You can either give one time or join one of our Giving Circles, which are communities of like-minded neighbors who give financially and fellowship together.
No matter what your next step may be, we welcome you to be a part of our broader community of advocates and supporters of survivors and their fresh starts.