“Justice is Served” Series Continues with Discussion on Human Trafficking

Drew Kaplan ’20, Associate Opinion Editor

A small discussion on human trafficking at Landis House pointed Carlisle out as a “key town” for trafficking due to the proximity to both I-76 and I-81, and the position between Philadelphia, New York City, Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh, according to Director of the Women’s and Gender Resource Center Donna Bickford.

In Pa. alone, The Polaris Project, a nonprofit anti-trafficking organization, received 580 calls about trafficking in 2015.

Part of their monthly “Justice is Served” series, the event attracted just seven attendees. The discussion was facilitated by Bickford, who has a background in human trafficking prevention and litigation.

Bickford began by defining the term sex trafficking as the situation in which “a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, o[r] in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age.” Gaby Corcoran ’19 noted that sex trafficking is only one subcategory of human trafficking, making note of “the separation of sex trafficking versus labor trafficking.”

Bickford explained that, often, victims are forced to engage in further criminal acts, such as drug smuggling, and that child prostitutes are considered to be victims of human trafficking.

“We still have this misconception that victims of trafficking are foreign victims. We often conflate trafficking with people smuggling,” said Bickford.

Commercial sex acts need not involve money, but simply anything of value. Necessities such as food, water and shelter can all be traded for sexual services, a situation known as “survival sex.” Also noted was that people can be trafficked for many different reasons, and that issues surrounding prevention arise in some Asian countries, where families can be complicit. Some rural families will send their children to urban areas to earn money, or send their children to cities with the promise of a paying job. Oftentimes, these children are trafficked.

A key issue with prevention efforts, however, is that we don’t have much reliable data.  “We have a wide range of estimates,” explained Bickford. 20.9 million people are trafficked around the world, 55 percent of which are women, with 45 percent being men. 75 percent of these people are adults, with the remaining 25 percent being children.

Worldwide, trafficking is  a 150 billion dollar industry, based on best estimates. Labor trafficking and sex trafficking can be connected, however, exploitative labor doesn’t equal labor trafficking. The driving issue though, is the “demand for cheap goods and bodies,” however, trafficking is impacted by various other issues as well, such as law enforcement corruption and training, economic conditions and natural disasters.

“Most advocates would say that raising awareness is important,” said Bickford. “Educating others is a key way to counteract trafficking.” The importance of calling police to report incidence of trafficking, or calling National Human Trafficking Hotline was stressed during the discussion since direct engagement can endanger both victims and others as well. “Some of the police around here are trained. An issue beyond mere training is law enforcement prioritization,” Bickford emphasized. In general, police pay more attention to sex trafficking than labor trafficking. The reason for this is that sex trafficking can be more visible than labor trafficking, and prostitution is also a crime.

Student reception to the event was positive. Devon Carlson ’20, said “I thought it was really interesting. Everyone in the room knew a lot about human trafficking. I came in not knowing much. I thought it was very informational.”

Sarah Benamati ’18 said “I thought it was an important event to have on campus, especially since it brought a perspective to campus that you normally don’t hear, from being in Central Pennsylvania.”