- Racial Equity
- Talk About Race
By Melissa Ditmore and Suzanne B. Seltzer,
Human trafficking is often discussed in terms of numbers, with estimates of persons trafficked ranging from 700,000 to 2 million to 27 million worldwide. More often than not, these numbers focus on trafficking of girls and women, which according to the UNESCO Trafficking Statistics Project, “is one of several highly emotive issues which seem to overwhelm critical faculties” with “numbers tak[ing] on a life of their own…with little inquiry into their derivations.” Unfortunately, this macro look at the issue clouds our understanding of trafficking, and therefore, our ability to effectively combat its root causes.
In honor of Human Trafficking Awareness Day 2013, I would like to turn attention to a report that focuses on the experiences of 37 people trafficked via Mexico to the United States, many through San Miguel Tenancingo. For generations, women have been trafficked from this town and hundreds of them end up forced into prostitution in New York City. The report, The Road North: The Role of Gender, Poverty and Violence in Trafficking from Mexico to the U.S.from the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center offers a comprehensive analysis of this pipeline and the wider phenomenon of trafficking from Mexico. It is based on data collected from affidavits and interviews between 2005-2012, and identifies root causes of this trafficking pipeline, alongside first-hand accounts that illustrate its findings.
The information presented in The Road North is crucial to prevention work on the ground in Mexico, to stop this abuse before it happens. It identifies factors that made these individuals more vulnerable to human trafficking, and provides information regarding prevention needs in Mexico that will be useful to both government and civil society. For example, The Road North demonstrates the following:
“I met [trafficker] when he was 17 years old and I was 14 years old. There was a carnival in my hometown and my friend, who is [trafficker’s] aunt, introduced us there. [Trafficker’s] aunt lived nearby and I was familiar with her because she was a friend of my mother’s,” said Inez, a survivor of trafficking who met her trafficker through a family friend near her hometown.
“I was 16 to 18 and I needed to leave there because I was suffering a lot of trauma based on the way they were treating me…I didn’t feel well there, I didn’t feel calm, my uncle kept bothering me and I couldn’t say anything cause I was afraid…And [then] this man appeared, an acquaintance of my aunt, I went out with him and left the house with him. He said I’m going to take you to my aunt’s and she can give you a job and you can live there. I thought that was a really good idea, but it wasn’t like that,” saidMeena, a trafficking survivor who experienced sexual abuse in her home.
“My family was very poor, even compared to other families in the village. My parents worked as farmers on other people’s lands. They traveled to other states to find work, and they took us with them. I worked alongside my parents starting when I was eight years old. I tried to also go to school, but had to stop after 6th grade because I missed so much school in order to work,” said Camilla, a survivor of trafficking who had to stop school to help her family earn money.
The report makes specific policy recommendations for the Mexican and U.S. governments, who must engage in bi-national efforts to combat the trafficking epidemic. It also recommends action steps for Mexican NGOs, who should use the report’s findings to inform their work on trafficking prevention and providing survivor resources. Among the recommendations are:
An important aspect of these recommendations is the focus on the rights and needs of trafficked individuals. Unfortunately, this is often overlooked in the larger debate and discussion of human trafficking. Following the recommendations provided by The Road North would be an important step forward in moving anti-trafficking policy to greater and more effective protection of individual human rights.
Melissa Ditmore holds a doctorate in sociology and has written and edited numerous books on sex work. Her other publications include peer-reviewed journal articles, research reports, advocacy materials, and short pieces. She has spoken at the International AIDS Conference, the United Nations and many academic and informal meetings, the International Harm Reduction Association, and events convened by sex workers. Her research includes investigations into law enforcement practices, violence against sex workers, research ethics, and assessments of harm reduction programs.
Suzanne B. Seltzer is a partner of Klasko, Rulon, Stock & Seltzer LLP, in charge of the New York office. Suzanne chairs the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s (AILA) Service Center Operations Liaison Committee, and recently completed her tenure as Chair of AILA’s USCIS Benefits & Policy Liaison Committee. Suzanne is a founding member of the NY Anti-Trafficking Network and currently sits on its Steering Committee. She was a primary author and editor of “Immigration Relief for Crime Victims: The U Visa Manual” (March 2010), and all three editions of “Identification and Legal Advocacy for Trafficking Victims” (3rd Ed, January 2009).Suzanne is included in Best Lawyers in America (2007 – 2012), Chambers USA (2011 – 2012), New York Super Lawyers (2007 – 2012), and New York Magazine’s Best Lawyer’s in New York (2008 – 2012). A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Suzanne received her law degree from Georgetown University’s Law Center (cum laude).