Left Behind: The Human Trafficking You’ve Never Heard About

Human trafficking is something that is almost universally acknowledged as being wrong. Churches around the world have taken hold of the issue of human trafficking and raised an incredible amount of awareness surrounding it. Effective rescue and recovery centers have been created worldwide. Ineffective and harmful programs have also been created, but that’s not what I want to focus on. Instead I’d like to discuss the harm the Church has had on human trafficking awareness.

Take a minute to think about what you know about human trafficking. What comes to mind first? A child being forced into prostitution? Or perhaps a woman? I would hazard a guess that that is where most of your minds went. Maybe a few of you pictured a domestic worker or a child begging? You would be in the minority.

Did any of you picture men?

The Church has really focused in on sex trafficking. Not just the Church, but the world. The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons has a special caveat at the end of its long name: Especially Women and Children.

Why is this harmful? With no one talking about other forms of human trafficking, very little is done to help those individuals who are trapped in these situations.

While working in anti-trafficking in Cambodia, a UN worker told me about a form of trafficking within the Seafood Industry in Thailand. Burmese, Laos, and Cambodian migrant workers were recruited to fulfill a labor shortage within the fishing industry. Without getting into all of the details (which you can go learn more about here), many of these men are sold to fishing boat owners and are then forced to work off the debt the owners accrued in purchasing them, including interest. This can take anywhere from a few months to years and years.

The men are forced to work 18-20 hour days, 7 days a week. When performance doesn’t live up to the expectations of the boat captain, many of these men endure severe beatings, maltreatment, and in the worst cases maiming and killing. There have even been reports of men being thrown overboard alive, in the middle of the sea, when they are no longer able to perform or defy those in charge.

A fishing boat off the coast of Thailand.

A fishing boat off the coast of Thailand.

Do you know who has the largest market for Thai shrimp? The United States. More than 30 percent of our shrimp imports come from Thailand.

Do you know the main reason you haven’t heard about this? Because we tend to feel the most compassion toward those we perceive to be helpless, and women and children are often viewed as the most helpless. But tell me this, how are these men trapped in debt bondage, stuck out to sea with no assistance in sight, and forced to work to their death any less helpless?

Wherever your focus is, that’s where the focus of organizations is going to be. Why? Because organizations often report information in such a way so as to encourage donations. If The Church, and people around the world for that matter, focus on sex trafficking, that is what organizations are going to focus their time and efforts working against.

Is this all bad? Of course not! Sex trafficking is a huge issue affecting millions of people and it needs to stop. My passion for an end to human trafficking began when I was in high school, and I heard a report about sex trafficking in Cambodia.

But, we must realize that there are people in slavery around the world who are not being forced into the sex industry. The example I gave is just one of many. There are generations and generations of people trapped in debt bondage in India’s brick-making industry. Men and women are forced to work in mining industries around the world to provide us with gold, silver, coltan (a mineral in every single smartphone as well as in laptops, cameras, and other electronics in high demand), and other minerals.

Google results for these forms of trafficking is exponentially smaller than that of sex trafficking, but does that make it any less brutal or horrific? I don’t think so. I believe that human trafficking in all forms deserves the attention and abhorrence of the world. Only when we all raise up outraged and willing to change our lifestyles will it come to an end. We’re called to pursue justice for all – not just for women and children.

So, realize that you have the power. You have the power to change the way the world views human trafficking. You have the power to make our research better. You have the power to help people who haven’t had a voice in this fight against human trafficking. You have the power. What are you going to do with it?

-Kimberly Hunt recently completed her Master's Degree in International Development with a focus in human trafficking at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. She has worked in anti-trafficking for eight years in a variety of locations around the world, and is currently working with Micah Challenge USA advocating for those in extreme poverty.