Traffickers Come in Many Forms | Sojourners

Traffickers Come in Many Forms

Kunal Mehta /
Kunal Mehta /

The 2009 movie Taken throws its audience into the world of human trafficking. An American teen girl and her friend are taken while on a European vacation and sold into the sex trade through a multinational mob-ran human trafficking ring. The girl is ultimately rescued by her secret agent father played by Liam Neeson. With an estimated gross profit of $145,000,000, it is clear that audiences liked this action-packed thriller. While entertaining, unfortunately, Taken dramatizes and stereotypes traffickers. Contrary to what's portrayed in popular movies, there are many types of traffickers beyond the stereotypical pop-culture swarthy, heavily accented, and foreign organized crime ring.

First, many corporations participate in human trafficking by turning a blind eye to the working conditions of either their workers or the workers of their suppliers, vendors, contractors, and subcontractors. For example, the chocolate and fine jewelry industries are notorious for using slave labor. Beyond these well-known industries, exploitation occurs in the garment making trade, unscrupulous adoption agencies, and agriculture.

Second, local gangs are switching from selling drugs to selling people. Human trafficking is more lucrative because an individual can be sold multiple times while a drug can only be sold once. In January 2014, members of the Rollin 60s Crips were convicted of trafficking teen girls in California from the Inland Empire to the city of Lynwood, Calif. Yes, urban gangs are organized, but not what we think of when discussing human trafficking.

Third, people are trafficking for personal profit and convenience. Again, these are people from diverse backgrounds ranging from low-level pimp to powerful executives. In 2014, a number of human trafficking victims/survivors were trafficked through dating websites. The women were lied to and then pimped on the street. Also, in 2004, a Sony executive and his wife were forced to pay damages to a woman who alleged they trafficked her from the Philippines. Finally, a U.S. Marine was convicted of trafficking and sexually abusing children in Cambodia . These stories are just a few examples of the diverse nature of traffickers.

It is easy for us to see human traffickers as an abstract evil, a certain cultural group that isn't like us, a force too powerful and too far removed for us to really do anything about. But traffickers come in many forms and do exist in our everyday lives. They are women and men, rich and poor, religious and nonreligious, professional and amateur. We must realize that, even though we might not have Liam Neeson's mad CIA operative skills, we can still fight trafficking. The first step is dropping our stereotypes and opening our eyes to the realities around us. You can report suspected human trafficking by calling the national hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

Lyndsey Christoffersen , Ph.D. is an instructor at Chapman University and cofounder of the Long Beach Human Trafficking Task Force. She researches human trafficking and wrote her dissertation, 'City of Slaves: Local Regulation of Human Trafficking,' on modern day slavery in Los Angeles County.

Image:  Kunal Mehta /