The Fight against Trafficking
I am often asked how Red Light Campaign makes a difference in the fight against human trafficking - how do our artworks, engagement with the issue and awareness-raising events actually counteract trafficking?
Human trafficking and sex slavery is an age-old aspect of every society and is still, like the victims it affects, swept under the carpet. As the trafficking of human beings is becoming worryingly accepted as an unstoppable fact of life, the fight against it therefore requires thinking outside of the box - outside the ‘norms’ and confines of society. Those not directly affected by human trafficking, remain unaware of how rampant it is in our society. It is this unconscious obliviousness, which allows traffickers to calm conduct their business; a fact that Red Light Campaign hopes to change.
The fight against human trafficking requires an approach that consists of at least three layers: First, the actual persecution of traffickers, which is the very core of the “fight” against trafficking; the second layer is the attempt to protect and rehabilitate the victims themselves; this in turn, is related to the third layer - raising society’s awareness of this issue. It is this three-layer approach, which is required to increase the likelihood of success in this on-going struggle.
When considering the victims of human trafficking, two main areas of concern come to mind:
The first is pragmatic; it is the need for efficient and safe recovery infrastructure, as well as the improvement and harmonising of the international legal framework providing a safety net for victims; for example, by making it easier for victims to turn to authorities in a destination country where they would otherwise be considered illegal immigrants. The second involves a more abstract notion of victim rehabilitation and combatting societal taboos. As victims of human trafficking are perceived to fall outside the realms of normal human experience, it is necessary to counter these societal norms in order to successfully rehabilitate and reintegrate victims into society.
Reading the book Trafficked, in which Sophie Hayes shares her horrific experiences of being lured to Italy for sexual exploitation, reminded me of how societal taboos can contribute to the harm, which victims of trafficking endure. Sophie, an ordinary young woman from Leeds who was stripped of her documents and beaten and forced to have sex for money every day, persistently mentions her ‘shame’ and cites it as one of the reasons why, apart from the threats and coercion of her trafficker, it was long impossible for her to confide in someone about her situation. The act of dehumanisation is practised by traffickers not only so their victims are more compliant, but the act of ‘breaking’ their victims and treating them solely as commodities, facilitates the process of destroying the target’s sense of belonging within society; being continually raped or beaten often induces the victim to ‘cut the cords’ with the outside world. In addition to this physical violence, traffickers will also try to induce a feeling of shame within their victims in order to prevent them to speak out about their experiences. A society where victims can share their experiences of humiliation more openly, should they wish to do so, might create a more powerful point of self-defence for potential future victims, robbing traffickers of the power of shame. This aspect of ‘shame’ is a threat to every human; it is an attack on the freedom of our identity, both as an individual and as a member of the human race. This tacit societal acceptance of the fact that trafficking ‘just exists’ must end.
Within the three main layers mentioned earlier – persecution, victim support, and the society at large – there are many points of entry for agents against trafficking, demonstrating how this ‘fight’ has the potential to be very powerful. Rather than just fighting fire with fire, this struggle is a potentially holistic one: with sufficient organisation, human trafficking can be tackled on all three layers at the same time, making it impossible for traffickers to draw strength from the weakest one. The strong interdependence between layers 1, 2 and 3 makes it important to strengthen all three simultaneously – a process that has picked up speed in recent years but is far from complete. Umbrella organisations such as UN.GIFT, the Human Trafficking Foundation or the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons, are crucial in overseeing, coordinating and consolidating these different layers, while other organisations, such as Stop The Traffik, are increasingly working on an intra-layer level.
At Red Light Campaign we have positioned ourselves, for the time being, mainly at layer 3. Wholly committed to raising public awareness of the issue, the strengthening of public sentiment against human trafficking will have tangible effects on how much importance is given to the issue from a policy side, how effectively traffickers’ activities can be stopped and how easy it is for victims to speak out and regain control of their lives.
By Philipp Engel