Yesterday I sat down with Lucy McCray, the Director of Strategy at The Freedom Story. The Freedom Story is an organization that provides scholarships, mentorships, and other resources to children who are at risk of being trafficked. They are located in Chang Rai, a province in the northeast of Thailand. Through education, they are creating more opportunities for these kids to succeed. By putting a focus on human rights outreach, The Freedom Story also prioritizes giving students the tools and resources they need to help protect themselves from exploitation and abuse. While there are many organizations that do amazing work in rescue and aftercare, The Freedom Story is one of few that focus on prevention. For 12 years they have emphasized stopping trafficking at the source in order to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Human Trafficking is a 150 billion dollar industry (ILO) that is prevalent all over the world, but Thailand is one of the more extreme examples. In 2016, The Global Slavery Index estimated that there were 40.3 million men, women, and children living in modern-day slavery (Global Slavery Index). Of that massive number, 610,000 modern slaves are estimated to be in Thailand alone (Global Slavery Index). 60,000 being children sexually exploited for commercial gain each year (ECPAT). While there are many factors as to why exploitation is so high in Thailand, poverty is a significant catalyst. There are 6.7 million people living in poverty in Thailand (World Bank). Poverty leads to economic desperation which leads to a vulnerability that can end with exploitation. This vulnerability is exactly why organizations such as The Freedom Story are so important. It is important to address the root of the issue so that it can be avoided in the first place.
I started thinking about human trafficking when I decided to take a course on it during my last semester at UC Berkeley. I chose this course because I felt that I only had a surface-level understanding of what Human Trafficking was. That ended up being a complete understatement. Like many others in the class, I was unaware of how prevalent trafficking is and how much it affects our daily lives.
The first misconception I had was that trafficking meant that someone kidnapped someone else, brought them across a border, and forced them into sex work or working in a factory. I learned that it goes far beyond that. Referring to the legal definitions gives you a better understanding of what trafficking is, however, it is not the end all. There is not a universally recognized definition of Human Trafficking due to conflicting beliefs as to what should be included but I will provide you with the two most important. The first is from The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), a statute passed into law by the U.S Congress on October 11, 2000. The TVPA defines “severe forms of trafficking” as:
- Sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or
- The recruitment, harboring transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery (U.S State Department)
The second is from the Trafficking in Persons Protocol. Adopted by the United Nations on November 15, 2000, this protocol has three elements to their definition. The first element is the act (What is done): “Recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons.” The second element is the means (How is it done):
“Threat or use of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in control of the victim”
The third element is the purpose (why it is done):
“For the purpose of exploitation, which includes exploiting the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery or similar practices and the removal of organs (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime)."
While there has been some debate as to how effective these definitions are for combating trafficking, it does make it clear, generally, what human trafficking is.
I think instinctively, everyone knows that this is a serious problem but it’s scary to look under the hood and see what’s really there. But simply making an effort to understand the problem and being conscious of it in your everyday life can make a difference. I am by no means an expert on human trafficking, but if there is one lesson I have learned it is that a basic level of understanding of this problem is important and can make a difference.
As Lucy says in the interview, you don’t need to move to Thailand to be bold. You can make an impact in your own community or internationally through organizations that you believe in. Her biggest advice is to not be afraid that the impact you can make will not be enough. It might be difficult to see the impact that you are making as an individual but when we come together, the impact you can see is much greater. So let’s come together. Let’s be BOLD.
If you’re interested in supporting The Freedom Story you can do so directly at: https://thefreedomstory.org/donate/
You can also support us and The Freedom Story by buying The Freedom Tee where 20% of the proceeds will be donated to them: https://boldmovesonly.com/products/freedom-tee
You can listen to my interview with Lucy here: https://anchor.fm/jason-nemerovski
Highlights, Global Slavery Index, 2018, https://www.globalslaveryindex.org/2018/data/maps/#prevalence
Statistics on forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking (Forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking), International Labor Organization (ILO), http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/forced-labour/policy-areas/statistics/lang--en/index.htm
Executive Summary Thailand, ECPAT, 2016
Thailand's Poverty on the Rise Amid Slowing Economic Growth, The World Bank, 2020, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/03/03/thailands-poverty-on-the-rise-amid-slowing-economic-growth
Definitions of “Severe Forms of Trafficking in Persons”, U.S Department of State, https://2001-2009.state.gov/g/tip/c16507.htm
Human Trafficking, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html