Last year, Angelina Jolie created a lot of awareness about breast cancer (I must add that I’m truly sad about her news), but this study in Genetics and Medicine shows that awareness does not necessarily translate into knowledge or understanding. Most people still do not understand their own personal risk or the proper application of screening for the BRCA gene.

Similarly, many people are now becoming more aware of human trafficking, but probably most people truly do not understand what forms it takes, the risks, who is involved, and most importantly, how to prevent it. 

January, in the USA, is Human Trafficking Awareness month and January 11 is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It is a good thing to bring White House attention to this egregious problem, but typically I’m skeptical about what exactly we are becoming aware and how does that translate into appropriate knowledge and real action.

Not to accuse Beyoncé of being/doing anything wrong, I just want to have an illustration of some confusing messages here.

Not to accuse Beyoncé of being/doing anything wrong, I just want to have an illustration of some confusing messages here.

The Super Bowl in America is an example of the “Angelina Jolie effect”. New Jersey is preparing for the thousands of traffickers shipping in thousands of girls for the thousands of johns in town for Super Bowl festivities.

Awareness of human trafficking surrounding the Super Bowl has also had positive effects such as stimulating Indiana lawmakers to pass more robust laws against human trafficking to bolster identification as well as prosecution of perpetrators. Even so, that did not translate into a huge increase in the number of perpetrators or victims identified related to the 2012 Super Bowl.  

Rachel Lloyd warns against “hype and hyperbole” regarding sex trafficking and the Super Bowl. I strongly encourage you to read this insightful article. Ms. Llyod also addresses this right off the bat in the first question of this video. Cindy McCain (the AZ senator’s wife) has called the Super Bowl “the largest human trafficking venue on the planet”. Really? In a way, these statements can ironically hinder our efforts because we can’t back up our hype with reality, and this decreases our credibility. This attitude also feeds into people’s short attention span about the reality of the problem. “Whew, Super Bowl is over. Now we don’t have to be concerned about trafficking here anymore.”

This is not to say that some of what happens regarding prostitution and sex trafficking doesn’t happen around the event, as it is probably true that there are special efforts by traffickers to increase the availability of their “services” to clients from out of town. However, sex trafficking has always been a problem in New Jersey, Dallas, Indianapolis, and other Super Bowl cities. The same goes for the World Cup, the Olympics, etc.  It is important to keep perspective and not conflate trafficking with big events – this is a problem every day around the world.


A Call to Action

Raising awareness should be accompanied by a call to action. But WOW! Where does one start on such a huge issue? Not everyone can, or SHOULD be directly involved in victim/survivor assistance. Since this is a broad issue, there are a myriad of other avenues to take in order to address slavery holistically.  

Some helpful questions to start:

  • Is there a particular aspect about this that catches my attention, such as labor trafficking in South Asia, or sex-trafficking in my town?
  • What or who is in my sphere of influence to address slavery? How much time do I have to give?
  • Do you want to start investigating sources of food or clothing that you buy increase knowledge of how buy products not made under slave-like conditions? Being aware that these things do occur can help drive action – with your wallet, usually – to ensure more transparency and tighten loopholes.
  • Perhaps you want to work locally. Not every community is the same: are people being exploited in and around my community and if so, what are the risk factors for vulnerability in my community? Then, what can I do about it? While I can’t speak for every community, there are some common denominators and probably one of the most effective things you can do is to be a mentor or tutor for a child risk. Or perhaps you want to volunteer at a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
  • Sometimes (or often) a call to action is simply making a donation. However, the donor should be doing homework on the organization: are they doing what they say they are doing? Does what they are doing and how they are doing it align with your principles?

More specifically, it can help to break it down into different components. As a pediatrician, my perspective is health. Many people’s vulnerabilities to being exploited are related to their physical and mental health. Some of these health problems are related to other environmental circumstances, such as a humanitarian crisis or abject poverty. This is where Relentless makes efforts to not only restore survivors of exploitation but also reduce vulnerabilities and prevent them from being trafficked in the first place.

Wherever you are, but particularly in developing countries, is there something you can do regarding:

  • Helping people with disabilities
  • Protecting people with mental health disorders
  • Preventing child abuse & neglect, or serving those who have been affected
  • Decreasing debt due to high medical costs
  • Increase and improve child protection in schools, places of worship, refugee camps, and communities.

If any of this strikes a chord with you, if you have more questions or other comments, I would certainly like to hear from you!