What is Human Trafficking?
If we were to follow the textbook/conventional definition of what human trafficking is described to be, we would probably write a whole chapter on it. But briefly put, human trafficking entails someone in a position of power also known as a perpetrator exploiting another, who is the victim, and using them for their own personal benefit whether financial, sexual, or labour. This is a global pandemonium affecting everyone and there is no single profile of the victims as it can happen to anyone regardless of race, colour, social status, or sexual orientation.
The Palermo Protocol is a United Nations protocol that aims to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in beings, especially women and children. It describes human trafficking as the recruitment, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threats, abuse, force, or any other means of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, or abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or the giving and receiving of payments or benefits so as to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation.
The types of exploitation include prostitution or any other form of sexual exploitation of others, forced labour or services, slavery, or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.
Those most affected by human trafficking are often the most discriminated against or marginalised groups in the society e.g., those living in abject poverty, minorities, gender-based violence and domestic abuse victims, people desperate to provide for their families, and LGBTQ+ individuals. The vulnerability perspective has often left many people desperate to better their lives. With an increase in the number of vulnerable people either due to social, political, or economic factors, the number of people susceptible to human trafficking has increased thereby exposing many to the risk of exploitation.
The Palermo Protocol set a precedent for counter-trafficking efforts around the world. Each signing country was urged to act against trafficking of their own, and the establishment of non-governmental organisations to rescue, provide relief, support, aid, and provide advocacy on behalf of survivors, to name a few along with the country-wide and international efforts.
Since the year 2000, when the Protocol was published, numerous efforts have been undertaken to curtail trafficking around the world, all of which have improved the landscape of counter-trafficking efforts which means that those very efforts are now more abundant and support the highest number of survivors of human trafficking compared to any other time.
In 2010, the Kenyan government created its own legislation to protect survivors of human trafficking, the Kenyan Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act, which has laid an excellent groundwork for Kenya’s counter-trafficking efforts. However, implementation remains flawed in a multitude of ways. It is an ongoing journey and thankfully Kenya is moving in the right direction. This means that as time goes on, more and more traffickers will be prosecuted, and more survivors will receive the support they need.
While the type of trafficking that people endure as well as the methods, means of exploitation, means of abuse, and reason for ending in such a situation differ wildly, the implications and aftermath of being trafficked are often very similar. All parts of escaping trafficking, returning home, and reintegrating back into society are all incredibly difficult and can take serious tolls on the survivor’s physical and mental health.
Moreover, they are often struggling with the mental health issues involved with the trauma they have endured during their time being trafficked, which impacts the survivor’s ability to take control of their life and well-being. Stigma, discrimination, and a lack of community are often involved, which all may increase the possibility of the survivor spiralling and experiencing burnout. The survivors need help, community, support, someone to believe in them, and the necessary skills and capacities to retake control of their life.
This process is visualised in the illustration here. The steps are:
1. the recruitment, deception, and lies that comes as victims of trafficking are taken aboard. The passport is often taken away and the chances of escape diminish rapidly.
2. the exploitation, abuse, and trauma the victim experiences during the time of trafficking. This experience can take many forms but the exploitative nature is the common denominator.
3. the escape, as the victim finds a way to remove themselves from trafficking, whether through their own means, e.g. running away, rescue, or something else.
4. the stigma and discrimination that often follows trafficking. Victims are blamed for their experience, they find lack of understanding, and continued abuse, all while tackling the effects of the trauma they have experienced.
5. the healing and community that is beyond necessary and important for the survivor to thrive and reintegrate successfully back into their community.
Survivor or Victim
A victim of human trafficking is someone who is directly experiencing the exploitation of human trafficking. They are mostly powerless and at the mercy of others, mainly the perpetrator. They are people who have been exploited and may have suffered any form of abuse that could either be physical, mental, or psychological. For instance, a woman who is forced to work for long hours with little or no pay and in harsh inhumane conditions whether locally or abroad is a victim of trafficking and modern-day slavery.
On the other hand, a survivor of human trafficking is someone who has been able to exit any form of trafficking and is working towards their healing and rebuilding their lives. They continue to live by reclaiming their power and finding the strength to continue living despite what happened to them and the trauma they have endured.
The ability to live through the bad conditions she was exposed to and not let them define who she is or what her life would turn out to be is by itself a sign of strength. It is therefore important to recognise that instead of viewing one as a victim, which only allows one to see it from the lens of the tragedy they experienced thus deeming them helpless, disempowered, without agency, and in need of rescuing. The ability to come out of a traumatic experience, find the strength to move forward, and work towards healing means that they have taken their power back. The focus is no longer on what they went through but who they are becoming.