The Beginning to an End

Where does this systemic issue of human trafficking even begin? If we take a look at the situations that people live through prior to entering the forced sex or labor industry, then we can see that most of their past is comprised of poor living conditions. These people are so vulnerable that they are almost willing to do anything to receive the proper “care” they need. In the case of Vietnam, we can look at the history and the progress they’ve made. Poverty is a direct correlation to human trafficking. In order to keep cases of human trafficking down, we need a solution to keep poverty rates down.

Since 2010 the poverty headcount ratio at national poverty lines was 20.7%. The most recent data captured was in 2012 and the poverty headcount had dropped to 17.2%. At the same time in 2010, more than 85,000 workers travelled abroad to work. The government had reported that there were fourteen cases of labor trafficking, 153 cases of sex trafficking were prosecuted, and 274 individuals were convicted for sex trafficking offense. If we take a look in 2014, the Global Slavery Index shows us that 0.3592% of the population is involved in modern day slavery. Compared to 2010, the population involved in human trafficking was much higher. Already we can see the correlation between poverty and human trafficking. What are the next steps?

Diminishing the prevalence of human trafficking in Vietnam means we need to do something to improve the quality of life of those who can’t afford or who just don’t have it. The ability to decrease poverty rates is one of many solutions needed to take. If we take a look at countries like India, Nepal, and Ghana, Kevin Bales has done research to find that the solution to ending poverty coincides with ending human trafficking; there is no way to end poverty without ending human trafficking. In the case for India, Bales writes in his book, “Ending Slavery,” that a rescued boy, Ashaf starts a movement to end human trafficking in his little village, Bochi. Under Indian law, Ashaf had benefits kick-started the beginning of the end. With $5,400 put into the village, Ashaf and the other boys were able to make a productive asset. It’s the saying that goes, “it takes money to make money.”

It only took a community of antislavery activists that had already been through this hell to make a productive village. Vietnam can look at India as an example. If the people of Vietnam or even the government took time to make sure their people are employed and well-abled to support themselves first, then there is a solution in the making. Programs that help train recent survivors with their technical skills can help them get so far. A survivor making their own money is a symbol to them as their own freedom. Being able to offer this feeling by reducing poverty is the key to ending human trafficking.

Setting an Example

Preventing human trafficking can start with as little as a penny or even a conversation. Other tactics may involve government implementation. With a push against human trafficking every year, Vietnam has, nonetheless, made nothing but progress. From being on the Tier 2 Watch List in 2011 then upgrading to Tier 2 by 2015, Vietnam has been integrating many prevention programs to steadily reach to Tier 1.

Survivors are the ignition to this movement. Telling people of their story, they gain support from others as well as awareness for human trafficking. As Minh Dang wrote in her letter, there are six principle numbers for the anti-trafficking movement. One of the principles is “Survivor Stories Are Not Enough to Sustain This Movement.” This principle is saying that one story isn’t enough; Minh Dang’s story is not a story strong enough to capture reinforcements to enhance the anti-trafficking movement. According to Minh Dang, “Empathy and understanding is the difference between surviving and thriving… Empathy counteracts an “us” versus “them” mentality.” Minh Dang is a survivor making a difference. We need to be able to “build relationships through stories” as Tim Mousseau would say. The ability to create relationships will make storytelling a catalyst for change.

To reinforce survivor stories, the Asia Foundation in Hanoi, Vietnam has set up one of many programs that reintegrate trafficked victims as well as a program on prevention, education and communication (PEC). Like Minh Dang, the PEC Program’s primary awareness-raising strategies include advocacy, mass media campaigns, distribution of posters, flyers, ads, and public speaking events. Making it aware to the public enables fluidity of communication: one friend tells another and then it spreads like wildfire. If we can reiterate this strategy, then we can see a decrease in human trafficking for all countries. Now that technology is readily available to us, spreading the word is as easy as sending a tweet. The Reintegration of Trafficking Victims Program carries out a project designed to protect trafficked survivors’ rights and assist them in making a new life. They offer courses in social work skills and technical training. From there survivors were offered jobs at textile factories or other businesses, allowing them to make a stable income.

Our culture is connected in so many ways. We need to be able to change human trafficking into a topic we are not afraid to talk about. If we are comfortable to talk about it, then the anti-trafficking movement will only be easier. Vietnam has been able to succeed. Vietnam can be a example for others.

Burden by the Brain

imgresAre you really free from the treacheries of enslavement or are you still burdened by the memories and the trauma that comes after it? Being enslaved for merely 1 month can detrimentally damage a person’s ability to speak, think, or act. Victims suffer anything from anxiety to eating disorders, as well as combinations. Anything can trigger a stimulus. The process to recovery is different for all people. It’s the experiences that determine the amount of time taken to get to that point; how traumatic an event was and what they had gone through. Fortunately, the cases in Vietnam haven’t been as bad. There are few cases where I can find narratives of life after the event in Vietnam but using statistics, hopefully we can get a better idea of the psychological aftermath and trauma these survivors encounter.

According to an interview with 1102 people from Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, 61.2% of participants reported symptoms of depression, 42.8% with symptoms of anxiety, and 38.9% reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. At the time, 5.2% had attempted suicide in the past month. The aftermath of trafficking has unbearable effects. There is no doubt that survivors who experiences extreme cases of labor reported symptoms of these conditions. And because of this, the life of survivors in Vietnam, as well as other countries, is entirely focused on recovery. Most likely lacking a good education, their future of economic opportunities isn’t as high and will increase their tendency to remain in poverty. Survivors also lose their connection with their family and community with these conditions and this can only contribute more to their psychological wellbeing. It’s an ongoing cycle of hell after being exposed to the spawn of Satan. You think you can get away, but the most painful memories are the hardest ones to forget. The reason is because of the Hebbian plasticity. The idea states that the brain region called the amygdala allows sensory stimuli to become associated with either rewarding or aversive outcomes, thus producing emotional memories. During the time of the trauma, victims were abused sexually and physically. The neurons in the brain fired electrical impulses, making stronger connections to each other than normal. These stronger connections make stronger memories, thus making symptoms of the earlier conditions more prevalent.

Survivors of human trafficking are vulnerable to the physical and psychological symptoms of trauma. Emphasis on recovery is key to these survivors. Although a long and slow process, trust and patience is the way they can go back to their normal lives.

Vulnerability in Vietnam

Map of places Vietnam traffickers take their victims.

Map of places Vietnam traffickers take their victims.

While men, women, and children are all victims of human trafficking, but due to the natural and unequal gender relations and social and economic power that unfortunately exists in the world, women and and girls are considered to be more vulnerable. Why? Why is it that women are more vulnerable? I thought women earned their rights in the early 20th century. Am I wrong? Why is it that some of us are still stuck in that past, where we believe that women shouldn’t be paid the same as men nor should they hold higher positions in their careers? According to research, traffickers usually target women because they are unfairly affected by poverty and discrimination, factors that get in the way of moving up in their career, or education, or general resources. The Vietnamese government estimated that about 10 percent of women who were lured into marriages with Chinese men have become trafficking victims. Nearly three-quarters of victims in Vietnam are women. But the worse part is that the traffickers are more likely than not relatives or acquaintances of these victims. Is there no sense of guilt or remorse when this is done? Women and girls are being sent to contingent countries forced into artificial love or sold for sex. They are being held against their own will with no means to escape. Hope for opportunity and success is all a lie and being thrown down the drain. Promises are broken and lies are the foundation of their lives. A similar story can be seen from Linh. Taken to Hekou in China by an aunt under the false pretenses of shopping trip, she was left with two Chinese ladies who were planning on selling her as a wife. At 25, she was forced into a marriage with a 30 year old. From there she had to produce a baby that was a male. At this time in China, the One Child Policy was still in effect and preferred males rather than females. As a result, women and girls had to be trafficked into China in order to produce the growing male population. Many people are forced into things they never want to do. Women and girls have the worse end of this spectrum. To live with this trauma after surviving such an event is very difficult. Trust issues develop and recovery is unpredictable.

Do Words Speak Louder than Action?

We only listen to people say what we want to hear. The key words that pull in laborers are “love,” “family,” and “money.” These labor abusers know that in order to pull these people out of their desperate measures they entice them with words of hope only to place them in even more desperate settings.  In a statement from Ms. Hiu Danh from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Danh had testified that her sister, Be Houng, and many young Vietnamese women were lured to Russia with a promise of a high-paying job as waitresses. However, this labor trafficking turned into sex trafficking. These women were told that they were promised to be paid, but instead they were deceived; they were sold to brothels in Moscow. The story is the same all over the world. There are people trying to survive another day on less than a dollar day. These people see these friendly abusers in a well-ironed suit; their physical appearance leads them to believe that they can be trusted. They appeal to the pathos and ethos of those who needed help. The traffickers are very intelligent in that they know how to pull people in. In a way, as conniving as snakes and charmers as they are, they’re their little own snake charmers. In that situation, I could see why falling for this decoy and why so many people fall for it exists.

The language, the words, the syntax that is used by these people come off as innocent. They seize the naïve and gain their trust. In Dr. Laura Murphy’s Book, “Survivors of Slavery: Modern-Day Slave Narratives,” Sopheap, although not a Vietnamese native, was trafficked in Vietnam. Her aunt forced her to beg on the streets. The person that took her in; the woman who is supposed to be her mother figure sent her to Vietnam to be a beggar. Sopheap trusted her new family, but she was unable to leave. There were no words of affection that pulled Sopheap in, but most traffickers pretend to act as their savior; their “daddy,” their new best friend. But you could imagine if people from contiguous countries are sending their children to Vietnam to beg, then what actually goes on in Vietnam? I don’t know what is worse: to be trafficked by your own family or a complete stranger.

People say “the pen is mightier than the sword” or “actions speak louder than words.” Words are powerful and they’re powerful in a way that they’re able to corrupt and manipulate people into doing things they don’t know they’re going into. The combination of actions and words result in havoc. Words are dangerous. Everyone knows words, but everyone has a different way of using it.

Progress: The Great “Pression”

Unemployment rate of Vietnam for the past three years.

Unemployment rate of Vietnam for the past three years.

The basics of economics is when there is high demand of something, then you’re going to need the supply to make it whether that be machinery, materials, or actual workers. Where can you find cheap labor and lots of it? Countries like Vietnam. The idea of cheap labor is appealing to many corporations. Would you rather pay 10 dollars per hours for every worker or 2.50? But on the other side, who can say no to money and promise of a PROMIS(E)ing future? That’s what these workers thought. The traffickers take advantage of the jobseekers, and although the Vietnamese natives are working, they may not be paid nor paid well. In Vietnam, everyone; men, women, and children, is being trafficked; children are forced to street hawk, beg, and work in restaurants in major urban cities of Vietnam. These traffickers know how to play the people. Using basic persuasion skills, they try to appeal to the people’s pathos. I remember visiting Vietnam a couple of years ago and there were children selling some sort of lottery ticket. It’s definitely not hard to say no to cute kids with their puppy eyes in torn, filthy clothing. You hope that the money you give them will better their life but it may not. It’s like back here in the U.S. you hope that when you give a homeless person money you hope they put it to good use; food, water, maybe clothes. While these people have a choice, the children are more than likely working for someone and have to give them their earnings. In recent years, however, I think Vietnam has done a better job with their people and their economy. Continuing to decrease poverty and their unemployment rate, Vietnam has gone from an unemployment rate of an all-time high of 4.5% to 2.44% now in the second quarter of 2015. The poverty rate of Vietnam has an amazing record for being a developing country and achieving the first of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for halving poverty over the period 1990-2015. And as for their GDP, Vietnam was worth a high of 186.20 billion in US dollars as of 2014. Fortunately there hasn’t been any prevalent hearing on labor trafficking in Vietnam, which is good, but the fact there is some trafficking means we still need to do something about it. Programs like UNICEF or UNIAP need take a stronger initiative on the issue that natives are not being sent to countries like China, Taiwan, and other contingent countries to be exploited and work without pay.

Steps to Tier 1

A girl and her mother scrounge through garbage in Rach Gia, Vietnam. Some 200 families - three generations of Cambodians - live on two dumps there.

A girl and her mother scrounge through garbage in Rach Gia, Vietnam. Some 200 families – three generations of Cambodians – live on two dumps there.

Hope, opportunity, money, food… these are some of the reasons labor trafficking exists. Upon research, Vietnam has had a history of forced labor, but luckily has made an effort to reverse and enforce the laws on labor trafficking. Everyone: men, women, and children from Vietnam immigrate to contingent countries HOPING for an OPPPORTUNITY to make MONEY so that they can send it back home to buy FOOD and necessary commodities. They hope for a better life. They see this opportunity as another day to live. According to the U.S. Department of State, Vietnam is in Tier 2. As a Tier 2 country, Vietnam’s government “does not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.” However, this is progress. In 2011, the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report placed Vietnam in Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. Criminals found violating the standards in Vietnam could be penalized from two to seven years in prison. Those for trafficking of children range from three years to life in prison. Personally, I don’t think three years is enough for trafficking children, but who am I to tell Trương Tấn Sang he’s wrong. As of last year, the government arrested 685 suspected traffickers. Of the 685, 472 were prosecuted and 413 were convicted. The sentences for these offenders ranged from three to fifteen years. This also showed progress from the previous year; the number of convicts decreased from 420 Three years ago, anti-trafficking amendments provided a criminal law basis to prosecute these crimes; prosecutors primarily pursued labor trafficking cases as administrative violations under the country’s labor laws, however, those do not provided criminal penalties. How can we be more efficient in rescuing those who are trafficked? Thankfully, officials continue to pursue in joint investigations and rescue operations in China, Cambodia, and Laos. Why just those three? I don’t know. Hopefully other countries will cooperate and will put an end to human trafficking. With further improvements, Vietnam could step up to the plate and be categorized as a Tier 1.