14 – Cause and Effect in Human Trafficking

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Understanding the cause and effect in human trafficking is key when working to end it. Sandra Morgan and Dave Stachowiak discuss how to look at human trafficking through the lenses of cause and effect to get to the real roots of the problem.

Key Points

  • Explore the causes and effects of the problem to develop mechanism solutions.
  • We often see the branches of human trafficking, the evidence that there is a problem.
  • Branches include: increase in crime rates, cycle of poverty, teen pregnancies, coercive threats and social systems.
  • Roots of the problem include: lack of resources, foster care systems, greed, media hyper sexualization of children, addiction, substance abuse, and child neglect.
  • To explore the causes and effects of human trafficking, you must look at it as a whole, not just piece by piece.
  • The perspective of productivity.


[Note from the Ending Human Trafficking podcast team: This episode was recorded in 2011 so the contact information provided is no longer accurate. Please refer endinghumantrafficking.org/contact for the correct contact information to get in touch with the EHT podcast.]

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Dave: You’re listening to the Ending Human Trafficking podcasts; this is episode number 14, recorded in October 2011. Welcome to the Ending Human Trafficking podcasts, my name is Dave Stachowiak.

Sandie: And my name is Sandie Morgan.

Dave: And this is the show where we empower you to study the issues, be a voice, and make a difference in ending human trafficking. And Sandie, we are going to take time today to look through another lens that will help all of us to become more effective at understanding not just what we see on the surface, but some of the root causes of trafficking.

Sandie: Absolutely. We closed the last show with a question on prevention and that really makes you start thinking about, how do we end human trafficking by being a little more intentional and proactive about prevention strategies.

Dave: And so one of the things were going to do today is I think you are going to walk me through an exercise of how to look through this visually, so we will do our best to do this over the airwaves here, but to really understand this more holistically, and before we jump into the exercise, keep in mind that if you have any questions that come up about issues related to human trafficking, about topics that we talk about on today’s episode, don’t keep that question to yourself. If you have the question, probably 10 other people listening do as well, so be sure to email that question to us so we can respond to it, and you can email us at Gcwj@vanguard.edu, and Sandie will receive it over at the global center for women and justice here at Vanguard which sponsors the podcast.

Sandie: exactly, and if you want to call, you can call and leave a message, (714) 556- 3610, extension 2242.

Dave: So, Sandie, walk me through what we’re going to talk about today and how were going to look at this issue a little more holistically.

Sandie: well, we want to explore the causes and effects of the problem so we can really get our hands onto some different mechanisms for developing solutions, so we offer a training every semester called Hands that Heal, developed by the Faith Alliance against Slavery and Trafficking, we do a Train the Trainer, in fact the next one will be November 18th and 19th, if anyone is interested in that you can email. One of our class exercises is developing a problem tree, and so I thought I would walk you through that, Dave, you did such a good job when I we did our Internet safety quiz.

Dave: 100%, A+.

Sandie: I’m sure that you’re going to do a great job on drawing a problem tree.

Dave: I’ve given myself a high bar to live up to, so I am ready.

Sandie: If you’re listening to this podcast while you are driving, please do not take your eyes off the road and do not write any notes, but if you are sitting at the table or in a chair, get a piece of paper and just sketch with us. So, draw a tree. Draw the trunk, and the trunk is trafficking. Trafficking is the trunk. Then you start drawing branches, when you draw a tree, generally, people start with the trunk then they start adding branches, and they add leaves to it, and so we often see, what are the branched of human trafficking. What are the things that we see in our community that are evidence that this is a problem?

Dave: So like the tree, these are the most visible elements of the issue, so what would be some examples of what we would see on the leaves of this human trafficking tree, for lack of a better term?

Sandie: Well, some of the things that were identified in our class is that people saw increased crime rates as a result of increased human trafficking, they saw evidence of pimps and lots of the identified teen pregnancies, that rape was one of the things associated with trafficking, they looked at psychological issues and people that were trapped in bondage because of debt bondage, because of coercive threats, and remember that the three elements of trafficking is force, fraud or coercion, and those are things that we can identify. We see victims who are in a place where they don’t have any resources; so, we look at this and one of the problems that our class identified was generational cycles of poverty. We also see evidence that this is problem is that there is high demand out there. Our class looked at ads on the Internet and in newspapers that offered thinly veiled commercial sex ads. What is that about? And how do we begin to develop the solution? One of the problems that we see in pimps recruiting, in high-risk areas in last episode, we talked about the recent report on Native American women, and 95% were homeless. So, they were very vulnerable to being recruited. So how do you begin to do intervention? Well some of the prevention strategies have been very awareness focused and there are some great projects out there based on that kind of philosophy and they will pass out little cards saying ‘don’t listen to people who offer you a job, don’t go with someone who is going to take advantage of you, they teach girls about the lover-boy scenario that we’ve talked about in the past, and that’s increased awareness. Is it necessarily helpful for real prevention when you are homeless?

Dave: Well I have my tree here, so I’ve got my trafficking trunk, which is the issue of course, and I have drawn a palm tree of course since I am Californian. I’ve got all these issues that you’ve just mentioned, Sandie, so psychological issues, cycle of poverty rate, teen pregnancies, coercive threats, all of these are leaves to the tree, and I think the analogy here is these are the things that we can see. So, if I look at a tree, out on the street outside of our house, I can see the tree, and everything outside of the trunk, so all of the visual things, and all of the things that are identifiable.

Sandie: Exactly, and one of the things that the class identified was the heavy burden on our social systems, and I think every day I see something on the news about our foster system that is overloaded and people are outraged that kids are falling through the cracks, then we have probation departments who are working with juvenile offenders, and this is one of the things we have to remember when we are looking at issues around kids, is that our juvenile justice system is supposed to be a rehabilitative system. Our criminal justice system is punitive, but our juvenile justice is supposed to be rehabilitative. However, the system is so overloaded that it’s very difficult for it to function in that way. So then, that’s an outcome that we can see that’s visible. So, what are the roots to that one? That one is pretty easy. There are just a lot less resource out there for those agencies, and where their job is requiring more resources, the resources available, and the funding resources are not there.

Dave: So, this is starting to transition into what underground, here?

Sandie: Yeah, so now we want to look and see what are the roots to the problem? And a very simple root is the lack of resources for the social systems that we count on to help do interventions and to do preventions, especially with children.

Dave: So, is the part that’s underground, under the tree then?

Sandie: Yeah, so begin to think visually about roots. They are growing underground, and they are going to produce something, and what those roots are will determine what kind of leaves you have. So, if the roots are really ugly things, the leaves are not going to look very attractive either.

Dave: So, the lack of resources is one of these roots that contribute to the trafficking problem, the problem that we can see.

Sandie: Exactly, exactly. One of the roots that our class identified was the number of kids that age out of the foster care system. So the system is already overloaded, so what happens to a young person that turns 18, and when you go to the internet and do some research, there are very, very few programs that will help that young person transition between being 17 and having a place to stay that’s provided by social services.

Dave: And it is such a challenging and difficult system, Sandie. I have heard some stories of folks who have been in that system, and I just this week heard a show called “The Story”, so folks look online on NPR for a show called “The Story” and it was about a young woman in New York City, who was single, who decided to become a foster parent, and her journey through fostering kids, and it was just an amazing story and also very heartbreaking of some of the stories of some of the children and their path early and of course later in their childhood, and it’s easy to see how that can be such a strong contributing factor for folks being effected by trafficking.

Sandie: So, a child who is getting some help in the foster system and turns 18 suddenly doesn’t have access to those resources anymore. So, this issue that we have talked about before, the marginalized population of being homeless makes them very vulnerable to someone who offers them a way out. A place to sleep, a way to survive and so one of the prevention solutions that we need to be looking at is how do we do a better job of offering resources to young people who are aging out? One of the things that we know about kids who are in the foster system is that the large majority of them have been in the system for quite a long time, they don’t have the normal family system of support, so going to college is going to be a bigger challenge, finding a job is going to be a challenge, no one is going to be giving them a car for their 18th birthday.

Dave: Yeah.

Sandie: And in fact, instead they may be given their farewell notice that their housing is no longer available to them because they are 18, and lots of kids are not done with high school at age 18, so they still may be in high school and there are some bridge programs for those kids that have been very helpful.

Dave: I wish that these were the only two factors leading to human trafficking, but unfortunately there are many more. I have a couple more roots drawn on here, so what else do you see as being a key piece?

Sandie: Well, we have the issue of demand and this is something that we’ve already talked about, were going to have to do an entire program on demand, and demand is fed by the society, the consumer’s desire for cheap labor, cheap products, it isn’t just associated with sex trafficking, although that is a big part of demand as well, so how do we begin to develop solutions that identify at-risk businesses and consumer patterns that actually allow for trafficking to be profitable.

Dave: And one thing that folks may remember if they’ve listened to some of our earlier episodes when we talked about trafficking being a business back in episode 2 I believe it was, Sandie, that we all play a role in this demand equation, it’s not just the person that’s out for sex, there is a larger economic factor here that we all need to look at, as in the choices we make about the purchases we make and the organizations we support, so I am guessing that’s a pretty big root.

Sandie: And that big root is going to be labeled ‘Greed’, because we want more, we want it to be cheap, we want someone else to mow the lawns, and someone else to wash the windows, and someone else to cook the food, but we don’t want to pay a lot for it. We want to go to that all you can eat buffet and get all you can eat, but who is getting paid and who is not getting paid and asking ourselves that question and addressing that issue form a cultural perspective as well as how are we going to monitor that in our communities. This is a big part of developing solutions.

Dave: Yeah, it’s a lot of things to think about, uncomfortable things to think about, Sandie, as we all unfortunately do play a role in this. I think one of the things is a root problem that has gained a lot of attention in recent weeks is media hyper-sexualization of children. I think of the recent reports of a 6-year-old on the runway in a modeling fashion show in very, very inappropriate attire from our perspective. How do we handle that? What do we do? Do we continue to allow little children who don’t have the capacity to know a different way, and it becomes the norm for them? Do we try to figure out how to enlist parents who are going to be better role models for them? So, when they don’t understand their own roles, they don’t understand their identity and it’s not a healthy identity. They become more vulnerable to the deception and to the kind of media attention that will exploit them. And that’s what sex trafficking is all about, it’s about exploiting the sexuality, selling commercial sex acts. Another big root in our tree is addiction. So whenever were talking about human trafficking, substance abuse issues are not far away.

Dave: And we haven’t really talked much about addiction in previous episodes, Sandie, so tell me a little more about that.

Sandie: No, we haven’t, in fact the very first victim of human trafficking that I ever provided any aftercare for was a 14-year-old boy whose mother and stepfather were selling him to pay for their drugs. Last year, a case that was tried in Orange County was related to a gang that sold a 15-year-old girl in exchange for drugs. Over and over and over again it’s the same story. The substance abuse drives the victimization of a child, a woman, in order to feed this addiction. So, we have to really look at not keeping these things separate, the drug issue is very related to the human trafficking issue.

Dave: And Sandie, as we have talked about on previous episodes, it’s difficult to get good statistics around many of these things because of course, many of these things go unreported. That said, is there any numbers out there as far as how many, or what percentage of trafficking cases are drug related or have a drug connection to?

Sandie: That would take a little bit of research. I’m sure there is some research out there, and I am so happy that I have all these wonderful students at Vanguard, and I will definitely ask some of them to start doing a lit review on that and come back to you with an answer on that.

Dave: Great.

Sandie: Another one of the big roots of trafficking that feeds the vulnerability of the victims is a history of abuse, and the abuse of a child psychologically, physically, spiritually, sexually, those all are documented aspects of what creates a good victim. So that people who are trying to lure young people into commercial sexual exploitation will look for young people who are already suffering from the aftereffects of a life of abuse, and maybe they’ve run away from an abuse situation. So, it’s not that there wasn’t a home, it’s just that in their home it was too painful to stay, and they ran away from that. Here in California, according to this year’s statistics, there are 200, 000 12 to 17-year-old who are homeless. And many of them are homeless because of abuse. One of the other parts of abuse that we don’t often think about, we often think about the physical, there’s a black eye or a bruise or a broken bone, we often hear reports on child sexual abuse. What we don’t talk about is child neglect. And neglect is another area of abuse that is really important. Child who don’t have any supervision and become very vulnerable to someone, or a neighborhood older student or adult that offers them some friendship, and ‘oh by the way, lets watch this program’ and its pornographic, and so they become very easy to groom, and that is something that is just not rooted in an abuse per-se from that someone is outwardly physically abusing, but it is still abuse when you have children that no one is watching, no one is protecting. I’m often asked, how can we do better prevention with our children? And the reality is, children can’t process how to protect themselves, so it’s our job as the adults to protect them. So, a lot of the prevention involves parents and adults in the community developing very good strategies for protecting the children.

Dave: It’s sad, Sandie, that the most vulnerable often become the most victims, and so it speaks to the importance of what we talked about back in episode 12 about protecting kids online as being one of those factors, and really having good systems and tools that really do create awareness and that keep people educated but also really prevent the most vulnerable from being taken advantage of and I know that there are so many other lenses, it’s just an addition to online, but really being able to tackle that and use the resources that are available to us to do that.

Sandie: And the predators, the perpetrators, the traffickers are going to look for the easiest victims, that’s how they do their business, and those victims are runaways and abused and sometimes they call them “throwaways.”

Dave: This picture is unfortunately starting to take shape and it makes sense, Sandie, I am seeing all these things on the top, the trunk of the tree, the leaves that we see and of course the things underground here, all these roots that I am drawing, lack of resources, demand, greed, abuse, addiction, it really is a good way to visualize how this all fits together and how these relate, because it’s easy to go after the leaves because you can see that and you can attack that, but that’s not really what’s driving the issue and it sounds like in most cases.

Sandie: And I think we can start using a little different terminology. When we are looking at the leaves on this tree, let’s talk about interventions, we are going to talk about something that’s already being produced, because of the root problem. So, I am not saying we shouldn’t be looking at the leaves, we need to be looking at the leaves.

Dave: Right.

Sandie: But we also have to get more focused on how we are going to do real prevention which is at the root level.

Dave: So, we need to look at the whole tree, is what you’re saying.

Sandie: Yeah. The roots, and the roots are going to take a little more time, and we have to be a lot more patient, were not going to even see the results. We aren’t even going to be able to see the results when we start attacking those root things. And for westerners, we are very into instant gratification. We want to see those results right now.

Dave: We are.

Sandie: And in this very competitive funding era season because of the economy, results are what get you the funding, so doing these kinds of slow growth strategies is not as attractive to most organizations, so we need to find ways then to make it more attractive for more organizations to be involved in these root issues.

Dave: So, it’s easier for organizations to go after intervention type things, which again, as we’ve mentioned, are very important to do, but also in addition to that, we need to be looking at the root causes. I think of our neighborhood here, Sandie, we have a tree outside our front yard that they do regular maintenance on the leaves but they are having some real issues with the roots and they are always hesitant to come out to handle the root issue because it costs a lot of time and resources for them to handle the real problem. But it’s exactly liked this lens we are looking through, around trafficking.

Sandie: And I would encourage people to consider what some of the other root issues are, we barely broke in the surface on exploring this. I think one of the areas we can also look at is the socioeconomic issues, the poverty and what are the pieces of that root that might be involved? Lack of affordable housing, language barriers with families that are broken and blended families and with unemployment, families moving in together so there is more than one family in the same house. So the issue multiply and become overwhelming so that when you look at the tree, you see a tree that is not healthy, and if we look at it from the perspective of the ugliness of the roots, we are going to get some ugly leaves, but if you look at it from the perspective of productivity and lots and lots of leaves, the fact that these roots are continuing to grow unrestrictedly, it means that this tree is going to thrive. Human trafficking will thrive in our community as long as we only rake the leaves up and get rid of the mess but don’t address the root issues, we’ve got to get more focused on why this is happening.

Dave: And I think that speaks to what we’re doing with the podcast here Sandie, and what we’re trying to do, and I think both of us knew when we started doing this podcast that we wouldn’t see immediate results as far as people taking what they’ve learned here and utilizing it and that that would not be something to turn the tide immediately, but over time for the people, for you who are listening to us right now, you who are educating yourself and learning about these issues and studying these issues, that over time that really does help us to address the root of the problem because we have people going out into the world who are empowered with good resources and so I am excited that we continue this show, to continue to educate people out there to really be able to take action in a way that’s effective and proactive.

Sandie: And there are people out there who have expertise in areas that I know nothing about, like affordable housing. How do we do better affordable housing and how do we make choices about city initiative, county initiatives, state initiative that create housing opportunities for people. Those are issues that are way beyond what I can take care of in the classroom, but the root issues that the community can find solutions for.

Dave: Believe it or not Sandie, that’s going to just about be our time for today again, and I know you have a visual of this tree, is this something that we can get on the website?

Sandie: Yeah, we can make this available to you, and if you would like to come to the class and build your own problem tree, please email GCWJ@vanguard.edu for information on how to register for the November 18th and 19th Hands that Heal training.

Dave: And that’s here in Southern California?

Sandie: Here at Vanguard University.

Dave: In Costa Mesa, California, so it is right smack dab in the middle of Orange County, and so, what else for folks who may be interested and may be local will the class cover and really look at?

Sandie: It will look at the causes, and the push and pull factors, many of the same things we talk about on the podcast, but it will also go into aftercare and how to educate people in your community about human trafficking, you’ll leave there with a community book that will help you lead a discussion in your own community and prepare leaders to address the root issues.

Dave: And are you leading the training or is it someone else

Sandie: Yes, I am.

Dave: Great, great. Well that’s a great resource for people to know about, and this podcast is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as how much we can really learn and educate ourselves around being able to end human trafficking, so if that’s something that’s of interest to you, be sure to send an email to us and Sandie will get you information about that upcoming training, November 18th and 19th, you can email us at GCWJ@vanguard.edu, and by the way that’s also the address to send an email if you have comments and questions about anything we’ve said today that we can address in the future show, or of course folks can call as well.

Sandie: Yes, at (714) 556-3610, ext. 2242.

Dave: And we will be back in 2 weeks with another episode, Sandie thank you so much again for your time.

Sandie: Thank you, it’s great.

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