Human Trafficking in Northern Ireland: Changing Culture (4/5)

Yesterday we looked at the demand for human trafficking in Northern Ireland: if it didn’t exist, trafficking wouldn’t exist either. The post is here. Feel free to read through Monday and Tuesday‘s posts as well.

So how DO we tackle the demand?

This is the tough question. As we step up to take responsibility for challenging and changing our poisonous culture, it is easy to feel overwhelmed at the thought of what  a gargantuan task that is. But let me plead with you: it is VITAL that we do. However long it takes, however difficult it may be and however many avenues we go down, we MUST stop a culture that allows the evil of human trafficking in its tracks. Humans are not for sale. Humans are of infinite worth. Women (and men) are not sex objects.

Prostitution has moved off the streets and into brothels; hotels; private accommodation. That is where sex trafficking also is. It is where we live. It is where the population is. Thus, the solution is also there. It is with us. It will be birthed in our communities and sustained through them.

Groups such as the Stop the Traffik ACT groups are praised for their work in raising awareness about human trafficking and educating communities on what its signs are and what it really means. They are present in many spheres: hotels, taxis, sport stadiums…where the people are. It is here that change happens.

I don’t have the space and you don’t have the time to list all of the ways in which we could challenge this harmful culture. The answer lies in our attitudes, in our words, in our conversations, in our choices, in our awareness, in our knowledge, in our footsteps.

An important point is to be made here: human trafficking is not only sex trafficking. Yes, the PSNI estimates 170 people in Northern Ireland available right now to be sold for sex – but they also suggest that although sex trafficking is the most common kind of trafficking in NI, a close second is forced labour in many industries. They have found victims in the fishing industry. The catering industry. The agricultural industry.. And so whilst our first port of call may indeed be to make NI a place where buying sex is as socially unacceptable as drink-driving, we have a great deal more to do (I know…as if that weren’t enough!)

Indulge me as I also suggest that our duty is not only to deal with human trafficking directly. If we are to combat this problem, a step back is necessary: human trafficking, in essence, is the robbing of human worth. In the times of Wilberforce, a slave would be sold for today’s equivalent of $40,000. Today, a human being can be purchased for under $200. Thus, humans have become ‘disposable’ as well as exploitable. And so, to create a culture in which it cannot happen, the worth of humans must be upheld. No, humans should not be sold: nor should they be exploited. Nor should they be locked into rooms or cells. Nor should they be denied their human rights. Nor should they be raped 10 times a day. Nor should they be deprived of sleep or food or warmth…or dignity or freedom. Humans are of infinite and complete worth and value. In places and minds and conversations where this is not so, there is a well waiting to be filled with truth.

In order to create what a friend brilliantly named a place that is “safe for victims and dangerous for traffickers”, our culture must change.

You are the agent for change. I am passionate about counter-trafficking activism and will continue to be; but I am also passionate about every other kind of activism and work that instills a sense of worth and value – I hesitate to pinpoint this to specific actions or even professions, because it is in the overriding theme of an attitude that the truth is communicated. It is in treating human beings with respect and as though they are of worth. And so, salespeople who treat others with respect and integrity, talking to the guy who sells the Big Issue on the corner you walk by every day,  churches with great family support ministries, using a helpful tone in that frustrating phone call, service projects to poverty-stricken areas, texting your friend to remind them of their value, the medical and educational professions investing in people’s lives in their own ways, trying to beat an addiction to porn, how you treat the person who sells you your milk, promoting healthy body image, journalism and media that colour the picture with bright colours of human diversity and worth, working towards laws that uphold human worth, outreach to the homeless, fighting sexualisation in perfume ads, the conversation you will have with that person, – you know, them – tomorrow in which you will remind them, through how you treat them, of their worth.

Because each human being is worth a great deal. A great deal more than any earthly price.

No human should ever be treated as though that were not true. No human should ever be ‘devalued’. No human should ever be exploited. No human should ever be for sale.

I know that it seems that stopping human trafficking is a massive task. But please, even just for the next few minutes, dream with me. Be audacious. Dare to think about a world without trafficking. Although legislation, prosecution, rescue operations, aftercare, and awareness are extremely important, YOU have a huge part to play in the solution…perhaps by getting involved in these things (please do), but also, immediately and pressingly, by knowing your worth, and reminding others of theirs, too. Let’s build a world where humans are valued and human trafficking can’t breathe.

Tomorrow’s post is a wrap-up of this week’s series. Some of you have been in touch with things you’d like covered – please do let me know what would be helpful. (Update: the post is now up.)

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