On February 23, 2017, the US branch of the Vatican Foundation Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice and Fordham University co-sponsored the inaugural lecture of the Cassamarca Foundation Chair in Migration and Globalization, titled: “The Holy See and the Fight Against Human Trafficking.” The conference examined the realities of human trafficking today, what is being done, and what opportunities there are going forward.
The Gendered Nature of Human Trafficking
Fordham’s “Consultation on Human Trafficking” convened local and international experts to discuss the root causes and challenges of modern slavery. And while the panelists discussed different push factors – poverty, conflict, and forced migration – many highlighted the overarching role that gender plays in the human trafficking system.
“79% of people who are trafficked are women,” said Archbishop Bernardito Auza, the Inaugural Holder of the Casamarca Foundation Chair in Migration and Globalization, and the conference’s keynote speaker. “And while that percentage is decreasing, the number of women who are being trafficked in real terms is increasing.”
So why are women so vulnerable to human trafficking?
“Human Trafficking takes advantage of global indifference and an economy of exclusion” said the Archbishop. Women still constitute 70% of the world’s poor, and have unequal access to labor markets and economic resources. Human traffickers prey on women and girls who have fewer routes to economic independence, and who are willing to leave their homes to pursue financial opportunities. Convinced that there is a job waiting for them abroad, women find themselves trapped in sexual exploitation or domestic slavery.
Human trafficking also affects young women in the United States, particularly the homeless and those formerly in the foster system.
Jayne Bigelsen, Director of Anti-Human Trafficking Initiatives at Covenant House in New York, estimated that 15-25% of her clients have been trafficked. Most of them are young women with few mentors or family connections, and are trafficked by pimps who act as their boyfriend. The pimp provides emotional, financial, and housing stability, and then forces the woman into human trafficking.
“At first, many of our clients will say that they chose that life freely. But six months after they’ve gotten away from their pimps, they will say they didn’t really have a choice, that they had to do it if they wanted a place to sleep.”
Panelists also discussed human trafficking as a secondary trauma: “Many of the girls who are trafficked have been sexually abused at home.” said one panelist. “… We see that incest shatters the soul, and makes girls feel an incredible amount of shame. If I feel that I am worthless, what would keep me from making these decisions (to follow pimps)?”
Given the gendered nature of human trafficking, panelists called for solutions that take women’s unique vulnerability into account. Solutions included training law enforcement officers to recognize when women were being trafficked, and better coordination across government and NGO agencies. Ms. Bigelson said the best way to combat human trafficking was to be a good mentor and a good foster parent to young women.
Written by: Sydney Kornegay
Sydney is a first-year student in Fordham University’s Graduate Program in International Political Economy & Development.