TEDx speakers talk human trafficking

A dozen students and a panel of professionals gathered in Student Center West’s House Salon to talk about a major issue not only in Atlanta but in the country: human trafficking.

At a TEDx event on March 11, Deborah Richardson and Monica Khant educated young listeners about human trafficking, its threat, its demand, its frequency, its implications and its role in the production of goods we use every day. Richardson is the executive director of the International Human Trafficking Institute. Khant is the executive director of the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network.

This issue affects Atlanta especially. The Georgia Bar has named Atlanta a mainstay for human trafficking, and the FBI has named the city one of the top hotspots of child sex trafficking.

According to the Office for Victims of Crime, victims of human trafficking may suffer from anorexia, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The event was organized by the Student Affairs Leadership Programs, which “provides a variety of programs and services to assist students in developing their leadership potential and considering how they can [help] their … communities.”

The event was divided into four segments: a TED Talk video, a Q&A with Richardson, a Q&A with Khant and a preview of the Slavery Footprint Survey.

A TED Talk by Noy Thrupkaew

Spectators watched a TED Talk by Noy Thrupkaew, a freelance writer who has written for The Nation, National Geographic and The New York Times, focusing on labor issues.

First, Thrupkaew told how she became acquainted with trafficking as a child. She was reared by a Thai woman who she called her auntie. It wasn’t until she became much older that she realized that her “auntie” was trafficked from Thailand on a tourist visa. Thrupkaew had vivid memories of seeing her auntie being beaten. 

“I became so hysterical over her treatment that eventually, she was just beaten behind closed doors,” Thrupkaew said.

Thrupkaew criticized our limited perception of the realities of human trafficking. Some believe that human trafficking is simply when a girl is forced into prostitution. But according to Thrupkaew, other forms of human trafficking exist. They are “behind closed doors” in comparison to their more gut-wrenching counterparts. 

“We let ourselves think that human trafficking is only about forced prostitution, when in reality, human trafficking is embedded in our everyday lives,” she said.

She said that people oftentimes support the practice unknowingly, even major philanthropists such as Pierre Odimyar, the founder of eBay. 

“Even [Odimyar] wound up accidentally investing nearly $10 million in the pineapple plantation cited as having the worst working conditions in that Global Horizons case,” Thrupkaew said.

A Panel by Deborah Richardson

Richardson has had 30 years of experience in the nonprofit world and has helped more than 20 American communities fight against human trafficking and child exploitation.

Once, she encountered the case of a young girl who was sex trafficked. She was discovered while a 42-year-old man rented her for two hours of sex. In the end, the girl was charged for prostitution.

According to Richardson, many child exploiters aren’t incarcerated. 

“24% of men convicted of child rape don’t spend a day in jail,” she said. 

They will likely keep doing it because there’s no punishment.

Richardson said that the biggest barrier to work against human trafficking is ignorance. Many aren’t aware of the signs of child exploitation in plain sight, for example, when boys sell water on the side of the street.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, goods such as chocolate, footwear, furniture, coffee, jewelry and rice are often the products of child labor, which by and large helps sustain human trafficking.

Richardson said that if someone suspects human trafficking is taking place, the best thing to do isn’t to confront the victim, which may put them in more danger, but to contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline (1-888-373-7888) or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Hotline (1-800-843-5678).

A student asked if anything was being done for victims of human trafficking after they were removed from those circumstances. Richardson said that prevention was better than the cure. 

“No amount of counseling or prayers can bring back the child she was before,” she said.

A Panel by Monica Khant

Khant is an advocate specializing in immigration law. She was 11 when she decided she wanted to become a lawyer.

Khant, like Thrupkaew, was exposed to the effects of abuse and exploitation at an early age, when she saw her aunt, an Indian immigrant, beaten. The aunt didn’t know her protections under the law against trafficking and exploitation. This is what drove Khant to become an attorney.

She cites not only ignorance but plainness and power imbalance as barriers that get in the way of truly solving this issue.

Many, when buying goods, don’t know what happens behind the scenes. When Khant was working as a hostess at an Indian restaurant, she noticed some of her co-workers working unusually long hours.

Whenever Khant would leave to go home, they’d still be working. They came to and left work in a van. She felt something was off, but at the time, she didn’t connect the dots.

Such conditions are made worse by the victims’ inability to fight against traffickers, fearing deportation, harm or even death if they refuse.

Human trafficking can happen in broad daylight, even the worst kinds. Child sex trafficking and exploitation, Khant said, doesn’t usually occur at 12 at night when “everyone’s ready for a booty call.” Many transactions occur in the afternoon, when many are at work.

Sometimes, people notice things that are off, but don’t tell, because they were taught not to tell, or that “snitches get stitches.” Americans are often private with their affairs, not letting anyone else interfere with them and not interfering with anyone else’s.

However, Khant warns her audience against such behavior because it can keep real cases of human trafficking from coming to light. She tells her audience to pay attention when “you’re in a Chinese restaurant and there are Latinos cooking in the back.”

The Slavery Footprint Survey

A member of the audience volunteered to participate in the Slavery Footprint Survey. This survey compiles data on the participant’s age, sex, diet, clothing and tech habits, then shows approximately how many slaves it takes to uphold their lifestyle.

The volunteer, after completing the survey, found out that they “have 55 slaves.”

“Let’s be honest,” the website said, “one slave is too many.”

This event has helped educate Georgia State students about the dangers of human trafficking, but also highlighted its frequency and plainness in everyday life. 

“If you’re a human trafficker, that’s the beauty of it,” Khant said. “You have victims depending on you in plain sight.”