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Professor discusses human trafficking

Marisa Iati | Wednesday, November 30, 2011

To combat human trafficking, people must first acknowledge its existence, anthropology professor Carolyn Nordstrom said in a lecture Wednesday evening.

Nordstrom warned attendees not to think human trafficking only occurs in distant nations.

“It’s completely global today,” she said. “This is reality if you’re a kid in a war zone. You’re not just dodging bullets … you’re dodging traffickers.”

Modern laws against human trafficking are built on the antislavery laws that resulted from the Civil War, Nordstrom said. But people often incorrectly assume human trafficking is prostitution.

“To say that human trafficking is prostitution would be like saying the slaves on plantations before the Civil War chose to be slaves that got paid for it and were prostitutes,” she said.

Human trafficking is rooted in the desire of businesspeople to increase profits at any cost, Nordstrom said. It is cheaper to force people to work than to pay wages.

“Sovereignty is largely built on the backs of trafficked people,” Nordstrom said. “When you’re a country coming out of a war, trying to develop, to make some kind of mark in the world, you need one thing more than anything else. You need hard currency … The more money you make, the more you win the game, the more you can become a player on the international scene.”

People are seen as more disposable now than they were before the Civil War, a problem that contributes to human trafficking, Nordstrom said.

“We are exceptionally critical of people who had slaves during the slave era,” Nordstrom said. “We are exceptionally critical of scholars who justify that. A lot has been written about [modern human trafficking]. How will we be seen by the future?”

Despite the issue’s complexity, Nordstrom said she is optimistic that people can combat human trafficking.

“The underlying theme is the idea of individual responsibility,” she said. “One-third of all trafficking victims that have been found and helped have just been [the result of] individuals that went out and did something. Almost all major change in the world starts with individual action, not with formal legislation … Just simply seeing [trafficking victims] is the answer.”

The solution to the problem lies in questioning norms, Nordstrom said.

“Do you all have a sense of the layers of undocumented farm work in the United States? Most of us don’t and we don’t ask because our lives are a little bit easier because of it,” Nordstrom said.

Nordstrom said the first step is discussing human trafficking and sharing stories.

“If you saw one person in your life that was trafficked, wouldn’t you feel good about that, turning it in to a cop,” Nordstrom asked. “And if we all did that, it would probably almost be over.

“It’s so hard to look at the underbelly, but I really think we have to … I don’t think we can have dignity unless we’re willing to see what’s really going on in our world. We can’t pretend it’s not there anymore.”