A classic story involves a damsel in distress and a cruel, disillusioned villain. After arduous realities, the damsel is saved by a heroic mess of testosterone and the world is set right. The villain is banished to a castle in the abyss for all eternity while the damsel and her prince live happily ever after.
There are two points to this introduction.
The first is that without the villain, there’s no plot, or story. The identified evil would be absent. With no antihero, there is no need for justice (or prosecution). The villain must be present to illuminate the need for redress and to recognize the inherent nature of the crime and stop it at the source.
My second point is that narratives are the facilitators of human connection. As children we learn empathy through the triumphs and tribulations of the stories. The narratives connect us to people and things we may not otherwise attempt to understand.
Why or how are these two points connected in the field of human trafficking?
Let me set some context. Human trafficking was officially defined in Colorado law as a felony in 2006. One man was convicted for sex trafficking of a minor and adult to mark the first-ever human trafficking conviction under Colorado law in 2011. In 2009, Peruvian sheepherders brought a civil suit against an employer for miscellaneous trafficking atrocities. They won the case. These are some of the few cases brought against the perpetrators under state anti-trafficking laws that have succeeded in identifying, charging, and convicting the criminals with the intended appropriate laws.
You can find more information about the cases below:
These convictions represent the successes of law enforcement, prosecution, communities, service providers, and the survivors themselves. But how can this be enough? When there are service providers reaching hundreds of people every year who have survived numerous forms of exploitation and/or trafficking, how is it that only a handful of cases have been prosecuted under Colorado’s human trafficking statutes in the past nine years? And how much do we know about the individuals perpetrating these crimes, especially in the midst of such low conviction rates?
The first ever conviction in Jefferson County occurred in 2014 read more about it here: http://www.whas11.com/story/news/crime/2014/10/27/human-trafficking-sentencing-jefferson-county-kentucky/18010421/
In fact, I want to hear more about the people who are committing these atrocities and seemingly getting away with them. Instilling pressure on the criminal stops the cycle at it’s core and prevents the victimization of more vulnerable people. What can we learn about the motivations from these criminals? How can we prevent people from becoming perpetrators? Too often, the narrative seems to focus only on victims, which creates the delusion that this issue is one-sided. It most certainly is not.
I am advocating for an appropriate and holistic effort to address all aspects of human trafficking. How can we tell a better story that generates human connection?
A comprehensive approach brings the narrative around full circle generating understanding and universality. If you take the Brothers Grimm, their stories embody the elements of classic stories but are never clear. These tales depict a messy and chaotic parable. This reflects the efforts to end human trafficking. Frequently, the perpetrators are victims themselves and the evil behind the crime is hidden and deceitful to an obvious glance. To manifest a true holistic approach to end human trafficking, the victim, villain, and savior necessitate extensive research and insight.