Cultural Norms that Facilitate Human Trafficking
By Ramneek Singh
Human trafficking is a heinous crime that shockingly still exists in our society. Like many other heinous crimes, it leaves us wondering how such a malicious act towards another human being can take place. Why does it take place? Who could be so immoral as to do that to another person? I have the answer to all these questions, and the sad-but honest answer-is us. We are the how, what, and why. Although the traffickers are monsters, we are the ones that breed them. Even today, we perpetuate a culture that is destructive towards women, who make up the majority of human trafficking victims.
To understand the cultural attitudes that cause women to be trafficked, we have to look at what causes violence towards women in general. A study conducted by Oxfam, an international organization that works to fight poverty and injustice, identified 10 harmful beliefs across 12 countries in the Caribbean, Pacific, Africa, and Latin America that lead to violence against women. One belief was that “women cannot deny their male partner sex” (Oxfam). Another was that “sexual harassment is normal”(Oxfam). Beliefs like this facilitate human trafficking because they remove the idea of choice in the minds of men and women. Men feel like they have the right to control women physically and mentally, and women begin to believe that they have some sort of obligation towards men. As a result, crimes like trafficking become very easy to carry out because male traffickers have been taught their whole life that women are merely objects to be used. The victims are women who have already lost control over their bodies and minds, making it very easy for the traffickers to manipulate them.
Trafficking of women is also deeply rooted in gender inequality. For example, in India, the widespread preference of male children over female children leads to the devaluation of women and makes women particularly susceptible to human trafficking (Matusek). Asha Devi, the mother of gang-rape victim Jyoti, stated, “In many homes, they celebrate when a boy is born. But when a girl is born, people don’t rejoice as much. We gave out sweets and everyone said, ‘You’re celebrating as if it’s a boy’” (Matusek). This devaluation leaves very little opportunity for women, especially those that are socioeconomically disadvantaged, making it very easy for women to fall into the hands of traffickers (“Addressing the Root...”). For example, a family struggling with poverty may decide to sell their daughter to traffickers for some cash instead of working on educating her (which in the long run would be more beneficial) because they do not see any potential in a female child (Matusek).
Finally, in North America, the glorification of pimps in pop culture contributes to many women being trafficked at the hands of men. The formal definition of a “pimp,” according to the Cambridge dictionary, is “a man who controls prostitutes, especially by finding customers for them, and takes some of the money that they earn.” Although the formal definition does not acknowledge that many of these so-called “prostitutes” are in fact human trafficking victims, it still acknowledges that these men make their earnings by controlling sex workers (by choice or not). Despite this rather horrific definition, pop culture has not hesitated to completely redefine the word and put pimps on a pedestal. For example, the popular hip-hop artist Jay-Z made a song called “Big Pimpin,” which is famous among “a whole generation of young people” (Withers). Additionally, another song called “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” from the film Hustle & Flow (which was about a Memphis pimp) even received the Academy Award for Best Original Song (Withers). To make matters worse, there was also a tv show on MTV called “Pimp My Ride” which would make vehicles more luxurious (Withers). Popular culture, from song lyrics to TV shows, paints a highly desirable and lucrative image of pimps, which is incredibly problematic. This image normalizes the profession and removes any stigma associated with it. The word “pimp” becomes synonymous with words like “cool.” “wealthy,” and “boss,” and loses its true, more horrific meaning (Withers). This, in turn, makes young men believe that it is okay to abuse women and treat them as sexual objects for the sake of wealth and machismo. Consequently, a new generation of traffickers is born.
Evidently, the fight to prevent human trafficking is not an easy one. In order to stop such a crime from taking place, we need to eliminate the root cause of the problem: society’s harmful and oftentimes overlooked attitude towards women. We need to stop promoting toxic masculinity. We need to stop teaching young men that women are objects to be acquired and controlled. If we can work together to identify and actively fight misogyny, we as a society can crumble the foundation of human trafficking.
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