In rural Southwest China, women are being taught how to defend themselves against being abducted by human traffickers. The program, which is basically a non-violent self-defense class targeted towards those at-risk for trafficking, teaches women that they should yell for help, kick, and run to a crowded area if they are grabbed by traffickers. They’re also encouraged to try and engage the traffickers in conversation to get more information about them. While this program may seem to be arming women with important tools to protect themselves, it’s actually promoting misconceptions about trafficking and behavior which might put women in even more danger.
The biggest misconception this program perpetuates is that most human trafficking victims are abducted off the street by strangers who grab them and run. This does happen sometimes, but for the most part victims know or are at least acquainted with the person who first leads them into trafficking. Just like women are more likely to be raped by a family member, friend, partner, or date than a stranger, women are more likely to be trafficked by someone they trust than someone they don’t know. Even for those who are are trafficked by strangers, kidnapping is by no means the most common way for exploiters to get victims. Women may be deceived by being offered jobs or educational opportunities. They may be coerced into slavery due to debt, poverty, or another form of leverage the trafficker uses. They may even be kidnapped, from hotel rooms, work sites, and other not-so-public places where yelling for help would be ineffective.
Trafficking by abduction does happen, and it’s a good thing for women to be armed with the knowledge of how best to get help in such a situation. But this kind of prevention only covers a sliver of the ways traffickers get victims. It is much easier to recognize danger when a stranger grabs you and covers your mouth with his hand. It’s much harder when a friend of your uncle’s offers you a job as a waitress or a maid in the U.S. And yet, the latter may be much more dangerous. Plus, programs like these that only focus on how to avoid abduction give the impression that people who are deceived or coerced by their trafficker about the job situation, but willingly travel or sign up for work that turns out to be slavery, aren’t really trafficking victims.
The training also encourages women to try and get information out of would be traffickers before contacting the police. Putting an untrained person in the postilion of trying to interview a dangerous criminal without his or her knowledge is just plain irresponsible. People who find themselves in situations where they think they might be trafficked or otherwise harmed should get to safety as quickly as possible, and then work with law enforcement from a safe place.
The one highlight of the program is their efforts to arm women with tools for how to get out of a trafficking situation, if they find themselves in one. They go over ways previous victims have been able to contact the police while in captivity and remind women to keep their eyes out for any opportunity to get help. But despite that bright spot, such a myopic training program is at best a poor use of resources and an worst an additional hurdle for victims who were deceived or coerced into slavery to getting help.
Photo credit: yummyc00kie