Burmese police announced this week that out of the hundreds of human traffickers they have arrested over the past several years, at least 100 of them were once victims. Sadly, trafficking victims becoming traffickers is not unusual. But what makes a person go from victim to trafficker?
Most of the 100 victims-turned-traffickers were trafficked from Burma into China and Thailand for forced labor, forced prostitution, or forced marriage. Once discovered, they were shipped back to Burma, sometimes deported, and usually with no compensation. Back in Burma, there were no support services for them, no money for counseling or job training, no help with medical bills or education. The lack of support for victims traps them in a vicious cycle. Some people end up trafficked again and again because they cannot break out of that cycle. Others eventually break the cycle, by becoming traffickers themselves.
Victims can turn into traffickers for a number of reasons. For those trafficked as children, there may be no other conceivable industry for them to enter other than the one they were sold into as a child, whether that’s commercial sex, brick making, or domestic service. So as an adult, they follow the only career path they’ve known and recruit other children into the same industry. Others many find that the only model of power in their life is the person who owns and controls them — their trafficker. When they look around for ways to empower themselves, becoming a subjugater of others is all they see. Still others, as is the case with many of the 100 Burmese nationals, may not even realize what they’re engaging in is against the law. They know the trafficking routes, brokers, and bosses from the time they were forced to work. That they should recruit others to do the same thing might feel like the natural extension of their previous “job.”
The victim-turned-trafficker paradigm is particularly common among children forced into prostitution. Many of them develop such a close relationship with and dependency on their pimp, that once they’re adults they’ll help him lure other young girls into prostitution. It’s a cycle that can continue uninterrupted for generations, with older women recruiting younger girls because mentally, they’re still young and vulnerable themselves.
Of course, even trafficking victims have personal responsibility, and choosing to enslave other people is never acceptable for anyone. But having been a trafficking victim, especially having grown up as one, is a highly mitigating circumstance. People for whom slavery has been a daily norm may not immediately see their life as possible without it. And this cyclical effect of victims becoming traffickers and creating more victims is just one more way the global industry of human trafficking is a nefarious one.