Last week, I focused on the government side of human trafficking and looked at what countries across the world are doing in terms of prosecution, protection, and prevention. For my third proposal, I would like to focus on the “society” perspective of human trafficking and learn more about the issue from a interpersonal view. I was talking to my mom about the topic of my paper, and she suggested that I look into stories on CNN as she recalled several stories that they had published on the issue, including personal stories from victims. After some research, I found that CNN has developed the “Freedom Project – Ending Modern-Day Slavery.” The CNN Freedom Project began in 2011 as CNN decided to join the fight “to end modern-day slavery and shine a spotlight on the horrors of modern-day slavery, amplify the voices of the victims, highlight success stories and help unravel the complicated tangle of criminal enterprises trading in human life.” Just from my first initial look at the site (designated specifically to this topic) I could tell that CNN believes that human trafficking is a problem that can no longer be ignored.
Tony Maddox, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of CNN International explains that his connection to the topic began one day when he read a startling but true fact about human trafficking – that the levels of slavery and people trafficking today are greater than at any point in history. Maddox shared this with others at CNN and they immediately began wondering what CNN could do to help shed light on this issue. That’s when the Freedom Project came to mind. Today, the Freedom Project uses CNN’s full range of international resources to track and combat this issue. CNN has a presence in countries where people are abducted, traded, and passed into the hands of criminals, and then CNN follows the routes of the victims as they are ruthlessly moved to areas where they can “generate the highest return on investment.” Finally, CNN is there at the end of shocking and rough journey when men, women, and children are over-worked, raped and abused, and discarded when they are no longer of value. Some stories are tough to hear, but many individuals do have stories of courage and inspiration that they are ready to share with CNN and the rest of the world.
The Freedom Project website has so much information, from facts and figures to stories of victims to organizations that are putting up a fight against human trafficking. I’ve been pretty uneasy about reading any stories of victims, but I decided it was time and that I’d start with the stories CNN has shared. One that caught my attention was called “U.S. Midwest in crosshairs of child sex trafficking fight.” The story starts with a woman, named Tamara Vandermoon, who was willing to openly share her story. Vandermoon is from Minnesota and had her first experience with sex trading when she was 12 years old as she ran away from her broken home. At first, the sex trading was acceptable in the 12 year old’s eyes she just wanted to be accepted and loved. Vandermoon’s pimp, along with many others out there, prey on their victims by telling them how beautiful they are and promising them money and gifts. Additionally, they don’t tell their victims that they are pimps; they tell their victims that they are their boyfriends, which provides a psychological feeling of love and safety in the minds of young teenagers, making it seems as though this person doesn’t mean any harm. Vandermoon is now 31 and she is finally getting out of the sex-trade industry after two decades.
Since Vandermoon is from Minnesota, the story goes on to investigating sex-trade in the state and the rest of the Midwest, and I was shocked by the results. The FBI ranks Minneapolis-St. Paul among the top 13 places in the nation for sex trading because millions pass through the city everyday and there is the thought that no one is going to catch you in the Midwest. There are hundreds of thousands of runaways every year in the Midwest, which makes the potential pool of victims very large. What makes this number even more problematic is that within 48 hours of running away, one out of three teens will be approached by someone in the sex-trade industry. Americans, and especially Minnesota natives, like to believe that this could not be true, but the facts are right there and are more present than ever. John Choi, the chief prosecutor for Ramsey County, Minnesota, says that “We think children being trafficked are not our children but they are our children and they come from our communities. They are…easier to control, as well as in greater demand, though it’s a sick demand.” With the problem of sex-trafficking growing in the Midwest –in large part because of the surge of online advertising that gives buyers and sellers greater anonymity- anti-trafficking as been made a top priority. For instance, Minnesota has passed the Safe Harbor Act, which modified a Minnesota law to classify underage prostitutes as victims, not criminals. In addition, there have been several foundations and campaigns that have been established to help victims and stop the problem of human trafficking once and for all.
The CNN Freedom Project website was so useful in providing stories from a societal prospective. The stories presented have provided me with insight as to the struggles that victims face and the history of their stories- from how they became involved to their departure from the industry. These stories published in the CNN Freedom Project are reliable sources of information, and I plan to use this source heavily and further explore personal stories to learn more about the victims’ lives. In the near future, I will continue reading personal stories and explore other aspects of the Freedom Project website, such as watching documentaries, looking at CNN’s coverage of organizations that are campaigning against human trafficking, and further facts and figures produced from CNN’s findings.