CNN has consistently reported on human trafficking crimes, and its recent report on African women being held in slave-like conditions in Newark, New Jersey reveals the classic pattern of exploitation in contemporary society.
The report focuses on two women — from among 20 — trafficked into the U.S. from the west African nations of Ghana and Togo. The women were put to work in beauty salons, where they worked up tp 14 hours per day, sometimes seven days a week. When not working, they were held like prisoners in over-crowded rooms, watched over by their traffickers, denied any semblance of freedom, and generally mal-treated as slaves.
The women’s accounts are shocking and compelling, but — unfortunately — not all that unusual in several respects. For one thing, the women were “recruited” from Africa as minors, still naive about the larger world and especially vulnerable to the persuasive promises of the traffickers. On a global basis, the vulnerability of young girls is — next to poverty — perhaps the key contributing factor that explains the growth of human trafficking.
For another, the traffickers were not outsiders, but instead Africans themselves. And one of the gang leaders was a woman. Contrary to widely-held assumptions, traffickers and victims often are from the same nation, the same social-economic class — even the same neighborhood. A surprising number of convicted traffickers are women (many of themtrafficking survivors).
The other common pattern in the CNN story is trafficking’s invisibility. The women worked with customers from the greater New York area for years, without anyone apparently suspecting that the person who was braiding their hair or doing their nails was a slave being held captive. Why the victims didn’t say anything to their customers reveals another typical trafficking situation: the dominating fear of physical reprisal. Traffickers combine sweet-talking promises with ugly threats of violence, making many victims scared to death to speak up.
As the CNN broadcast reflects, the news media is beginning to pay attention to the issue of human trafficking. That’s all to the good, especially if viewers also begin to take notice.