Of all of Blue Dragon’s work with kids in crisis, it is our involvement in rescuing people trafficked into the sex industry that attracts the most attention.
Our rescues are in response to specific calls for help. Vietnamese girls and women who have been trafficked to China for sale as brides or into brothels call home for help; the message gets to us and we send a team to find them and bring them home.
Among the questions I am asked most about this work is a question of blame. How could the girls be so stupid as to go with the traffickers? Surely the families are complicit in this?
Such questions seek to place the responsibility for the crime on the shoulders of the victims.
Human trafficking is a lucrative business. A young woman from Vietnam can be sold into China for an up-front price of $5000 – $8000; or for a smaller up-front cost but with an ongoing commission of about $1500 per month. A trafficker can reasonably earn over $100,000 a year if he or she traffics just one victim every month.
With such massive profits awaiting them, the traffickers are prepared to put in time and energy. We’ve come across cases where traffickers have built a relationship with the victims for months – even up to a year – before putting their plan into action. Trafficking is not about men grabbing unsuspecting women off the street and driving them across the border to China. It’s about someone building up a relationship of trust over an extended period of time: through friendship, or employment, or romance. Traffickers can be young men; old women; business people; neighbours. There’s no single type of person who can be identified as a trafficker. All they have in common is a willingness to deceive others and sell them into slavery.
After building up a relationship, there will come a day when the trafficker says: “Come with me on a holiday to China.” Or alternatively: “I need to go up to the border for some work – and I could really use your help.” By this time, the trafficker and the victim are acquainted. They’ve helped each other. They’ve eaten together. They may have slept together. And the victim, normally a young woman or a teenage girl, has no reason to think that she may be falling in to a well crafted trap.
Part of the genius of this approach is that the victim believes she has been complicit. She went willingly with the trafficker; she wasn’t forced against her will. The traffickers make their targets feel that they are responsible for what happens to them next.
But blaming the victim is letting the trafficker off the hook. These girls are not going off to China on a lark and then changing their minds. Their families are not selling them – in over 500 cases we have dealt with, I am yet to see a single instance of this happening.
Assuming that the victim or to their family must bear some of the responsibility only shows our deep-seated prejudices, akin to judging a woman who is beaten by her husband.
In human trafficking cases, let’s not start by assuming the victim is at fault. The blame has to go to the one place it belongs: the trafficker.