It has come up again on multiple occasions in the past few weeks, so one misunderstanding about human trafficking must be addressed. Specifically, people assume that most victims of human trafficking are controlled by drugs. The perception certainly makes sense. Authorities believe that drugs and human trafficking are often closely tied to one another. And, given the plethora of drugs out there, it seems reasonable to assume that drug dealing slavers would use one product to help sell another. People who begin to grapple with understanding the mindset of the victim who seems to remain voluntarily in a slave / slaver relationship are understandably drawn to the idea that the victim must not be in his or her right mind. Drugs would obviously keep them in an altered state and more pliable, even in the face of possible escape. Plus, it happens in movies and on television, so it must be true, right? It all makes for a nice, tidy explanation. The problem, of course, is that neither economics nor risk reward understanding support such a view. What do I mean by that last statement?
Pretend you are a slaver. Your primary reason for owning slaves is economic exploitation. The more your slave works, in theory, the more money that you make. What is the overhead of owning a slave? There is the initial cost of purchase and transportation. Maybe there is room and board, if the slave is particularly lucky. Clothing. That’s about it. The reason slavers make so much money is that they make as little an investment as possible in their slaves. That is one of the big differences between modern slavery and, say, the Atlantic slave trade which led eventually to our Civil War. Slaves in those days were a real investment, often to the tune of $100,000 in our modern currency. Slaves today are just another cheap commodity. A pimp/slaver may take one of his girls to a doctor for an abortion, but do we really think they are providing dental care? Annual checkups? STD treatments? Drugs simply are an unnecessary overhead expense.
The fact of the matter is that drugs cost money. In fact, many drugs cost way more than modern slaves! Worse, the more drugs used by an individual, the more that are required to get the same effect. Once the human body builds up tolerances, it takes more of a substance to get them high or make them docile or whatever affect we want. Where drugs costs can be based on the ounce, one can see how the economic cost of keeping ones slaves hooked on drugs will increase over time, at least until the individual in question dies of an overdose. Now, consider the expense involved if one owns a number of slaves. The economics simply get to be too costly to support drug control of slaves.
Besides the economic cost, there is a risk reward cost which also must be considered by any slaver. While it is true that the country and world is just awakening to the problem of human trafficking, we are all very much aware of the drug problem plaguing the world. We all know that the United States fought a War on Drugs, and some would argue that we lost, given the recent efforts and successes at legalizing marijuana. People are conscious of suspicious activities which might indicate a drug transaction. Every time someone goes to buy illegal drugs, they take a risk. Will I get caught for purchasing drugs this time? Has somebody called the cops on us? Is the seller part of a sting? If my supplier gets pinched, will he or she give me up?
Pretend again you are a slaver. The community in which your slaves work is blissfully unaware of how you make your money. But, to keep your slaves in line, you have to purchase drugs every so often, otherwise the slaves behavior gets a bit more erratic. How long until someone realizes you are buying lots of drugs? How long until your supplier is busted and gives you up in a plea deal? How long until your slave makes a mistake high on those drugs, alerting authorities to a potential drug problem? Law enforcement may not yet fully understand human trafficking and the extent of brainwashing which slavers use to control their slaves, but they sure understand the illegality of drug purchases and sales. At some point, the purchase of drugs will likely be discovered by law enforcement, ending the profitable business of slavery. Society and law enforcement are simply too aware of its presence.
So what keeps slaves docile, if not drugs? Violence or the threat of violence are the primary tools of slavers. Those combined with shame are effective weapons in breaking down another human being. We know that most victims of trafficking are overwhelmingly female and often minors. What chance does a 13, 14, 15, 16 year old girl have resisting threats, real or perceived, against her life or the lives of her friends and families? Further, given the shame culture which permeates much of the world, including the United States, how equipped is our young female victim to fight the stigma that society will place upon her? How equipped is the young boy or man, for that matter, to deal with the perceived insult to their “manhood”?
This process of violence and shame are not used to break down another human being quickly. It does take time. We know from survivor stories, such as the recent rescue of three girls in Cleveland, that the slavers will pose “tests.” The slaver may pretend he or she has left after giving the slaves a set of instructions, but, in the beginning, the reality is that the slave is never truly unobserved. Either the slaver or an appointed lieutenant is always watching the slave. Once the slave fails to follow the instructions to the letter, the violence immediately follows, thus reinforcing the truth of the threat. As reported in the recent rescue in Cleveland, Over time, the slave comes to believe that the slaver knows everything the slave does. Escape fades from a fleeting thought to an unhoped for possibility. Is it tragic? Absolutely.
Well, I heard this story that this person was drugged? Of course, there are all kinds of exceptions to the rule. There are stories about slavers using drugs during the “orientation” period to help confuse, addle, and break down their new captive slaves. And, just as there are people in the world who make bad business decisions in the legitimate business world, there are also people who make bad business decisions in the seedy underworld of human slavery. Given, however, the cost of drug control and the exposure to raids and stings in drug activity, such a practice remains the exception rather than the rule.
Does it make it harder for us to understand the mindset of the slave? Not really, but that understanding may cause us to be a bit more uncomfortable with what we know and what we think we know. Is our shame culture still so strong that men and women and boys and girls will choose to remain slaves rather than choose to try and escape? Are we so unaware of the activities going on around us that we miss slaves working under our noses? Unfortunately, as we continue to scrape at the surface and learn more about the practice of slavers and their effects on slaves, the answer increasingly points to yes.