Should You Buy Slaves?

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has written frequently about the issue of modern slavery around the world, and in 2004, he decided to do something about it. He purchased the freedom of two prostitutes in Cambodia; one went on to escape the horrors of trafficking, while another eventually returned to her old life. Other aid groups have tried this tactic as well, but it's generally one that's frowned upon. Not only does it perpetuate the idea that a life can be bought and sold, but unless the former slave has resources in place to deal with his or her new freedom, it can be a traumatic, unsuccessful experience for the victim.

Putting an End to Human Trafficking

When talking about ending human trafficking, the U.S. State Department and the United Nations emphasize a "3P approach." The 3 P's are prevention, prosecution and protection. As we've discussed in this article, prosecutions of traffickers have remained low. The U.S. and the U.N. recognize that until traffickers realize that there are dangerous consequences for their actions, they will continue to engage in trafficking.

We've also discussed how protection for victims has been limited. In their latest report on human trafficking, the State Department explains how countries are more likely to offer victims the 3 D's: detention, deportation and disempowerment. Instead of seeing victims as people who need help and who engaged in illegal activity against their will, society sees them as criminals who are in the country illegally. Victims might be jailed or deported, but once they're released or back in their home countries, they usually end up in the hands of their traffickers once again. Aid groups urge a case-by-case analysis regarding whether a victim should be deported, and the U.S. offers T-visas for people who ended up in the country as a result of trafficking.

Prevention is perhaps the hardest "P" to conquer. Though aid groups and governments have engaged in many public-awareness campaigns so that people don't unwittingly become victims, more needs to be done. There's discussion about whether human trafficking can be eliminated without eliminating poverty around the world; there are reasons, after all, why someone leaves a small village in a developing country to come to an industrialized one. Eradication of poverty, however, is no easy feat, and some critics wonder if it would make any difference when it comes to human trafficking.

There are no easy answers, which can be frustrating. But, in his 2008 book on modern slavery, "A Crime So Monstrous," author Benjamin Skinner offered three solutions for what ordinary people can do to stop human trafficking. First, he said, people must educate themselves about trafficking. Second, they should put pressure on elected officials and candidates for office about what steps they'd take to solve the problem, as well as what new ideas they can bring to the table. Lastly, Skinner urged supporting advocacy groups such as Free the Slaves and Anti-Slavery International [source: Wallace].

You've taken the first step that Skinner suggests by reading this article, but if you'd like more information about the problem of human trafficking, take a look at the links on the next page.