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Just finished reading this article published in the March 2012 issue of STYLE – Lake and Sumter (Counties) magazine. I knew that Texas and Florida were hotspots for recruiting and trafficking, just didn’t realize how big, how close and how bad the problem was. The statistics in the article are alarming at best, heart-wrenching in reality. The greater concern is that the “industry”, if you can dignify it that way, is growing at an alarming rate, slated to outpace the drug trade. Written by Jim Gibson and titled “Dealing in Flesh”, it’s an eye-opening expose and reminder about the sense of urgency and level of action we should all be taking. Well written, informative and challenging article with tremendous human trafficking information.
The following article highlights the extraordinary desperation and depravity of the human spirit. We are consistently amazed at the depths people will stoop to serve their own selfish needs or make a few dollars. There is something happening culturally and universally that is bringing our disbelief to new levels because of the extreme disregard for the value of human life and dignity. What strikes me, never ceases to astound me is the nonchalant grouping of people, women and children, in the laundry list of commercial products being traded like cattle. In our line of work, one would think we would have been desensitized long ago, but, the suffering of children in the grip of poverty and human trafficking continues to press us with urgency. This is why MANNA Worldwide continues their efforts as a front-line defender in the arena with other human trafficking organizations, working in the world of prevention and awareness. Jessica does a great job of outlining those most “coveted” items. You’ll notice that 1/3 of those products exploit humans as a commodity. Jessica is a contributing writer for http://backgroundcheck.org
9 Most Coveted Items on the Black Market
by Jessica Straight on May 30, 2012
The $10 trillion economy of all the world’s informal markets would be the second-largest in the world (second to the United States), if formally tallied, according to the International Economic Journal. Anything from rhino horn to copyrighted material, to the most recent fad, Tide detergent, may be found through these illegal outlets of commerce. These shadow markets especially thrive in places where resources are scarce, organized crime and poverty are high, and taxes are low. Illegally acquired goods can either be cheaper (stolen goods) or more expensive (dangerous, rare, or smuggled goods) than legal market prices. Despite being notorious for proliferating crime, the black market continues to flourish due to continued demand for regulated goods. Here are some of the most coveted items on the black market:
1. Human Body Parts
Blood, bones, hair, and organs are among the most desired items sold illegally around the world. Thousands of desperate donors are willing to sell parts of their bodies in exchange for a certain amount of cash. Investigative journalist Scott Carney’s book, The Red Market, examined a refugee camp in India, nicknamed Kidneyville, where women are lined up with exposed abdomens to sell their kidneys. Similar situations are found everywhere: nearly 107,000 organ transplants done in 2010, with an estimated 10% of those transplants using illegally acquired organs, according to the World Health Organization. Many patients flock to China, India, or Pakistan for their surgeries, paying nearly $200,000 for a kidney while organ brokers pay desperate donators only $5,000.
2. Exotic Pets and Animals
The selling of rare exotic animals has long been part of the black market. Animal poachers fall into the mentality that if the animal becomes extinct, its value will skyrocket. With animal products such as ivory tusks, rhino horns, antelope scarves, and tiger bone pills, the market caters to a broad audience interested in the healing and aphrodisiac elements of these animal parts. The trade also includes living wild animals: rare birds, reptiles, and cats are smuggled into various countries and sold for thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars.
3. Cosmetics and Plastic Surgery
Cosmetic butt enhancement injections, botox serums, youth creams, and other silicone products threaten the health of many women who buy these products from the black market. Most of the time, use of these products results in serious medical conditions: allergic reactions, irreparable tissue damage, or widespread infection. Women who cannot afford expensive procedures often fall victim to these cosmetic scams, injecting harmful and mysterious substances into their bodies at home without consulting their doctors. Dr. Rhoda Narins, a dermatologist and professor at the New York University School of Medicine, for example, has seen many unfortunate cases involving deaths related to commercial grade silicone injections.
4. Prescription Drugs and Narcotics
The insatiable demand for unregulated prescription drugs among addicts and dealers contributes to a billion-dollar business. Every year, thousands of pharmacies are raided to decrease the street value of highly desirable drugs. USA Today reports that more than five million people in the United States abuse narcotic painkillers. It’s no surprise that oxycodone and other prescription pain medications continue to be the most abused drugs, with more than 4,048 deaths in 2010, according to the Medical Examiner’s Office. With strict regulation of these drugs by the DEA, addicts must depend on the black market for their supply.
5. Weapons and Bombs
The illegal arms trade allows for many weapons, bombs, and spy gadgets to fall into the wrong hands, sustaining the gangs and governments of communist countries. For many decades, smuggling weapons across country lines opened up the market for purchases to be made without any middlemen. Insight, a crime research organization, reports four main routes in which U.S. weapons enter into Mexico, supplying Mexico’s government with whatever it needs. According to a recent report by Insight, people in Mexico can simply buy an illegally acquired gun with a few simple internet searches and have the item(s) delivered to their home.
The Assisted Human Reproduction Act, enacted in Canada in 2004, prohibited paying donors for their eggs and sperm, leading to shortages in many sperm banks across Canada. However, sperm is in demand everywhere, but not everyone is willing to pay for a vial of sperm for about $2,000. The black market for sperm is lucrative and dangerous: you don’t know what you’re getting or if the mysterious substance will even work. There’s no regulation or guarantee that it’s safe or STD-free, yet many women’s desire to conceive continues to support the black market for sperm.
7. Pirated Media and Computer Software
Expensive software and anti-virus programs, music, movies, and other forms of copyrighted materials account for a large source of revenue in the black market. In China, the market is huge for counterfeit software and pirated goods, with many factories producing only counterfeit compact discs and DVDs. A study conducted by the Business Software Alliances reports that software piracy has eliminated 2.4 million jobs and $400 billion in economic activity worldwide to date.
8. Human Trafficking
Mail-order brides, prostitutes, and child laborers are commonly sold on the black market. One of the most lucrative forms of organized crime, human trafficking operations generate an estimated $32 billion each year, according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. As many as 2.4 million people are trapped, sold, and transported while human traffickers reap large profits.
9. Crude Oil
The illegal distribution of crude oil has long been part of the black market because of strict government regulation. Oil pipelines have been sabotaged by black market thieves, who then sell by the barrel in unrestricted markets. In 2010, the government oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) in Mexico detected 712 pipeline oil thefts, which, compared to the 136 thefts detected in 2005, caused crude oil prices to rise to nearly $100 per barrel. Crude oil can be sold for less than half the market price at times of record high oil market prices.
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Human trafficking in the United States affects thousands of people each year and there is not one city that is not affected including Columbia, MO.
“It happens in our neighborhoods, there’s not one city that’s not affected by it,” said Kat Rohrer, the director of the documentary “Fatal Promises.”
Human trafficking is the illegal trade of human beings for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor, which includes agriculture, domestic service, and construction work, and sweat shops.
The prevalence of human trafficking in in Missouri is difficult to estimate because the trafficker maintains firm control over the victim, which makes it difficult to see who is involved, and prosecute them.
“Numbers are really hard to come by,” said Anti-Trafficking Community Coordinator Rosie Lang. “Part of that is because it’s so challenging to identify the members of this crime and part of it is the techniques the traffickers will use to keep the individuals under control.”
Hundreds of thousands of people are affected by human trafficking each year in the United States. The numbers are increasing due to desperate economic situations and increased awareness, which leads to more prosecutions of traffickers.
“However, the most conservative estimates given in the United States by almost every organization that works in this field is between 150 to 300 thousand people who are directly affected every year in the United States by human trafficking whether its domestic or international,” said MANNA Worldwide member Shawn Sullivan.
A common misconception is that human trafficking only involves young girls. But in fact young boys from the ages of 11 to 13 years are targeted and become victims of trafficking.
“It turns out that almost 50 percent of children that are used as a product of domestic minor sex trafficking are young boys,” Sullivan said.
Victims of human trafficking generally, but not always, show signs of physical injury, abuse, malnutrition, and fatigue. They might be reluctant to talk to others, are not able to speak for themselves, come and go as they please, and feel as if someone is watching them.
“There’s not anything that will say for sure, it’s usually something that law enforcement has to investigate pretty thoroughly to know for sure that it’s human trafficking,” said Deb Hume, a member of the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition. “If it’s a teenager for example that is being trafficked in commercial sex, exploited into commercial sex, and that child is still going to school there may be a change in their behavior, their friendship networks, their grades, that indicate something’s going wrong.”
Prosecuting those who partake in the trafficking of humans is a complicated process. Punishment differs based upon the person’s involvement in the crime, whether they used violence to control the victim, and whether or not the victim was a minor.
Hume said there are different roles in which a person can be involved in human trafficking. She said that there is the primary person who holds the person against their will and others involved such as people who transport the victims. She said that the federal law and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act determined penalties.
According to the Missouri Revised Statutes 566.209, “The crime of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a felony punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not less than five years and not more than twenty years and a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars. If a violation of this section was effected by force, abduction, or coercion, the crime of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a felony punishable by imprisonment for a term of years not less than ten years or life and a fine not to exceed two hundred fifty thousand dollars.”
Victims usually do not want to come forth with their stories because they are ashamed of what has happened and feel as if they had done something wrong. Also in some cases, victims of human trafficking are the ones being prosecuted.
“But less than 1 percent of perpetrators are ever prosecuted,” Sullivan said. “What happens is the ones prosecuted are the people being victimized, they are actually being criminalized, in other words they’ll arrest them and put them in jail for one night or two nights.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas City, Mo. has prosecuted cases of human trafficking.
“As of approximately a year ago they had prosecuted 41 cases with over, with I think over 125 or so individuals who had been victims of trafficking or provided services through the U.S. attorney’s office as a result of those cases,” Hume said.
The best way to prevent human trafficking from ever happening is to raise awareness. There are many organizations at a national and local level that work to raise awareness in communities.
“I think we need start to actually immerse, to get to talking, travelling to campuses and trying to engage in conversation with students,” said Rohrer.
One way to raise awareness is to teach children in schools about human trafficking. Children need to learn the signs of trafficking and how to avoid being victimized.
“And one way we do this is by visiting public schools and high schools all across the country,” Sullivan said. “My partner and I and some of our other people that work with us conduct awareness seminars and cooperate with other partner organizations to help people be able to realize that it is much bigger, it is much closer, than we once believed.”
Educating citizens and law enforcement about human trafficking can help prevent the crime from ever happening.
“The prevention is an important issue because it would be a lot better if we were preventing this crime rather than having to respond to this crime,” said Hume. “Trying to raise awareness in the public, trying to make sure that people are like – child advocacy centers and shelter providers and social service providers and law enforcement are aware and able to identify potential trafficking problems early on, which it doesn’t prevent it initially, but prevents it from going further.”
For victims already being trafficked, there are organizations both locally and nationally that deal with intervention and reentry programs. Organizations such as the Central Missouri Stop Human Trafficking Coalition (CMSHTC) helps train law enforcement, social services, and people in health care to help victims of human trafficking. They assist victims of human trafficking in paying their rent, utilities, transportation, and clothes for job interviews. National organizations such as MANNA Worldwide raise awareness in the United States and work in other countries by intervening and bringing victims out of human trafficking. Organizations like Veronica’s Voice in Kansas City, Mo. is a place where victims can shower, receive counseling, clothing and food.
“To start off, Veronica’s Voice deals with sex trafficking, not forced labor,” said Jennifer Tung, volunteer coordinator for Veronica’s Voice. “Our expertise is in domestic sex trafficking in the United States, not international.”
The national hotline for human trafficking allows citizens to report a tip, connect with anti-trafficking services in your area, request training and technical assistance, general information, or specific anti-trafficking resources.
“1-888-3737-888 is the national hotline run through the Polaris Project which is based in Washington D.C.,” said Lang.
People can do their part by being aware of where consumer goods come from and how they are made – making sure the goods you buy aren’t using forced labor, Hume said. By looking online or looking for the Fair Trade label, you can determine whether a company or product was made in an exploitive manner, she said.
“Other things people could do are really thinking about their purchasing and the types of products they’re purchasing,” Lang said. “Thinking about buying local can be a good idea or looking into where the companies you’re buying from get their materials, get their labor, could be another thing.”
Helping victims of human trafficking is easier than expected, said Sullivan. A person could save a victim’s life by informing others of human trafficking or becoming part of an organization that deals with human trafficking, he said.