Why Our War on Human Trafficking Needs a Reboot

Despite legal progress, human trafficking persists due to social inequalities. Experts urge a shift from legal focus to addressing societal vulnerabilities that make women, migrants, and minorities easy targets.

Why Our War on Human Trafficking Needs a Reboot
Justice out of reach for many victims of human trafficking.

Human trafficking, a contemporary evil that preys on the most vulnerable, continues to cast a long shadow despite legal advancements. Professor Alethia Fernández de la Reguera Ahedo of the UNAM Legal Research Institute lays bare the troubling truth: progress is sluggish, a frustrating stalemate despite a flurry of programs and political pronouncements.

The crux of the issue, argues Fernández de la Reguera, lies in a myopic approach. We've become fixated on legal frameworks, neglecting the fertile soil of social inequities where this monstrous crime thrives. Human trafficking flourishes in the murk of "structural violence," a pervasive web of societal ills that remain stubbornly obscured. Until we illuminate these underlying factors, our efforts to prevent and prosecute will be akin to swatting at flies while ignoring the honey pot.

The statistics speak volumes. Conviction rates remain stubbornly low, a stark contrast to the ever-growing number of victims. Justice, it seems, is an elusive butterfly for those caught in the trafficking web.

Furthermore, a stark gender disparity emerges. Women and girls bear the brunt of this barbarity, often trafficked for sexual or labor exploitation. Migrant women, particularly those lacking Spanish fluency, are especially vulnerable. Domestic workers, those toiling in maquiladoras (assembly plants), indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, and sex workers – all stand on the precipice of exploitation.

The irony is not lost on Fernández de la Reguera. Border security, a policy touted as a solution, has morphed into a double-edged sword. Militarization, intended to deter, has inadvertently herded migrants towards perilous paths. This punitive approach, she argues, pushes migrants underground, making them easy prey for traffickers. Desperate to avoid detection, they opt for the "protection" offered by traffickers, trading one cage for another.

The current approach to prosecution, Fernández de la Reguera contends, is a Sisyphean struggle. Resources are thrown at the problem, yet the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions remains stagnant. Worse still, the net often ensnares the very people it's meant to protect. Indigenous women, migrants, domestic workers – these are the faces that populate our detention centers, wrongly accused of the very crime they are susceptible to.

A glimmer of hope emerges with the Manual on Human Trafficking, a document submitted to the Judiciary for consideration. This manual, emphasizes Mario Luis Fuentes Alcalá, head of the UNAM Extraordinary Chair on Human Trafficking, represents a paradigm shift. It moves beyond legal technicalities and delves into the social context that breeds trafficking. It acknowledges the diverse scenarios where this exploitation occurs and its intricate connection to broader societal issues.

This manual, suggests Fuentes Alcalá, is a conversation starter, a call to action for judges and magistrates. Their input, their lived experiences, are crucial in crafting effective solutions. Additionally, workshops on trauma-informed care for victims and online training programs are planned, fostering regional collaboration in Central America and the Caribbean.

The fight against human trafficking is a multi-faceted battle. Legal frameworks are essential, but insufficient. We must confront the social realities that create fertile ground for exploitation. Only then can we sever the hydra's heads, one by one, and dismantle this pernicious system that feeds on human misery.