Thursday, March 29, 2012

The End of Human Trafficking

Peter S. K. Lynch

While the Kony 2012 movement, driven by Invisible Children and members of Anonymous, is about bringing a criminal to justice and bringing attention to the world of human trafficking—two noble endeavors—the project’s aim is off the mark, and to focus on Kony in particular is to miss the forest for the trees. To be sure, the man’s among the most wanted in the world and must be brought to justice, but he’s in hiding now and in no position to continue abducting children and use them as sex slaves and child soldiers. He’s pure evil, but there’s a better way to attack human trafficking.

One of many problems with our current approach to trafficking is in the form of legislation. We have and must continue to provide help for the victims of human trafficking. But, essential as this is, it’s a treatment of a disease, not the cure. Helping victims can only do so much when their lives have already been destroyed in the first place. The goal we must share is to make it so that there won’t be any victims in the first place.

Before formulating a plan of attack, it’s essential that we first uncover the incentives underlying trafficking. With sex slaves, the perpetrator’s primary aim is to gain financially by supplying what this dirty market demands. A second motivator is, it seems, the pathological seeking of power. There are those out there (Kony among them) who get their sick thrills by forcing their wills upon others. This secondary motivator is about power and control. Both of these incentives—financial and power-derived—have to be addressed if we are to fight the disease of human trafficking. So, I’ll address them below:

To the extent that financial incentives drive human trafficking, an opposing force must be applied to stop it. It may, and probably does, seem a little perverse to try to assign a dollar amount to the victim’s subjugation and the denial of their rights, the perpetrator’s punishment must come in a language they understand. As an example of how this might work suppose that, when caught, a human trafficker will have to compensate each victim $750,000 for each year he or she was used as a sex slave or child soldier. In this case, if a captor kept five victims for five years apiece, when caught, he’d owe the victims a total of $18,750,000. Further, to convince victims to come forward, they also could be incentivized. Because a major reason why they often don’t report the perpetrator is because of the fear of retribution, any victim who comes forward should and must have the option of being placed in a witness protection program. This will increase the rate at which the perps will be reported but, if that’s not enough, we could always provide victims with financial incentives—say, a certain percentage of the perp’s assets. This would tip the tables away from trafficking for two reasons: first, the perps would stand more to lose and, second, the probability of being caught in the first place would go up (since they’d be reported more frequently).

Because power dynamics (and, in particular, the desire to achieve power) play a role in the trafficker’s mentality, and because this power is often gained at the cost of victims’ human rights, the consequences for trafficking must decrease the perps’ autonomy: prison is in order. A problem with our current system is that not only do we have pathetically lax laws against the atrocities of human trafficking (even a minimum of 20 years doesn’t seem like enough) but, also, our system of punishment lacks any semblance of coherence, giving the perps hope that, even if they do get caught, they’ll get just the 20. Like the financial disincentives program outlined above, we need to come up with punishments proportionate to the magnitude of the crimes committed. An example of how this could be done is this: a perpetrator’s prison time could be the initial 20 years, plus two times the number of years each victim has been held. So, if a trafficker has 4 victims for 5 years apiece, the prison sentence would be for 60 years total. This, along with the commiserate loss of $15,000,000 and whatever a victim would gain by coming forward, would decimate the sex trade and child soldier markets. The amount a perp would stand to gain by through trafficking would be eclipsed by the risk of losing that kind of money and being thrown behind bars for the rest of their lives.

You could point out that there are people so wealthy that $15,000,000 wouldn’t put much of a dent in their finances. To this I would say: if $15,000,000 won’t put a dent in your finances, then the amount gained from trafficking 4 victims for 5 years won’t come close to providing enough financial compensation to make it worth the risk of spending 60 years (years that could be spent making money) behind bars.

Yes, this outline is simplistic; and yes, there are other ways to put in place the necessary disincentives. But these are ideas I arrived at in under 10 minutes. If we put our collective minds together, we may have the ability to come up with a solution that would reduce human trafficking by an order of magnitude—or more.

Briefly, back to Kony: in no way do I mean to say that bringing light to his atrocities is misguided. It’s essential to have real-life examples rather than just words and ideas. But getting Kony shouldn’t be the goal—it’s a data point for us to see and a motivator for those who hear about them to aim for the real goal: the elimination of human trafficking.


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