On the Intersection of Race and Our Fight Against Human Trafficking

From Jack Johnson To George Floyd, Fear and Injustice in the Justice System Fueled by Apathy

Slavery and oppression of people of color has taken place in the US for over 400 years. It is an incontrovertible fact that there has been a collective system of injustices perpetrated against a portion of our citizens who have contributed mightily to our nation. These injustices have taken many forms throughout the years, and they persist today. Some of the injustices that continue today are partially rooted in myths from 110 years ago. They are all rooted in fear and cowardice.

We as a culture have been complicit in these injustices, either through active participation or through apathetic lack of engagement to address it. From slavery to The Indian Removal Act to Jim Crow laws to disparities in policing, arrests, prosecution numbers, and sentences, the population of black America and other people of color has suffered disproportionately.

The longstanding injustices perpetrated against black Americans, if objectively assessed, can only be deemed a continuing stain on the civil and human rights record of our great nation. The death of George Floyd, while no means an isolated event, offers us a recent glimpse into one of the most egregious forms and tragic consequences of the injustices in the system and the culture supporting it.

The current moment in time also offers us an opportunity to look at the broader system and the cultural values that perpetuate the denigration of a significant portion of our citizenry. An example of this is the way in which human trafficking has been historically portrayed and thus addressed in our society. Human trafficking, by and large, is conceived as a crime that is threatening young white girls and women. The truth, however, is a wholly different picture.

A History Lesson

The myth of the face of human trafficking goes back to the early 1900s. During this time, the views of prostitution began to change in many communities. These changing views coincided with books and articles published prompting a conspiracy theory of a broad network, kidnapping and forcing young white women into prostitution. These are actions that today are called human trafficking. However, this also represents the beginning of the myth of what human trafficking is.

The US Congress further perpetuated this myth through the passage of what is commonly known as The Mann Act, which was ostensibly designed to stop forced sexual slavery. This act provided law enforcement with the powers to investigate and prosecute forced sexual slavery and is still used today in prosecuting human traffickers. However, The Mann Act is actually titled by Congress as “The White Slave-Traffic Act of 1910”.

While the intent of the law was perhaps noble, the application of it was not. This law was used to punish black American men for their relationships with white American women. The case of Jack Johnson is illustrative of this application of the law. Jack Johnson was the first African American boxer to hold the world heavyweight title.

In 1912, Jack Johnson was prosecuted under the White Slave Traffic Act, specifically to punish him for his relationship with a white woman who would eventually become his wife. He was not an isolated case of this misapplication of the law towards black citizens of our country.

The Present Day

The Mann Act has been stripped of gender specific language and has been clarified to only address sexual activity that is considered criminal. However, the myth of the face of human trafficking and the perpetrators of it persists to this day. Popular entertainment typifies the victims as young white girls, kidnapped and forced into slavery and sold to foreigners. Pimps (in reality human traffickers) are stereotyped as black men. Similarly, many of the images of trafficking within the anti-human trafficking community perpetuate this. The reality is far different.

There is no single demographic of victim or perpetrator. At DeliverFund, we have the ability to get an inside look at the industry of human trafficking. The myth of traffickers only or predominantly being black males and victims only being white females is CATEGORICALLY UNTRUE. Both victims and perpetrators come from every race, creed, nationality, religion and socioeconomic background. Yet as a society, we continue to believe in the perpetuated myth. As a society, we are, in fact, complicit in the injustices committed against black Americans when we do not dispel these myths and address inequalities in sentencing and victim compensation. This highlights our collective apathy.

At DeliverFund, we have the privilege of working with law enforcement who recognize the difference between myth and reality. I have not met a single detective in any law enforcement agency at the local, state or federal level who targets a specific demographic while looking to address what is modern day slavery. However, the disparities in the system persist.

The death of George Floyd highlights what can happen when the system goes unchecked. His manner of death has been roundly and rightly condemned. There is no excuse for it under any context. I hope it will bring about the broader change that is so necessary and will change not only active behaviors by some, but also the apathy that exists by a majority who sit idly by until a galvanizing incident happens. I hope this is that moment of change. My sincerest hope is that as a nation we will make these changes. If we do, it will contribute to a drop in human trafficking through a more informed and engaged community. It will also ultimately create a more just and equitable country for all citizens.

Hopefully, in time, there will not be a need for DeliverFund. Until then, DeliverFund will continue to bring truth to the dark, and work to ensure that justice is truly blind. We ensure this by using a methodology that requires a data driven approach. We do not look at a single person regardless of demographic. By using only data to find human traffickers we can assure our partners they have the opportunity to apply justice equitably regardless of any other factors.

Our country has an incredible opportunity in front of it. It will not be without difficulty. If we choose to face the difficult truths and look at our collective selves in the mirror, we will not only begin to right the wrongs, we will deconstruct the myth of human trafficking and other myths that contribute to despicable situations like the one surrounding the death of George Floyd.

Our hearts at DeliverFund cry for the family, friends and community of George Floyd and others who have suffered injustices. Our souls cringe at the manner of George Floyd’s death. We will continue to fight against injustice and to dispel myths that contribute to injustice as we continue to fight against modern slavery that affects so many communities.

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