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Saturday, March 02, 2024 — Houston, TX

Letter to the Editor: Trafficking is a central feminist issue

By Sarah Sowell     1/9/24 11:04pm

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to the editor that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. Letters to the editor are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for grammar and spelling by Thresher editors. 

Last semester, International Justice Mission’s anti-trafficking fashion Interwoven was featured in the Thresher. The article concluded with a call from me imploring Rice students to consider the connections between social issues they care about and human trafficking. I am writing today to expand upon that call to action and to mobilize the campus to consider trafficking more deeply. 

Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of people through force, fraud, or deception with the aim of exploiting them for profit.” At its core, human trafficking is the exploitation of a person for personal gain. As noted in last semester’s article, over 50 million people are currently enslaved, more than at any time in human history. However, when I talk to Rice students, many of them do not seem too concerned about this human rights violation. Instead, they dismiss the issue. One peer of mine even expressed skepticism that sex trafficking even exists. I wonder if they worry I am trying to sell them on building a border wall to block undocumented migration or a QAnon conspiracy about a pizza restaurant. I am not. Instead, I am calling on Rice students to include the issue of human trafficking in their advocacy and to educate themselves on the issue.

Fundamentally, human trafficking is a women’s issue. The International Labour Organization estimates that 4.9 million women and girls are exploited through forced prostitution in the commercial sex industry. Sex trafficking is fueled by a misogynistic culture that demands access to a woman’s body, denying her right to autonomy. Yet, feminist organizations at Rice don’t speak up enough against sex trafficking, despite the fact that Houston ranks second in U.S. cities for sex trafficking

Beyond sex trafficking, the ILO estimates that over 22 million women are trafficked through forced marriage, another example of how trafficking is fueled by the denial of women’s autonomy. Labor trafficking is also driven by the patriarchal desire to control a woman’s career, with research finding that in countries where women are excluded from the traditional economy, they are at a heightened risk of trafficking due to their economic desperation. 

You do not need to consider yourself to be a feminist to care about human trafficking, but you cannot be a feminist without including human trafficking in your advocacy. As a student and feminist, I call upon all Rice students and feminist groups to educate themselves about human trafficking. Local anti-trafficking leaders recommend starting with exploring lifestory.org, viewing International Justice Mission’s vast catalog of video resources or reading Rachel Lloyd’s, a survivor of sex trafficking, powerful memoir “Girls Like Us.”. These resources are extremely helpful and will lay the foundation for your understanding of trafficking. 

Beyond this, when anti-trafficking legislation comes before the Texas Legislature or U.S. Congress, support it by calling your representative and scheduling meetings with them. I am currently advocating for the passing of the EARN IT Act, an anti-child sexual abuse material bill, and invite you to do the same. 

Even if you do not have the capacity to call your representative, you have the capacity to care. We can all modify our decisions to be more conscious of trafficking, from refusing to purchase clothes that have been made by those experiencing trafficking to abstaining from watching pornographic videos that feature women being exploited. It is first by looking inward at our own actions that we can start to change the systems that shape trafficking. As a feminist community, I call upon us all to start talking about human trafficking, advocating for its abolition and, more than anything, to care. 

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