Does Human Trafficking Happen in White South African Communities?
“The uncle gave my mom R1000 after he had sex with me,” was nine-year-old Katy’s confession to her teacher.
Human Trafficking doesn’t ask which culture, ethnic group or environment you are from. It does not mind where you grew up or what the colour of your skin is. Traffickers are everywhere but are mostly targeting poor communities. Some may think that in South Africa, this means traffickers only target black or coloured communities. While, they do target those communities, they target white neighborhoods as well, especially those from lower incomes.
Karen, one of our team members works in an lower income white community in Pretoria West. In the area, young people are faced with drug and alcohol abuse on every street corner. It is in their schools and even their own homes as well. This toxic environment leads to many other severe issues, such as the threat of human trafficking. Traffickers target these communities, because of the people’s intense desire to find a way out. Children and especially teenagers are vulnerable to this type of exploitation. During Karen’s research in this area she discovered that traffickers use three main ways to attract or lure victims in these communities; namely social media, job opportunities, and sexualization.
These traffickers are not always part of a big syndicate, but instead they mostly operate in their individual capacity. However, their actions are still identified as trafficking.
Although the community is poor, most teenagers have access to internet and social media. One of the main forms of exploitation through social media is pornography. Children and teenagers are exposed to sexual images and videos sent via platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Karen spoke to many teenagers who revealed that they have been exposed to explicit sexual images which were sent by friends. Besides the “casual” images that teenagers send around, many teenage girls shared that they were asked by men on social media to share nude photos.
A stranger invited Stacy* on Facebook. She befriended him and he showered her with gifts and compliments. Before she knew it she fell in love with this “generous” stranger. She agreed to send him nude pictures. She felt special and loved by his acceptance and praises. Eventually, Stacy trusted him enough to meet him in person. She agreed to meet him in the city center at a local hotel. After some chatting and casual kissing, he lured her to his nearby home. There he took advantage of her and raped her.*name changed
About one third of these girls, unfortunately, admitted to sharing these images to strangers or friends on via social media. Often times this is because they do not have the love and care they crave at home. These girls hope that they will be accepted, loved and cared for by someone special. Most teenagers have a natural desire to have a girl/boyfriend and to explore their sexuality. One teenage boy shared that he received naked pictures from girls he knows. These girls have lost their shame. The overly sexualized world is all around them and they believe doing this is the only way to get attention. Unfortunately, men with ulterior motives are the ones pursuing these girls. This puts them at great risk.
Countless teenagers drop out of school because of poverty, drug and/or alcohol abuse. During Karen’s introduction at the high school, it was evident that these teenagers were desperate to find a way out. She pretended to offer them a good job and further education in Cape Town. Many students were eager to accept it, without asking a question and without even knowing her name! This is very concerning, because it shows how easily traffickers could take advantage of them. Traffickers approach these kinds of vulnerable teenagers and promise them work and a better life elsewhere, only to exploit them into child labor or sex slavery. During Karen’s survey, some teenagers shared stories of friends who they suspected had sadly been trafficked in such a way. Johan’s story is just one of many.
Johan* was 15 years old, when he eagerly shared about being offered a good job in another city, 500 km away. He told his friends about the big salary that the company promised him. Johan was told that he would learn more about cars and motorbikes and would eventually become a mechanic. His friends, excited but jealous of his new job, said farewell to him on Friday morning. He kept communication with them during his bus drive, but by Saturday evening they lost contact with him and never heard from him again.*name changed
Sexual exploitation is far too common. Katy’s story is just one example of the type of sexual exploitation children face in these poor communities. Poverty forces parents to go to extreme measures to feed their drug and/or alcohol addiction. Their children are just a means to an end. Without realizing the damage they cause, they traffick their children for their own gain. With the help of the South African National Human Trafficking Hotline, Katy’s parents are currently facing a court trial for selling their child into prostitution.
Stacy managed to run away after the rape and escaped the possibility of being transported and taken to another venue. Although severely traumatized, she escaped long term abuse. She is back with her parents and received the necessary counselling and intervention.
The number of poor white South Africans is growing daily and so is the exploitation and misuse. No one should think they could not be trafficked because of the colour of their skin. Human trafficking can happen to anyone! Our aim is to raise more awareness and prevent these practices from happening all around Africa. Poverty should not be the reason for traffickers to succeed. It is ignorance that gives traffickers the advantage, and we want to see that change!
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