The Link: Human Trafficking and Animal Exploitation

I recently discovered that my university has an organization called Students Stopping the Trafficking of People (SSTOP). Reading the FAQs on SSTOP’s website, I noticed some striking similarities between the trafficking of humans* and the exploitation of animals. While there is a thriving form of business known as animal trafficking, which is illegal, I would like to draw the connections human trafficking has to animal exploitation more generally, since legal forms of animal exploitation make for equally important similarities.

One question addresses some myths about human trafficking:

  • Trafficking does not require physical force or physical abuse
  • Trafficking does not only occur in illegal, underground criminal networks.  Trafficking victims can be employed by legal businesses.
  • Traffickers are not all men, but women traffick humans as well

The exploitation of and cruelty to animals:

  • does not require physical force or physical abuse (think of psychological experiments on dogs, i.e. Pavlov)
  • does not only occur in illegal forms. Animals can be exploited and abused by legal businesses, which in fact account for the majority of exploitation and abuse. Farmed animals are exempt from the already patriarchal Animal Welfare Act.
  • is not just perpetrated by factory farms or “barbaric” individuals.

Q: What are some methods of control used by traffickers?

  • Creating Dependencies
  • Unfamiliarity with language
  • Intimidation and threats
  • Beatings and sexual assualt
  • Physical Confinement

What are some methods of control used by animal exploiters? They create dependencies (and defend them as benevolent), exploit the unfamiliarity members of other species have with human language (and cite this as an excuse), intimidate animals, beat and assault animals, and physically confine them in stalls, crates, cages, concentration barns, etc.

Q: Why would a woman allow herself to be trafficked?

Women can be introduced into trafficking by various means. As there are very few options for women legally to move on their own from one country to another, women look to any means to escape violence, Violence Against Women in Migration discrimination, or find employment. Case studies have revealed that some victims are kidnapped or sold into the trade. For those who agree, in some form, to be ‘trafficked,’ the choice arises out of the desperation. Traffickers promise a world of opportunity to women who are affected by poverty, discrimination, and violence. If a victim’s consent is not received or continued, violence, withdrawal of basic needs, confinement and threats often are used to impose consent.

Farmers often argue that animals will come back to their exploiters, an argument used in favor of their exploitation, but which may be some form of logical fallacy. The animals are looking to escape the merciless wild, claim exploiters, and therefore we may exploit them all we wish. But most of these same people would likely object to human trafficking despite the analogous situation here. And, indeed, some animals may willingly return while others don’t, so citing one example to uphold all of animal exploitation is absurd. If an animal victim’s consent or output is not received or continued, violence (i.e. hooking elephants in circuses) and withdrawal/withholding of basic needs (i.e. withholding food from egg-laying hens or performance dolphins) are frequently used to impose consent/output (“production”).

Q: Is trafficking a new issue?

No — The sale of human beings has existed in almost every continent throughout history. The type and degree of this problem is closely linked to social and economic factors. Increasingly, economic necessity, environmental disasters and wars have driven people to cross borders. It is in this context that trafficking has become a larger industry than ever.

People often argue that because humans have eaten meat throughout history, it’s acceptable. Well, slavery and trafficking of humans have also existed throughout history. It is in the context of economic necessity that animal exploitation industries have become larger than ever. People will come up with any argument in the world to justify doing what they’re already doing, be it the (actually nonexistent) “need” of humans to eat sentient beings for economic reasons or the “need” to exploit and kill animals in order to save them from the evil wild, the animals’ economic need (even though virtually none of the animals we eat actually come from the wild, but instead are bred through reproductive exploitation).

One other thing: trafficked women are typically quite young, as are exploited animals. Older women are not physically pleasing enough, and older animals don’t put out.

Humans who are trafficked become slaves. It is fairly obvious that the similarities here are between human/animal slavery, their status as property, as objects completely beneath every desire of their owners. Last year I watched a documentary called Sex Slaves, in which an escaped woman said that being forced to have sex ten times per day without a drop of sympathy from any of the men (who beat her if she did not comply), she felt that she had been treated “like a piece of flesh.” Animals are both treated as pieces of flesh and made into pieces of flesh, slaughtered and deprived of all subjectivity.

After reading about the similarities, I am interested to see what SSTOP is up to and get involved. The connections that the issue of human trafficking (and all human slavery) has with animal exploitation speaks to me in an unusual way. It is surely the totality of the objectification involved, the treatment of humanimals as subjectless “flesh.” With the knowledge of this intersection, I am ready to branch out a bit in my activism, not only to learn more about other issues, but to seriously contribute to other movements with the aim of embracing intersectionality and building solidarity.

*I say the trafficking of “humans” rather than “people” because there is debate in the legal community about granting animals legal personhood. Indeed, one might argue, trafficking in animals is the trafficking of people.

Update: Amazing, when humans are commodified and illegally sold/purchased, we call it trafficking. When the same thing happens to members of other animal species (dead or alive), we call it “human love of animals and animal products.”


~ by Louëlla on November 25, 2009.

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