Maybe it’s a bit morbid of me during the holiday season, but for the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about human trafficking. I recently reread a few Ellen Hopkins books I enjoyed as a teen, including the Tricks series, and I guess it stuck with me. Tricks is a young adult series that follows five different teens who are forced into child prostitution as a result of struggles in their lives. Some of the characters are able to escape their downward cycle, while others fall into more serious forms of sex trafficking. Rereading this book as an adult, I recognize that it was a very specific portrayal of human trafficking, not even close to representative of all the different types of people likely to be victims, but as a teen, it was one of the only books I ever read that discussed the topic at all. Even though it isn’t perfect, it was interesting to reread and consider what other portrayals of trafficking might look like, particularly as a lead up to Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
Human Trafficking Awareness Month, also called National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, focuses on present day human trafficking, whether that be sex trafficking or otherwise. A month recognized every year since 2010, it seeks to bring light to patterns and signs of human trafficking, highlight helpful information for victims and survivors, and educate the general public about what human trafficking looks like and who is most likely to be a victim. The month also seeks to educate the public on how trafficking usually doesn’t look like the Taken style kidnapping of young girls to be sold, but instead relies on vulnerable people looking for a better life. Tricks actually portrays this aspect very well, with main characters who are not kidnapped or forced through violence, but are looking for economic stability, safety, and love in dangerous ways.
Despite the relatively accurate portrayals of how people can be tricked or seduced into being trafficked, Tricks unfortunately does not discuss the groups of people most likely to become victims. Studies consistently show that due to a smaller support system and less economic stability, those most likely to be trafficked are homeless and fostered children, those in the LGBTQIA+ community, disabled people, undocumented immigrants, and people of color, particularly Native American women (for a more in depth look at vulnerable populations, check out this article). And while Tricks touches on this a bit with characters that run away from home or engage in prostitution with those of the same gender, for me, it felt like a disservice to the reader to not further explore how these groups are systematically targeted and abused due to economic and social vulnerability.
Of course, no book can perfectly cover all nuances of a topic, so I’m finding a good follow up, as part of Human Trafficking Awareness Month, is reading other books with similar themes. For me, this means reading a variety of titles like Girls Like Us, a memoir about prostitution in New York, Sold, a novel about human trafficking elsewhere in the world, and more genre-based interpretations of human trafficking, like The Marrow Thieves, which follows a Native American boy who is hunted in order to be sold for his bone marrow. If you’d like to read more, don’t forget to check out these books, too!
If you’re less inclined to read fiction and memoirs, consider checking out reputable sources to combat misinformation about human trafficking. Some great options include government resources, like reviewing data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and reading up on global task forces from the UN, or learning about how nonprofits organizations, like The Polaris Project, can help. And don’t forget to check out our upcoming program on human trafficking, which you can register for here.