I was never a big fan of James Spader.  I saw him in Stargate back in the ‘90’s and just didn’t really care for him.  He kind of gave me a weird, creepy vibe so I never went out of my way to watch anything that he was in…until now.  It seemed that everyone was talking about the show The Blacklist.  So I rented Season One.  Now I love, love, love him!  Can’t wait to see him as Ultron in the next Avengers movie – but I digress.  

In The Blacklist he plays a bad guy turned good – sort of.  He helps the FBI solve crimes but you never know if he is doing it to benefit himself and if he is really a good guy or a bad guy or a little of both.  What I like best is that every episode has a twist.  In one episode he tips the FBI to a hired assassin who is going to kill a wealthy philanthropist that has spent her life fighting human trafficking and helping rescue victims.  In the end, the assassination attempt is successful but we discover that all the while she was standing on a podium accepting awards for her work she was selling young girls and trafficking them herself. Boom! Did. Not. See. That. Coming.  What a twist!  I love a good twist – or at least I used to…

Fast forward to this week.  I was on a panel discussing human trafficking when an audience member asked why we just don’t do something about the men who buy girls.  Excellent point!  Human trafficking is an economic crime.  People don’t do it to be mean to people…they do it to make a profit.  Not only is it a horrific crime, but it is a fundamental violation of human dignity.  New awareness campaigns exist and new laws are being written, but as long as there are those who purchase sex or products made from slave labor what are the real deterrents for the traffickers?  Take away the demand and you go a long way to eliminate the issue.  Makes perfect sense.  But there is a twist – and this one is not so good.  You see, I am guilty of being on the demand side of human trafficking.  And guess what?  You are too. 

We know that children as young as 5 years old are forced to work in cocoa fields and that many, by the time they are 10- or 12-years old, have hands that are permanently deformed from arthritis…but that chocolate is soooo good!  

We’ve all heard about slave labor in the garment industry…but did you see how cheap that shirt was?  

Prostitution is the oldest profession.  What’s the harm?  It’s a victimless crime.  But here is the truth- my organization serves prostituted women.  It is a crime that hurts a person in every way that they can be hurt: physically, emotionally, economically and psychologically.  I see the pain, guilt, shame, anger and trauma.  I have yet to see it as a victimless crime.

You could say that you didn’t know your products were made using slave labor.  You could, but not anymore.  The website Slavery Footprint will ask you a series of questions about the products you own and then tell you how many slaves you have, in essence, working for you.  So, now that you know you are part of the demand side of human trafficking what will you do? 

Take Action: I’m not saying you have to give up chocolate (yikes!) – but you can purchase fair trade products as often as possible. You can write to your favorite companies and tell them that you will stop buying their products if they don’t commit to purchasing from vendors that do not use slave labor.  And you must still call for harsh penalties for those on the demand side of this crime. 

When I train I often end the session with a challenge to participants to complete the sentence, “If I do nothing…”  But instead, I am going to challenge you to complete a second sentence, “When I do something…” You have the opportunity to be part of a historic movement that helps to end this horrific crime.

Jennifer Fopma, LMSW, is the Executive Director of S.A.F.E. Place, a multi-county domestic violence service organization and a member of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force.