(Jason Rochlin / Aaron Valdez)
University of Idaho assistant professors Lori Celaya, Ph.D., and Marta Boris Tarre, Ph.D., spoke at the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Monday about the dangers of human trafficking along the Mexican-American border.
“I wanted to know more from an academic viewpoint what governments are doing, what society is doing and I saw that it was something very unknown,” Tarre said.
Tarre, who came to America from Spain 25 years ago, said she became interested in the topic of human trafficking while studying gender and violence in cinema. The lecture was meant to raise awareness on the issue, she said.
“The more you learn about it, the more you want to know about it,” Tarre said. “I had never heard about it before I decided to do it as part of my dissertation, and I just got hooked.”
Tarre opened the lecture talking about the legal background regarding human trafficking. She spoke on legislation in individual countries like Mexico, the work of international organizations like the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and attempts to fight trafficking through different means, including prohibiting or legalizing prostitution.
Celaya’s portion of the discussion dove more into looking at the people, both victims and “clients,” and places affected by human trafficking practices. She said commercial sex trade is the third-largest criminal industry in the world, behind drug and firearm trafficking.
“The demand for younger and younger children is growing,” Celaya said. “Families sometimes give up children or people take them.”
Celaya said sexual exploitation makes up 79 percent of the identified cases of human trafficking, citing the UNODC’s Global Report on Trafficking in Persons. She said victims are disproportionately female, but can be any age or gender.
“It’s part of the culture and we need to change that because it is not a victimless crime like it’s presented,” Celaya said.
The presentation concluded with a short video piece by CNN titled “The town where boys are groomed to be pimps,” which refers to the small village of Tenancingo, Mexico that’s dubbed the “sex trafficking capital of the world.” The video illustrates the hardships of human trafficking and how the exploitation of young girls has become not only a business, but a lifestyle.
The video said both boys and girls who grow up in the town have high expectations of becoming pimps and prostitutes, respectively. More often than not, the girls–some as young as 9 years old–are forced into this life of prostitution through violence and intimidation.
Celaya said she wanted to emphasize that human trafficking is not just a foreign problem, but something that goes on in America “all the time.”
“When I lived in Tennessee they broke up a ring … There was a massage parlor and they had 30 girls in tiny little rooms up there where they did their trafficking services,” Celaya said. “This is Knoxville, Tenn. Middle America.”
Latin American Studies Program council members Sandra Perez, Ph.D., director of the University Honors Program and Juan Ishikawa, Ph.D., the Masters in Spanish Program graduate advisor organized the lecture.
It was also organized by assistant professor of Spanish Peninsular Literary and Cultural Studies Enric Mallorqui-Ruscalleda, who was also the event’s moderator. The lecture was given in Mallorqui-Ruscalleda’s Spanish Visual Representations of Cultural Transformations in the 20th century class.
“The event was part of my class, but it was also open to the public,” Mallorqui-Ruscalleda said in an email.
Because human trafficking is not widely discussed, Celaya said it is “a necessity” to have more classes and programs regarding the topic available to students to raise awareness and ensure an individual’s safety.
“I thought if this is happening to these women and these girls, this could happen to my daughter,” Tarre said.