Human beings are being exploited all over the world, the exploitation often happens right in front of us, and is often protected by archaic laws. It is far easier to place a label on the exploitation by demonizing the victim than it is to really look at things as they really are. It is easier to use the terms prostitute and migrant worker than to see the human inside; the person themselves. Perhaps somehow placing a label on the victim makes it easier for us to go on our way and to focus on our daily pursuits of life, liberty, and happiness. The problem is that our dissonance and lack of awareness propagates the problem, and in many ways justifies it. We at Captive Audience teach situational awareness, and being aware of your surroundings. Situational awareness is something that must be honed, worked on, developed, and it requires us to understand what looks out of place or does not seem right. It requires us to be aware of the criminal underworld, and the things that go bump in the night; not to be paranoid, but to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
Global conflict is causing refugee crises that span multiple continents, touch every economy, and are exploited by criminal networks on every level. Human traffickers profit from smuggling refugees out of war zones in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South and Central America. These same traffickers target vulnerable populations to sell human beings into slave markets in Libya, Mauritania, and other ungoverned spaces. The traffickers kidnap women, children, and even men and force them into the sex trade. The traffickers kidnap families for ransom and ransom the families to family members who have resources to pay for them. One of the most common practices in Egypt, Syria, and Eastern Europe is to take an organ from a migrant who is unable to pay for their travel through the trafficking network. Many refugees report that they were victimized throughout the entire journey.
Kidnappers in some parts of the world conduct their kidnapping and then ransom the victims to another criminal or terrorist group, who then resell them to the victims’ families or to another group. It is not uncommon to learn that a family was bought, sold, or traded multiple times before the event was resolved. Pimps do the same thing throughout the world as they buy, sell, and trade their victims multiple times throughout the life cycle of the victim. Research shows that an average street pimp in the United States makes over $300,000 a year, and that upscale pimps in places like Amsterdam make over $2 million per year. It is not uncommon for kidnapping syndicates to make well into the $5 million range per year on kidnapping alone. The human exploitation business model in all of its forms is the model that provides the biggest return on investment, and is frankly the easiest to hide.
One of the first thing every analyst is taught is to ask the question “So what”? In this case what does it mean to me? I am going to offer a couple key points, but first, I have to make a statement. I personally know several women who were targeted by opportunists while traveling in Europe, and Asia. In most cases, travelers are able to travel for business or pleasure without incident, or if there is an incident, it is usually far less dramatic than a kidnapping or being targeted for the sex trade. The other side of the coin is different and that is, if you are part of the small population who are targeted and lack situational awareness, your life will never be the same. You are a reusable and resalable resource, Your value to a criminal is exponential. Do you know how to recognize that you are being targeted? Do you know how to recognize others who are being exploited?
I will offer some solid advice for every traveler and adventurer. I hope the advice helps you and your traveling companions to stay safe…
- Always research crime, conflict, and the political stability of the locations to which you are traveling. It is also wise to talk to others who have recent knowledge of the locations where you are going.
- Seek out travel safety and security training. Your company may hire bodyguards, drivers, and may even require you to carry a beacon. A body guard, driver, and beacon are never a replacement for individual knowledge. (Side note: I would like to tell your bosses about all of the case studies I can share where the body guard, and driver where complicit in the kidnapping or trafficking of the person they were supposed to be protecting.) We will not go into beacons here, but they by themselves are also not a sole solution for your personal security.
- Spend time discussing a crisis action plan with your family and organization. Have your personal affairs in order.
- Purchase travel insurance and look for crisis action plan assistance and evacuation assistance. If you are going to a high risk area, you may want to spend the extra money for a Kidnap for Ransom Insurance policy. Insurance is not cheap, but it is better than your family losing everything they have to raise the money to get you home.
- Never believe that you are not going to be victimized because you are going out into the world to do good things. You are far less likely to be victimized if you know how to avoid problems, than you are by going out as a carefree spirit.
- Bad things happen right here in our back yard, it is just as important to recognize them here at home as it is when you travel. One of the things we tell our students is that is something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Criminals, pimps, traffickers, and opportunists will all try to get you to buy into their story line. One important thing I have learned through the school of hard knocks, is that my parents were always right and knew what they were talking about. The other important thing I have learned is that whenever I have gotten into trouble, I somehow always felt like whatever I was doing was not going to end well.
- Learn self-defense and train regularly. Your life is worth it!
- Learn advanced first aid skills, such as Stop-The-Bleed.
- Learn the cultural nuances of the places your destinations. There is nothing worse than to realize that your OK sign was akin to flipping the bird at someone.
- Insist that everyone you travel with know the basics of travel awareness, and do not tolerate buffoonery.