The evening of June 7, 2016, marked the inaugural book reading for AAA’s public education initiative World on the Move: 100,000 Years of Human Migration. Our first author, Elzbieta Gozdziak, Research Professor at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, read selections from her recent book Trafficked Children and Adolescents in the United States: Reimagining Survivors. Throughout the evening, Gozdziak shared the incredibly varied experiences of children, mostly girls, trafficked to the United States for exploitation.
The cases that Gozdziak presented during the reading shed light upon how the early lives of trafficked children are very different from a Western idealized childhood. One key element resonated within each case study — extreme poverty. Dire economic circumstance, often compounded with the illness of a family member, drives the “migration” of many trafficked children. Gozdziak quickly identified how the children in her study live in cultures that place an intense obligation on children to contribute to the family’s income. With genuine empathy, one can realize how many of the children do not see themselves as victims of trafficking, but instead see their movement as an opportunity to assist their families. Often it is not until these children arrive in the United States that their lives become exploited. These children don’t necessarily see their traffickers as villains. In fact, as Gozdziak highlighted during the Q&A portion of the evening, traffickers are sometimes the children’s parents or other relatives
The discussion complicates the dominant narrative of trafficked children living with trauma. Gozdziak states that some children presented no psychological disturbance, though a few children exhibited symptoms of depression. Gozdziak argues that we must consider the cultural norms surrounding the expression of emotion by children who are trafficked from non-Western countries. By discounting these cultural differences, many service providers and anti-trafficking organizations unevenly address necessary treatment. Gozdziak argues that these agencies must ensure a child’s cultural, social and historical origins are taken into account when trying to understand their perception of their identity post-trafficking. While the children in Golzdziak’s study did not express joy and jubilation, some did not perceive themselves to be victims of mistreatment. In fact, Gozdziak shared how some children enjoyed aspects of their experiences by receiving nice clothes, education, and money which may make them more resistant to therapy.
Gozdziak is strategic in not generalizing the lives of trafficked children. Instead, she offers a nuanced discussion that seeks to expand the knowledge about the services that trafficked children need and identify how public policies and government programs can prevent child trafficking.
Elzbieta M. Gozdziak’s book Trafficked Children and Adolescents in the United States: Reimagining Survivors is available for purchase. For more information about Dr. Gozdziak and her work, visit her website: www.elzbietagozdziak.wordpress.com
Our next World on the Move event will be held at the 5th and K location of Busboys and Poets on August 25.
For more information about getting involved with World on the Move contact Leslie Walker, Project Manager for the Public Education Initiative at the American Anthropological Association or visit www.understandingmigration.org.