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Sociology Student Takes Action Against Human Trafficking

Note: Gubat Abdullaev, who came to F&M from Baku, Azerbaijan, is a sophomore intending to major in sociology and minor in French. He studied abroad in Sweden in Summer 2023. In this guest post, Gubat recounts what he learned and how it has driven him to advocate on behalf of young people ensnared in the illicit human-trafficking industry worldwide.

“My research into human trafficking extended beyond academic exploration, serving as a clarion call for action.”

— Gubat Abdullaev ’26

What makes an ideal victim in the intricate web of human trafficking, and how does social stratification dictate who is ensnared by its dark forces? These questions resonate as I reflect on my summer study abroad in Sweden, where I delved deep into the troubling world of human exploitation. Imagine a world where notions of innocence and victimhood are twisted, where ideal victims are carefully constructed, and where social hierarchies perpetuate a cycle of suffering. What does it mean to be an “ideal victim” in a society where power dynamics shape our perceptions of who deserves empathy and protection? 

As I explored the subject, my efforts materialized into tangible actions. I prepared a presentation on Human Trafficking in Pennsylvania for the Research Symposium at DIS Stockholm (Danish Institute for Study Abroad), a stark reminder that this issue was not just a global phenomenon, but also a concern close to home. According to the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, Lancaster County had the highest number of human trafficking offenses in the state between 2017 and 2021. In May 2022, Lancaster District Attorney Heather Adams said major highways and hotels — which make it easier to transport and recruit victims — are two major reasons for that.

I also developed and presented an innovative evidence-based map, allowing the public to identify and expose companies employing child labor—a digital outcry against injustice.

As I tackled the issue of child labor head-on, my journey also brought me face to face with another critical issue—the struggles of unaccompanied minors, especially North African boys. Their experiences were similar to those of many young individuals who had embarked on dangerous journeys in pursuit of the European dream.

These questions resonated within the academic corridors of my studies, compelling me to embark on a deeper exploration of this disconcerting terrain. Throughout my summer study abroad in Sweden, my unwavering focus was on the plight of unaccompanied minors, specifically North African boys, whose stories exemplified the harsh realities of human trafficking. These youths, armed with dreams and mobile phones, embarked on perilous journeys in search of a better life, only to find themselves trapped in a relentless cycle of exploitation. As promises of wealth, stylish attire, and an alluring lifestyle beckon to these boys, desperate for a chance at a brighter future, they unwittingly become pawns in the hands of ruthless criminal networks.

They start as mere errand runners, but their descent into more sinister criminal activities is inevitable. As they become mentally and financially dependent on recruiters — many of whom share the same ethnicities and nationalities as them — it is almost impossible for them to escape the cycle. Some attempt to break free, but are lured back with false assurances of riches and luxury, while those who resist face a barrage of threats and coercion, delivered through phone calls and social media messages.

What struck me most profoundly was the intricate connection between child labor and the predicament of these unaccompanied minors. Child labor, a widespread issue that frequently targets vulnerable individuals, becomes closely entwined with the lives of these boys, blurring the distinction between those who suffer and those who are compelled to engage in exploitative activities.

My research into human trafficking extended beyond academic exploration, serving as a clarion call for action — an impassioned plea for global recognition of the stark realities that define this crisis. This experience granted me a profound comprehension of the intricate interconnectedness of these issues, solidifying my commitment to catalyzing change. 

As I contemplate the moments from that transformative summer abroad, the words of Edmund Burke resonate deeply: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

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