Here’s What Went Down in Our Muslim Human Trafficking Discussion

In a discussion I had with a young woman who was at-risk of being recruited by a sex trafficking ring in the United States, she stated:

“I was not successfully recruited, but I was around it long enough to see how it works. I’m currently worried for my safety because it’s been made clear there’s a hit out on my head.”  

During our entire conversation, she was clear that trafficking was a form of organized crime, and that her decision to challenge the gang that targeted her had left her life in danger. While she couldn’t publicly come forward, she shared incredible insight into the ways traffickers target and groom young girls; the method of using gang rapes, sexual violence, and psychological abuse as a means to break someone down. She shared the ways in which a network of individuals, tied to a gang, target girls in middle school and high schools, youth centers, foster care, and homeless youth. Her accounts were chilling and her resilience was inspiring.

She wanted to share her story to help raise awareness so that other Muslim youth would be more aware. What many people don’t know is that her story isn’t unique and she isn’t alone. Deplorably, there are many Muslim Americans, adults and youth, who experience human trafficking.

While there are no prevalent estimates on how widespread trafficking is in Muslim American communities, according to estimates, 20.9 million individuals are trafficked globally for commercial sex and forced labor.  Within the United States, Polaris Project, the national organization that responds to human trafficking in the United States, receives thousands of calls for help.

Human trafficking is loosely defined as the use of force, fraud, and coercion to maintain control over another person “for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex or forcing them to provide labor against their will.” Traffickers will use threats of physical violence, abuse, deception, manipulation, shaming, immigration, and other means to abuse victims and threaten them.  One of the most chilling aspects of human trafficking is the commercial profit for traffickers from the submission, dehumanization, and violence committed against another human being. It also must be included and considered that, without demand, trafficking couldn’t exist.

For Muslim American communities, the issue has rarely been discussed, despite the existence of high profile cases of sex trafficking rings, and cases of labor trafficking. This includes the intersection of domestic labor and labor trafficking within rich and affluent Arab and Desi households.

So, in order to shine a brighter light on this topic, we held an online panel on addressing human trafficking within Muslim American communities.

What we discussed were the ways in which human trafficking manifests itself within immigrant Muslim communities. For example, we discussed the overlaps between domestic violence, forced marriage, labor and sexual exploitation.

Panelists shared some great resources such as training materials for addressing human trafficking and the National Human Trafficking Resource Center Resource Library.  One of our panelists, Mayam Al-Zoubi shared the toolkit on addressing sexual violence and sexual exploitation in Muslim American communities.  Further, Fahmida Azad who worked with  Polaris Project shared the national hotline number with multilingual access at 1-888-373-7888 and  other safety tips.

The consensus among all the panelists was survivors of trafficking must be centered in this discussion, and being cautious of the savior complex. Others mentioned we need more information on understanding the unique ways human trafficking manifests itself in Muslim American communities, and the barriers associated with class, status, race, gender, sexual orientation, and community marginalization. We also partially discussed the criminalization of victims and the overlap with incarceration. Further, we addressed the need for our communities to break the silence, address the stigma and shame survivors face, and the importance of having community accountability mechanisms for traffickers and those who pay for committing violence against others.


Overall, we hope this discussion is the beginning of many more conversations and campaigns focused on eradicating human trafficking. There were many points and intersections we couldn’t touch upon within the panel, such as the role of structural violence, state violence, and the role of an economic system that profits off dehumanizing bodies and demands cheap and free labor. Check out the panel below and tweet us feedback at #mgtrafficking.

Written by Darakshan Raja. Hang out with Darakshan in our next episode of The Girls’ Room, FERGUSON: NOW WHAT?