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SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORY
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Introduction
The video, “Lives for Sale: Human Trafficking”, discusses in-depth the social structure
theory and how it relates to criminal and deviant behavior. It describes in great detail how human
traffickers play on the needs of others who are desperate for money or just desire to have a better
life. The promise of good paying jobs and a better life for them and their families are used to
deceive the poverty-stricken individuals into accepting the offer. Things occur quite to the
contrary once they finally arrive in America. Even if the ploy is discovered, law enforcement
often times will over look the situation because of the abject poverty in which the person is
found (Siegel, 2000).
Subject and Content of the Video
The main subject of the video revolves around how and why human trafficking occurs
and why it is so easy for traffickers to get away with selling and trading other individuals so
easily. The world in which they work provides little in the way of restriction, primarily because
the people they target are from poverty-stricken countries where there is little hope for
individuals to make a living for themselves let alone support their children and relatives.
Traffickers depend on the fact that the individuals they target will not be reported missing.
Family members in the countries where the “slaves’ originate from are well acquainted with the
risks of trying to cross the border into America. They normally assume their loved one has either
died during the attempt or has become lost and has no way of making contact. Since they rarely
know where the individual is headed or an exact location, it is difficult for them to verify
whether or not their family member arrived safely.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORY
The video also discusses the premise under which the immigrants are kept once they
arrive at their final destination. Instead of the well paying job they were promised, the women
find themselves locked away in small rooms with darkened windows and sold into various types
of slave labor and prostitution. In the case of those who are used to as household help, they are
rarely allowed to leave the home, but required to clean, cook and do whatever other chores the
owners of the home ask. When the women are sold as sex slaves, they are forced to service many
individuals during their stay and receive little or no pay.
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Traffickers generally go unnoticed because they live seemingly normal lives. The
middlemen who smuggle the immigrants across the border do so for a fee and hand off the
individuals to the traffickers who either keep them for themselves or sell them to others for a
handsome profit. The video brings up the point that smuggling and trafficking are similar acts
but are different because of the reasoning behind what motivates an individual to come across
the border. In smuggling, the individual in question, is coming over because they want a better
life and will do whatever it takes to get here. They are looking for a way to make money or
possibly, because a family member needs medical attention. A victim of trafficking, however, is
deceived into believing there is already a job waiting for them and all they have to do is show up
to receive the benefits. While both types of immigration are risky, one chooses the risk because
he must and is willing to face the unknown, and the other chooses the risk because they are
convinced they will be rewarded for doing so. Their hope for a better life allows them to become
the victims of deception (“Social Structure”, 2012).
Social Issues Discussed in the Video
SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORY
Slavery, kidnapping and willful deception are just a few of the social issues discussed in
the video. Traffickers enslave individuals and hold them captive against their will for financial
gain. People who are involved in the human traffic trade kidnap illegal immigrants for the same
reason the traffickers target individuals in poor countries. The victims will not be missed, and if
by chance they are reported missing, little is done to find them because they are not a priority.
They are the nameless victims in a crime, but not the criminals law enforcement usually look for.
Because of this, they end up falling between the cracks of the system and remain lost
indeterminate amounts of time (Touzenis, 2010).
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When their situation is finally discovered, organizations have a difficult time providing
assistance because they are not in any system. Their status as illegal aliens limits what many
agencies can do. If law enforcement cannot prove that a crime has been committed, the victims
can be continually harassed and threatened by the traffickers. The social status of the victim
often puts their circumstance in question. Questions arise as to how they came to be in their
situation and who is responsible. Often times, the trafficker is no longer in the picture so they
continue to remain active in the human trafficking trade.
Major Principles of Sociological Theory
Major principles of sociological theory include how groups are arranged socially, how
each group interacts with the others and the overall degree of organization (or lack there of) and
structure. With individuals who are involved in human trafficking, they are primarily set aside in
groups of their own making. They draw as little attention to themselves as possible and avoid
interacting with other groups. As part of the societal structure, they prefer to remain on the
fringe. They interact with individuals who are more commonly associated with criminal behavior
SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORY
due to the fact it will be less likely they are found out for what they truly are (“Human
Trafficking: An Overview”, 2011).
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The aspect of society in which human traffickers thrive is disorganized in that they rely
heavily on individuals who choose to take risks. Their business depends on being able to deceive
others and gain an advantage by keeping the victim unaware of what is actually going on around
them. Once a situation arises where the ruse is discovered, the organization of societal groups
outside of the traffickers arena can seem alien to the victim. They will often resist help because
they fear they will be deceived again. Law enforcement and social service groups such as CAST
(the Center to Abolish Slave Trafficking) must work to bring the victim into society instead of
forcing them to remain in the dark underworld of slavery and prostitution.
Traffickers control the underworld from which the victim was rescued. The underworld
is comprised of individuals who fly under the radar so to speak to avoid being detected either
because they are involved in criminal behavior or because they are illegals themselves and do
not want to risk deportation. Traffickers and the criminals they associate with are also involved
in the sectors of society that dip below the national poverty level. Law enforcement and social
service organizations work with the group on a regular basis, but little is done to raise them from
the poverty within which they reside. Many are uneducated and live on the fringes of normal
society. When victims are rescued from these circumstances, they often get lost in the
bureaucracy because they have no real means of advancement (“An Introduction to Human
Trafficking”, 2012).
Many of the immigrants who come to America do so in the hopes of being able to attend
school and create a better future for themselves and their families. Once they get caught in the
SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORY
lies and deception of the human traffickers, those dreams are often left behind in exchange for
the mere hope of survival. Rescue for some leads back to the country from which they came,
while others who were severely abused or victimized may be absorbed into the system to receive
medical care and possibly a chance at remaining in the country to pursue their prior dreams of an
education or better paying job.
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Possible Ramifications for Social Policy Change
Ramifications of social policy change include the forcing of certain aspects of the
population into other more organized areas. Criminal behavior can also increase. Lawmakers can
lose sight of the importance of having a defined set of social structure and organization. For
example, if a low income neighborhood is restructured in an attempt to bring in medium income
level residents, the low income residents will be forced to move elsewhere. When this occurs,
crime becomes more prevalent and the stability of the new community is jeopardized. It is
forgotten that the community prior to the changes had its own unique environment and persona.
With the new changes, the dynamic of the neighborhood is completely changed and not always
for the better.
While social policy change is designed to be for the greater good, in many cases it can
cause greater harm and more division within the community. When discussing social policy
changes and the world of human trafficking, addressing the needs of the poorest of the
individuals within a community would be a good place to start. Many traffickers who do not
want to look to third world countries will often times seek out young runaways or homeless
individuals who have no one to report them as missing. Changing social policy that involves the
incorporation of the homeless back into society is a small step towards reducing the ability of
SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORY
human traffickers to meet their quota of individuals.
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Lawmakers who implement social policy change look at the problem and try to arrive at
an acceptable solution. In doing so, however, they sometimes do not realize how their
prospective changes will impact the individuals who are involved. Moving residents from a
community or area where they have resided all of their lives can be devastating if they know no
other way of living. Destroying the environment in an existing neighborhood has the potential to
damage every neighborhood adjacent to it. Social policy change only works if the individuals it
affects can withstand it and all of the issues it brings to bear.
Individuals who are the victims of human trafficking or other forms of “slavery” and
prostitution are at a complete disadvantage. They are often times away from their home country
and do not speak English. If they do speak English, their vocabulary is limited and they have
little opportunity to learn a new language. Social policy does not recognize them as members of
the community because they are not here legally. Even though they have been victimized, social
service organizations have a difficult time obtaining help for them. Law enforcement, while
trying to perform their duties and get the traffickers off the street, often times can only arrest the
individuals who “purchased” the victims, leaving the traffickers to go free.
Many trafficking victims ask to be returned to their country of origin in an attempt to
resume their life, no matter what state of poverty they may end up in. Others petition to stay in
the United States. The situation they are found in has consequences, however, and many must
return home and begin the process of immigrating to the United States in the formal manner.
Even then, there is little guarantee the individual will be allowed to return. If they are denied,
they may attempt to again, enter the country illegally.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORY
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Conclusion
Human traffickers and the trade they engage is illegal and socially unacceptable. It is
difficult to detect their actions and rescue the victims because the offenders work on the fringes
of normal society. They thrive on the hope the people they target will remain invisible and
forgotten by society on all levels. The victims of human trafficking are desperate for change and
willing to assume any risk necessary in exchange for the possibility of a better life for
themselves and their loved ones. Social policy and the changes that occur within social structure
often overlook the victims of trafficking as well as those who perpetrate the crime. Little can be
done to control human trafficking until society begins to alter the way it thinks about specific
groups of individuals. Race, financial standing and criminal behavior are all factors that affect
poverty-stricken sectors of society. Racial tension between minority groups can lead to gangs
and fighting. While these problems remain the focus of law enforcement agencies and social
service organizations, victims of human trafficking are often lost in the shuffle due to their lack
of criminal behavior.
Understanding how these factors work together within the social structure of a
community is important when attempting to figure out ways to resolve the situation and prevent
further instances of illegal activity. Only when each issue is addressed and the social make up of
the community is brought into balance will the threat of human slavery and trafficking be
adequately challenged.

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