Human Trafficking: It’s In Our Back Yards: Part II

Last week, I posted on the who, what, where and when of human trafficking. Today, I will be posting on the why. Why should romance writers care? Why should they consider including it in their novels? We are all tuned into that radio station, WIFM, or “What’s In It For Me?” with good reason. We want to sell books and make money. So, let’s see how you can benefit from this topic as a writer and be a “do-gooder” at the same time.

(By way of reminder, I’m still celebrating KISS OF THE SILVER WOLF’s first birthday by selecting one lucky commenter on my blog each week up to October 31, 2011 to win an e-copy of my werewolves meets X-files novella. So, don’t delay, start commenting!)


WIFM: Characters Wanted

Looking for some interesting characters? Try some of these:

Victims: children, women, men, families who through no fault of their own become victims of human trafficking.

Perpetrators/Villains: Family members–yes, you read that right. Families who do not value girls can sell them to traffickers to get the other family members through a famine, drought, etc. Fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts are all in the business. In the documentary, Born Into Brothels, one of the young women is told repeatedly by her “Auntie” that she’ll be “working the line” soon, i.e., working as a prostitute. Another little girl worries that she’ll be sold. Unlike drug and gun trafficking where men are in charge, human trafficking is an equal opportunity employer and women can rise through the ranks. Madams trafficking girls into brothels were  often victims of trafficking. Teenaged girls who might not trust a male family member, are more likely to go with a female family member–and then find themselves enslaved. Throw in organized and disorganized crime, corrupt politicians, police, and border guards and you will find no lack of villains.

Need a Hero and Heroine? Look at the list of agencies at the end of this blog for a sampling of the organizations involved in combating human trafficking. In addition to governmental agents (FBI, ICE, DHHS); good police, non-corrupt politicians,  and border guards, there are also Non-Governmental Agencies (NGOs). Some are religious organizations, all are not-for-profits.

Need Secondary Characters? In DESIRE AND DECEPTION, my heroine (Sarah) found out about human trafficking by attending a conference sponsored by a Catholic university. A nun became Sarah’s mentor in the search for the nefarious trafficker.

WIFM: Plots Wanted

How about adapting some old plots to a not-so-new issue? Yes, we know there are a lot of variations on these themes, but look at the tropes and in the parentheses are ideas for tailoring them to a human trafficking story.

1. Secret Baby (Adoption Trafficking)
2. Cinderella (rags to riches) (Madams; Organs)
3. Opposites Attract (FBI agent, Crime boss)
4. Bodyguard (Protecting rich woman, nearly dies)
5. Second chance/First love rekindled (Oryx & Crake; children/teens torn apart)
6. Reunion (Woman/child reunited w/family)
7. Stranded (Lost and Trafficked)
8. Love Triangle (Pimp/Prostitute/John)
9. Marriage of Convenience (Mail-order Brides)
10. Beauty and the Beast (Captor/captive or C/c)

11. Sleeping Beauty/Ugly duckling (Drugged Woman/Awakened by Hero)
12. Amnesia (Head Injury & Trafficked)
13. Fish out of water (Abducted on vacation)
14. Blackmail/Revenge (Unfaithful lover)
15. Forbidden love (“Good”C/c)
16. Mentor/protégé (Boss/Employee)
17. Princess/Pauper; King/Beggar maid (Beggar children)
18. Bad boy/good girl; Bad girl/good boy (C/c)
19. Best Friends (One seeks trafficked friend)
20. The Road to Adventure (Boy soldiers/Captive “brides”)

(Adapted with permission from Jana Richards 20 Classic Romance Plots)

What Can You Do As Citizens?

Here are some simple ways to be involved:

  • Become informed and raise awareness through writing, presentations and workshops;
  • Buy only Fair Trade goods (e.g., flowers, chocolate, clothing, rugs, etc.)
  • Demand that laws against human trafficking be created and enforced (did you know 9 states in the US have weak or NO anti-trafficking laws? (Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Massachusetts, Montana, South Carolina and South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Hawaii and Ohio. (
  • Advocate for reduced demand through:
    • Creation of John’s schools (like a DUI school for first offenders) teach men that prostitution is not a victimless crime if you are forced into it against your will.
    • Call for corporate policies that mandate no purchasing of goods created by slaves.
    • Zero tolerance in tourism, real estate, advertising and related industries who benefit from human trafficking. In Paris, France, authorities boarded up an expensive condominium the owner had rented to sex traffickers. His real estate investment was gone.

What Can You Do As A Romance Writer?

Romance writers have long tackled difficult women’s issues, such as domestic violence and addiction. Romance writers can tell a fictional story that is less threatening to readers to expose them to the world of human trafficking. Romance writers can show readers what individuals can do. Romance writers can make a difference.

References and Resources

Films  & Documentaries

  • Taken
  • Frozen River
  • Revenge
  • Human Trafficking
  • Slum Dog Millionaire
  • Trade
  • Sin Nombre (Without a Name)
  • Born into Brothels
  • Lilya 4-Ever
  • Selling of Innocents
  • National Geographic BORDER WARS (Cable)

A Small Sampling of Nonfiction Books

  • Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales
  • Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective by Louise Shelley
  • The Slave Next Door: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today by Kevin Bales and Ron Soodalter
  • Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It by David Batstone
  • Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery by Siddarth Kara
  • The Whistleblower: Sex Trafficking, Military Contractors, and One Woman’s Fight for Justice by Kathryn Bolkovac

A Small Sampling of Fiction Books

  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Wiser Than Serpents (Mission: Russia #3) by Susan May Warren
  • Blood Ransom (Mission Hope Series) by Lisa Harris
  • Stolen Woman (Stolen Series) by Kimberly Rae

Online Resources

PS: Stop by and enter to win more spooktacular prizes from October 26-31 at

15 thoughts on “Human Trafficking: It’s In Our Back Yards: Part II

  1. Sharon, I’m going to reread both of theses most escellent posts. In my current WIP, set in both Paris and Budapest, I’ve mentioned human trafficing and have wavered on how much I’ll include in my story. This may be food for thought. Hmmm….

    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Vonnie. If you have any questions, or need more resources shoot me an email! BTW, in her excellent book, Shelly talks about how the authorities in Paris boarded up an expensive apartment and made it unusable for rental to the owner–because he had rented it out to traffickers. That’s one way to stop the facilitators. Hit ‘em in the wallet!

  2. Hi Sharon, thanks for the great information. Human trafficking has been something I have been aware of for sometime now. Even in New Zealand we have girls from Europe being brought here for prostitution and slavery, though most are from asian countries. I am writing a paranormal romance series and decided a couple of months ago to have one based on child trafficking. I never thought about using my books as raising awareness to the cause, being a romance writer. So thanks for the great article it has given me a lot to think about…

    • Thank you, Juliet! I’m so glad this is helpful to you. Yes, any way we can raise awareness and move people to stop slavery is wonderful. I think we have a special role to play as romance writers because we connect with our readers on so many levels: love, family, justice…it’s a long list! Best, Sharon

    • Hi Lily–Yes, and it’s a measure of our humanity that we find trafficking disturbing–and not “just a business” as the thug says in TAKEN. Thank you for reading and commenting. Sharon

    • Hi Anita–Yes, once you know, you cannot un-know about this growing crime. Thanks for reading and commenting. Sharon

  3. Thank you for another great blog on human trafficking, Sharon. I’m the survivor of it who posted after your first blog on the subject. I had a couple of questions for you:

    Since I’ve gotten squeamish, disbelieving reactions from people when I brought up the subject, I’ve worried that in writing my romantic suspense stories about it, I’m setting myself up for knee-jerk rejection from editors. What’s your experience with selling projects on human trafficking?

    Are there particular publishing houses that you feel would be more likely to consider “dark” stories like this? (or lines within a publishing house) I realize that established authors are more likely to have such fiction accepted, so I’m more interested in places that would give it a fair consideration from a beginner.

    I’ve noticed that as long as I stick to 3rd World trafficking, people seem less reactive. But if I mention the way that people are enslaved right here in the US, denial rears its ugly head and disbelief makes people who don’t want to know quite deaf…probably to avoid having to actually do anything about the situation.

    This extends to activists, too–in order to retain what credibility they’ve managed to build, I’ve watched them shy away from looking into home-grown networks of people who are exploiters. But systematized abuse exists here, as well as in other 1st World nations.

  4. Hi Lily–

    Thanks for coming back and for your comments.

    I know what you mean about people not understanding that this is truly a transnational phenomenon. I’ve had similar reactions. What I’ve seen lately and what I’ve attempted to share with others is more news stories addressing this topic. The massage parlor next door, the slave in the perfect home next door, etc, those stories stun people.

    One of my chapter mates, the very talented Stephanie Dray/Draven, addressed some tough issues (arms dealing, war, etc) in her Mythica series. Harlequin loved her writing–and as the 800 pound gorilla in romance, they can take a chance on tough topics. Don’t overlook their single title MIRA Imprint, too. Some of those titles are very very dark.

    Other publishers are taking more risks. I would do a Google search on romance publishers to see what key words in your work retrieve. You may find that there are more publishers out there with this content than you thought.

    I think what we must be careful of as romance authors is to not show the child abuse or rape on stage. It can be part of back story, or alluded to, but cannot be portrayed in a way that makes the editor and reader feel that it is prurient.

    When I wrote DESIRE AND DECEPTION, part of Isabel’s back story contained some horrific abuse. However, I did not show that on stage. I showed the consequences, but not the action, per se.

    Thank you for speaking up. Your work may save the life of a child or another woman.



    • Thanks, Sharon. I’ll do searches and see which publishers’ names pop up. And I totally understand the need to keep the really horrific stuff in backstory that’s sensitively written. In my own experience, most people–even really kind, well-intentioned folks–simply don’t know how to relate to what happened to me. Their disbelief stung at the time, but once I thought about it, it was perfectly understandable. And that translates into submissions to editors too.

      Thank you again for being brave enough to address this subject in your blog. I’m going to send other survivors to read it too, since we often feel ignored and invisible in society.

      BTW, you mentioned the film “Taken”–it’s one of my favorite movies! I refer to it as “rescue porn” ;o)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>