What is Human Trafficking?
Human trafficking violates the sanctity, dignity, and fundamental rights of the human person. The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines it as “the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons by means of force, fraud or coercion…for the purpose of exploitation.” According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking appears in “many guises”, often taking the form of commercial sexual exploitation, the prostitution of minors, debt bondage, and involuntary servitude. The United States government, and increasingly the international community, utilize the umbrella term “trafficking in persons” to define all forms of modern slavery.
Almost every nation is affected by trafficking, as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims—the United States is no exception.
Every year, millions of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers in their own countries and abroad. No sector or industry is immune from human trafficking. Victims may be workers in food processing factories, waiters or cooks at restaurants, construction workers, agricultural laborers, fishers, housekeeping staff at hotels, domestic help in private residences, or sex trafficked women and men in brothels, spas and massage parlors. According to the United Nation’s International Labor Organization’s (ILO) 2016 “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery,” nearly 40.3 million people are victims of modern slavery, of whom 24.9 million are entrapped in forced labor and sexual slavery and 15.4 million subjected to forced marriage. Through coercion, deceit, or force, they are trapped in jobs and situations from which they cannot escape.
Traffickers lure men, women, and children with false promises of good jobs, education, economic security, and love. Once enticed, traffickers keep their victims from seeking help through means such as confiscating identification documents, threats of violence against the victim or their family, and physical or psychological abuse.
Human Trafficking: Key Statistics
The International Labour Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation’s “Global Estimate of Modern Slavery” (2016) provides alarming statistics on the prevalence of human trafficking worldwide:
- 25% of all victims are children age 17 or younger, representing 10 million girls and boys worldwide
- Nearly 30% of all victims are men and boys; jumping to 46% for victims of forced labor
- Of the 24.9 million victims of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, nearly 1 of 4 were exploited outside their home country
- For every 1,000 people across the world in 2016, 5.4 were victims of human trafficking
Why is Human Trafficking So Prevalent?
Owing to the hidden nature of the crime, lax enforcement of anti-trafficking laws, the ease with which victims can be re-exploited, and large demand, human trafficking is considered a low risk and highly lucrative illegal enterprise. Calculated as a 150-billion-dollar industry, modern day slavery has become the fastest growing source of illicit profit for criminals worldwide.
Breaking Through Misconceptions
We often assume that trafficking only impacts certain types of individuals, such as those living in abject poverty with little to no access to education. While certain factors do make some populations exceptionally vulnerable to human trafficking, there is no “typical” profile. Anyone can become a victim regardless of sex, age, race, citizenship status, socioeconomic level or educational attainment. For example, individuals may be highly educated, speak multiple languages and hold university degrees, while others may have little to no schooling or academic achievement. Understanding that no one is immune to victimization allows us to improve prevention and victim identification strategies.
Let’s break through some additional misconceptions:
Myth #1: Human trafficking only occurs in the form of sexual commercial exploitation.
Truth: Of the 24.9 million victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation worldwide, nearly 81% are victims of forced labor, according to an estimate from the International Labour Organization.. . .
Polaris, an anti-trafficking NGO, identified 25 types of human trafficking in the United States,. . . 18 of which include some form of labor exploitation. Some of the industries involved are manufacturing, agriculture, domestic house work, hospitality, begging, landscaping, traveling sale crews, as well as health and beauty services.
Myth #2: Most victims of human trafficking are kidnapped and do not know their captors.
Truth: According to the International Human Trafficking Institute. . . , kidnapping victims is a risk for traffickers. Traffickers are more likely to recruit and groom their victims, offering them emotional support, false opportunities for a better life (such as steady employment and education), or even promises of romance.
Myth #3: In order to be trafficked you have to be taken to another country.
Truth: Under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). . . , you do not have to be transported from one country to another to be considered a victim of human trafficking. It is not even necessary to cross state lines. In fact, trafficking can occur within a victim’s own community. The TVPA protects both foreign born nationals and U.S. citizens who are survivors of a severe form of trafficking.
Myth #4: Legal businesses do not profit from forced labor and exploitation.
Truth: While human trafficking does occur in illicit underground industries such as brothels and the drug trade, it is also found in legitimate businesses, such as in the hotel, construction, agriculture, and restaurant sectors.
Myth #5: If a victim of human trafficking is undocumented in the United States, they cannot be protected by legal authorities or receive services.
Truth: Trafficking of any persons, regardless of their immigration status, is illegal in the United States. Foreign born nationals who are victims of human trafficking can receive a number of benefits. . . under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). For example, they may seek immigration relief by applying for a T Visa, as well as receive comprehensive case management services through the Trafficking Victim Assistance Program (TVAP) to help with their journey toward recovery.
Myth #6: The average person has never benefitted from services or goods produced by a victim of human trafficking.
Truth: Given the ubiquitous nature of forced labor, the average person has purchased goods or services that were produced, at least in part, by victims of human trafficking. This includes everything from fish, cotton, rice, cement, and even Christmas decorations, according to the United States Department of Labor. . . .
Truth: Myth #7: Victims are always kept in chains and physically abused.
Truth: Men, women, and children do not need to be kept in chains or beaten to be considered victims of trafficking. Traffickers often use methods of fraud and coercion to “imprison” their victims. This may take many different forms, including threatening to kill or harm loved ones, tricking the victim into thinking he/she owes him/her a debt, or threatening deportation in the case of the foreign-born victims.
Myth #8: The problem is so overwhelming and big there is nothing I can do to make a difference.
Truth: Every person can help to bring an end to human trafficking. Request a free toolkit from our Become a SHEPHERD program to learn more about the signs of trafficking and how to educate others. Each one of us can take steps to become more involved in the growing movement to end modern-day slavery.