Human Trafficking

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What is Human Trafficking?

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

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

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

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

Truth: Every person can help to bring an end to human
trafficking. Request a free toolkit from our Become
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


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