Millions of men, women and children across the country and world are victims of human trafficking for forced labor, sex and other types of exploitation. The human and economic toll human trafficking takes is tremendous on both individuals and communities.
It is estimated the economic cost of trafficking related to underpayment of wages and recruiting fees is at least $20 billion annually. The costs to human beings on a personal level are impossible to put into numbers. The problem of human trafficking involves many complex societal problems: poverty, justice, rule of law, human rights, social inclusion.
To get a grip on the problem of human trafficking, it is important to understand the definition of the term. It is recognized today there are three types of human trafficking: labor, sex and war slavery. In the US, the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Victim Protection Act features the following definition of human trafficking:
- Sex trafficking where a commercial sex act is mandated by force, fraud or coercion, or where the person is forced to perform the act is not at least 18 years old; or
- The harboring, recruitment, transportation, provision or obtaining an individual for labor or services through using fraud, force, or coercion for the purpose to subject the individual to involuntary solitude, debt bondage, slavery or peonage.
Human trafficking is a global problem that can be solved through hard work through stakeholders in government, nonprofits and in communities around the country and world. This article highlights the problems and statistics surrounding the human trafficking problem as well as what is being done, and what can be done in the future to curtail this menace to society.
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The Basic Problem of Human Trafficking
Getting a grip on the size of the human trafficking problem is challenging; it is difficult to collect statistics due to the fact of slavery being done in secret, and there is a good deal of discrepancy between the figures available. But there is a report that claims up to 27 million people live in some type of modern day slavery throughout the world. According to the International Labour Office, there are 21 million victims of human trafficking across the globe. In the US, it is estimated that 17,000 people are put into some form of slavery every year.
To better understand the problem, below is more information about the three major types of human trafficking in the world today.
According to the International Labor Office, there are 14 million victims of labor trafficking in the world today. Labor trafficking is found in almost every industry across the globe. Victims of labor trafficking are coerced to work without pay or without adequate pay in terrible conditions. Some workers are forced to work in their own country or are shipped across international borders, with illegal migrants being especially vulnerable to this type of criminal activity. Debt bondage is defined as providing forced services due to personal debt and is known as the most common type of labor trafficking in the world. This trafficking largely exists in Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh.
In the US, the most common type of labor trafficking is domestic slavery, agricultural and farming work. Labor trafficking also has been found in some strip clubs, in begging and peddling rings and in the hospitality field. Traveling sales crews that sell magazines and other materials have also been found that are exploitative of young adults from 16 to 28.
Both men and women are recruited with a promise of making a high income and have the ability to travel the country. Most victims have little education and low incomes. After an initial period where they are treated and paid well, they may be isolated from friends and family and subjected to physical and emotional abuse.
Many victims of human trafficking come from abroad and end up in the US, as this alarming graphic illustrates:
Map of the world showing which countries that traffic in humans to the U.S.; map shows how individual countries comply with anti-trafficking laws. The Kansas City Star 2009
There are 4.5 million victims of sex trafficking across the world, according to the International Labour Office. Victims and their families can be misled about employment opportunities and the nature of the sex trade in which they are working.
In Thailand, many poor families in rural regions are offered from $200 to $2000 for their daughter to be engaged in contractual work in restaurants or factories. When these girls arrive in the city, they are sold into brothels and forced to work for sex. A brothel owner may earn up to $80,000 each month if 20 sex slaves have sex with 14 people per day.
In the US, sex traffickers usually prey upon people with a history of mental, physical and sexual abuse. Sex trafficking may occur in residential brothels, online escort services, hostess clubs, massage businesses, strip clubs and street prostitution. The Internet has been found to be the major strategic tool used to recruit sex trafficking victims.
Personal ads on Craigslist, chat rooms, pornography sites and massage business websites may be used to post advertisements for sex related work. Online predators may seek out vulnerable girls and boys and lure them into the sex industry with misleading marketing information. Recent studies show that minors are the most vulnerable population to become sex slaves.
Internationally, approximately 2.2 million people are victims of war slavery. This crime may be perpetuated by rebel groups, or it can be enforced by state governments. War slavery may also be called state imposed forced labor, and may be sanctioned by the government. For instance, in Burma, the dictatorship has enslaved thousands of civilians for various military campaigns and construction projects in the past 15 years. The UN has reported that child soldiers have been recruited in more than 50 countries, such as Afghanistan, Chad, Burma, Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Human Trafficking By the Numbers
Human trafficking is a huge problem and is growing by the year. Below are startling statistics and infographics that reveal the stunning scope of the problem.
- Since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has gotten reports of 22,191 sex trafficking cases in the US.
- Since 2016, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has estimated that one in six endangered runaways were likely to be sex trafficking victims.
- There are nearly 21 million victims of human trafficking around the world. 70% are trapped in forced labor; 26% are children; and 55% are girls and women.
- The US Department of Labor reports 139 goods from 75 countries were made by child or forced labor.
- The number of minors under 18 who are victims of human trafficking around the world is 5.5 million.
- Victims spend an average of 20 months in forced labor.
- Around the world, the International Labor Organization estimates there are 4.5 million people who are forced into sexual exploitation.
- In 2014, the Urban Institute stated the underground sex slave economy is up to $40 million annually in Denver, and $290 million in Atlanta.
- 5 million work in forced labor in construction, manufacturing, mining or hospitality.
- 8 million are domestic workers.
- 7 million forced labor victims are working in agriculture.
- Human trafficking earns profits of up to $150 billion per year around the world.
- It is estimated that sexual exploitation can yield an ROI of 100% to 1000% for the managers and operators.
- Sexual exploitation makes great profits for operators, but forced labor saves them money. In Germany, Chinese kitchen workers were paid only $808 for an 80 hour work week. They should have been paid per German law a wage of $2558 for a 40 hour workweek.
More statistics about the human trafficking crisis can be seen in this graphic:
Laws and Penalties for Human Trafficking
There are many laws and regulations that prohibit human trafficking. At the federal level in the United States, these include:
- The U.S. Code, Title 22, Chapter 78 – Trafficking Victims Protection
- The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Prevention Act (TVPA)
- The Customs and Facilitations and Trade Enforcement Reauthorization Act of 2009
- The Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004
- The PROTECT Act of 2003
- The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA)
- The Mann Act of 1910
These laws and regulations apply to the entire United States. There also are state laws that address human trafficking. Most states in the US now consider sex trafficking as a criminal act.
The punishments for human trafficking and related crimes vary by state, but generally we can say the following:
- Most states have sentences for human trafficking convictions of three to eight years. If the victim was a minor, most states require at least a four year sentence.
- If there was a rape, three to eight years of prison is a typical sentence.
- If there was kidnapping, a prison sentence of three to 11 years is common. If the victim was under 14, a sentence of five years is usually imposed.
- If there was a kidnapping and sex crimes involved, a life sentence is possible.
Sentencing for human trafficking is complex because there are often mitigating and aggravating factors involved. If the victims were minors, or if sexual slavery was involved, harsher penalties are the result.
How does your state rank with its human trafficking laws? The graphic below shows which states are making progress and which have work to do:
Fighting Human Trafficking With Law Enforcement, Information and Outreach
The United States is aggressively fighting human trafficking at the federal level, with 37 human trafficking task forces spread across the US, as well as other action centers:
At the personal level, anyone can help to fight human trafficking, too. Here are some of the ways that people are fighting human trafficking in the United States:
- If you think someone is a victim of human trafficking in the US, you can report it by calling 911, or by calling the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-8888.
- Be an informed consumer by learning who is picking your fruit and vegetables and making your clothes. You can learn more by checking the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. You can also encourage American companies to investigate and prevent human trafficking and exploitation in their supply chains.
- Volunteer and support any anti-human trafficking efforts made in your community.
- Encourage your schools to work with students by including human trafficking and exploitation material in their curricula. Parents, educators and school administrators should be aware of how human traffickers target minors with deceptive advertising.
- Work with your local religious organization to stop human trafficking in your community. Support a victim service provider, and/or spread awareness of the problem.
- Healthcare providers can learn how to identify victims of human trafficking and help victims to overcome their circumstances.
- Organize fundraisers at your school or organization and donate the funds to anti-trafficking organizations.
- Write to your state, local and federal legislators to let them know you are concerned about fighting human trafficking. Ask what they are doing to fight it.
The States with the Most and Least Human Trafficking Cases
On a per capita basis, Washington DC and Nevada have the most reports of human trafficking in the nation. In each of those states, trafficking reports are more than five times more likely than in States like Wisconsin and Utah and Wisconsin.
What drives the prevalence of human trafficking in places like Washington DC and Nevada? The prostitution industry. While some prostitutes may work entirely on their own accord, a very significant number of them are working against their will. Even in Nevada, where prostitution is legal in certain parts of the state with a license, there are widespread reports of women working at brothels against their will or with falsified identification.
If you have been injured in a material way due to human trafficking or sex exploitation and related issues, you may have legal options to hold the other party or parties liable. Contact an experienced human trafficking attorney in your area today.
- Human Trafficking Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/11103
- Human Trafficking By the Numbers. (2016). Retrieved from http://socialwork.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.001.0001/acrefore-9780199975839-e-945
- Sex Trafficking. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://polarisproject.org/human-trafficking/sex-trafficking
- Human Trafficking Numbers. (2015). Retrieved from https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/human-trafficking-numbers