Primer prepared by Kasey Clayton, Honors Civic Engagement
“Human trafficking robs victims of their basic human rights, and it occurs right under our noses. Many efforts have been focused in other regions of the world, but this is a major problem here at home.”-Blake Farenthold, Former US Representative
“The swelling epidemic of human trafficking makes a mockery of the law and its protections.”- Josh Hawley, American lawyer and Republican politician
“In reality, victims of human trafficking are often left voiceless and completely unseen by society.”- Elise Stefanik, US Representative for New York
What is human trafficking? The Polaris Project calls human trafficking “a modern-day form of slavery,” and defines it as “the use of force, fraud or coercion to get another person to provide labor or commercial sex.” Human trafficking is a multi-million dollar criminal industry of stealing freedom for profit. In some cases, traffickers trick, defraud or physically force victims into providing commercial sex. In others, victims are lied to, assaulted, threatened or manipulated into working under inhumane, illegal or otherwise unacceptable conditions.
Why is this issue important? The National Human Trafficking Hotline has documented the extent of human trafficking around the world and finds that 24.9 million people around the world have been denied their freedom.
While most people believe human trafficking often involves kidnapping or otherwise physically forcing someone into a situation, most human traffickers use psychological means such as, tricking, defrauding, manipulating or threatening victims into providing commercial sex or exploitative labor.
Labor trafficking occurs in the United States and in other developed countries but is reported at lower rates than sex trafficking. However, there is much wider awareness of sex trafficking in the United States than of labor trafficking. Human trafficking cases have been reported and prosecuted in industries including restaurants, cleaning services, construction, factories and more.
Human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling, which involves illegal border crossings. In fact, the crime of human trafficking does not require any movement whatsoever. Survivors can be recruited and trafficked in their own home towns, even their own homes.
Although commonly believed that women are the primary victims, one study estimates that as many as half of sex trafficking victims and survivors are male. Advocates believe that percentage may be even higher but that male victims are far less likely to be identified. LGBTQ boys and young men are seen as particularly vulnerable to trafficking.
While many people believe that individuals being trafficked are physically unable to leave their situations/locked in/held against their will, more often people in trafficking situations stay for reasons that are more complicated. ,. Some lack the basic necessities to physically get out – such as transportation or a safe place to live. Some are afraid for their safety. Some have been so effectively manipulated that they do not identify at that point as being under the control of another person. Many survivors have been trafficked by romantic partners, including spouses, and by family members, including parents.
How/why does human trafficking exist today?
According to UNICEF USA, there are three primary reasons human trafficking exists today. First, The costs are low and the profits are extremely high. Traffickers can expect a lot of money with little to no fear of punishment/legal consequences. It’s the second most profitable illegal industry— second only to the drug trade. And while drugs are sold in one transaction, human beings can be sold over and over again. The International Labor Organization estimates that human trafficking makes $150 billion annually.
Second, human trafficking is the only industry in which the supply and demand are the same thing: human beings. People demanding the sale of people. High demand drives the market to seek a high volume of supply. Increasing demand from consumers for cheap goods incentivizes corporations to demand cheap labor, often forcing those at the bottom of the supply chain to exploit workers. Secondly, increased demand for commercial sex (especially with young girls and boys) incentivizes commercial sex venues to recruit and exploit children
Finally, systemic inequalities and disparities make certain groups much more vulnerable to exploitation. Mass displacement, conflict, extreme poverty, lack of access to education and job opportunities, violence, and harmful social norms like child marriage are all factors that push individuals into situations of trafficking. Families living in extreme poverty or families in situations of desperation are more likely to accept risky job offers. When girls aren’t allowed to learn, parents are more likely to sell their daughters to men for marriage.
What You Can Do
- Contact your representative and advocate for legislation that increases penalties for traffickers and enhances protections for victims and support legislation that brings safety those who are less vulnerable. On February 17, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 507: Put Trafficking Victims First Act of 2019, and it now pending in the U.S. Senate.
- Learn how your buying habits contribute to the demand for exploitative labor. Then take steps to make ethical purchases by shopping for Fair Trade products. Fair Trade certification ensures that no child or slave labor contributed to the making of a product. Check out Slavery Footprint or use apps such as Buycott and Donegood. With these apps, you can scan items that you wish to purchase to see if they breach any human rights.
- Research the stores you buy from.
- Write letters to your favorite stores that aren’t yet a part of the end slavery movement.
- Support brands with transparent policies. Buy fair trade goods as often as possible. Fair Trade Certified brands have to comply to the following: ensure that the people making Fair Trade Certified goods work in safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods, and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities.
- Research the stores you buy from.
- Support organizations that lessen vulnerabilities around the world. Get involved locally!
- Make others more aware.
- The Polaris Project
- UNICEF USA
- New Creation VA
- National Human Trafficking Hotline
- Department of Homeland Security
- Human Trafficking Center
- Have these facts challenged your view on human trafficking?
- What do you think makes human trafficking easier/more prevalent today?
- How does human trafficking conflict with democratic values?
- What can we do to abolish human trafficking and ensure rights for all human beings?
- What can you do to address human trafficking?