Human trafficking is a
considered one of the most profitable crimes in today’s society. Human trafficking is the sale of human beings
used for forced labor or sexual exploitation.
While not often discussed, human trafficking is believed to generate
thirty-two billion dollars a year (Phantom Rescue). The sale of humans can be infinite, depending
on how many transactions occur. Most of
us are familiar with the slave trade in the seventeenth century, when slaves
were transported from Africa to the New World.
However, the buying and selling of humans, for monetary or social gain,
has been happening for thousands of years.
Many socioeconomic factors can lead to the trafficking of individuals. In addition, lack of government policies can
contribute to this crisis. Countries such as Russia, China, Iran, and Belarus
have high rates of traffickers and victims. These crimes are often hidden from
the authorities, due to the tactics perpetrators use. History, greed, and ignorance to this global
crisis allowed its growth in modern times.
The trafficking of humans has been in existence worldwide
for thousands of years. Greek and
Romans, as well as medieval civilizations, have participated in this
practice. The thirteenth century
manifested the beginning of the European slave trade, which transported people
from Africa to Portugal to use them as slaves.
In the 1500s, the British became a part of the slave trade in
Africa. Additionally, in the 1600s,
North America, Spain, France, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden joined the
practice. Starting in the nineteenth
century, human trafficking laws and awareness were put into action. In 1904, the International Agreement for the
Suppression of “White Slave Traffic” was signed and in effect. The goal of this agreement was to secure
women from being a part of “white slave traffic.” White slavery alludes to forcing a white
woman (or girl) into sexual exploitation or prostitution. Many argue this law was put into place to
control the amount of European woman from seeking jobs overseas. However, this historical agreement stands as
a righteous action against female trafficking.
After World War I, the League of Nations was founded. Its goal was to maintain world peace and
focus on global issues such as human trafficking. The Suppression of White Slave Traffic was
renamed to “traffic in women and children” to include everyone and not
discriminate. In the year of 1956, India
initiated the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, which persecutes individuals
involved in operating brothels, living on wages from sex work, and abducting
people for prostitution. Moving on to
the twenty-first century, the Polaris Project was founded by Katherine Chon and
Derek Ellerman in 2002 (Polaris Project). The Polaris Project is a non-profit
functioning to end modern day slavery.
Their accomplishments include a free hotline in which reports can be
received on trafficking victims, and training law enforcement how to approach
There are many forms of human trafficking, but one aspect
remains true for all victims: the exploitation of the vulnerability of
victims. The most prevalent form of
trafficking is sexual exploitation.
Women, and often children, from underdeveloped countries are promised
employment in a different country.
Victims are often lured into the scheme, due the false hope they are
presented. False travel documents are
often provided, and the trafficked person(s) are transported through an
extensive travel network to their destination.
Here they will be forced into sexual slavery while living in constant
fear. Similar to sexual exploitation,
forced labor preys on underprivileged individuals looking for a better job and
life. Men, women, and children are bound
to labor-intensive jobs in agriculture, construction, and domestic
servitude. A fast-growing form of
trafficking is the illegal transactions of tissues, cells, and organs. In many countries, waiting lists for organ
transplants are long. Criminals have
taken advantage of this situation, and are exploiting the agony of donors and
patients. Such phony operations are
performed in vile conditions with no follow-up.
Approximately 20 to 30 million slaves are in the world
today. According to the U.S. State
Department, 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international
borders every year, of which 80% are female and half are children. There is no definite profile for trafficking
victims. They come from rural, urban,
and suburban backgrounds. All races,
sexes, and other demographics are affected.
However, individuals with a past of violence and trauma are more
vulnerable to traffickers; they recognize the susceptibilities from past
abusers. “People may be trafficking
victims regardless of whether they were born or transported into a state of
servitude, whether they once consented to work for a trafficker, or whether
they participated in a crime as a direct result of being trafficked” (U.S.
Department of State).
Many contributing factors lead to the trafficking of
individuals. Populations experiencing
poverty are most at risk due to desperation and dire circumstances. In
developing countries, job opportunity (especially for women) is scarce. This marginalization of women increases the
likelihood of someone accepting sketchy job offers. As a result, parents sell their children and
are forced to pay off their debts. Violent repercussions, such as immigration
or police intervention, are held over families.
In addition, globalization has made it easier for trafficking violators
to communicate and move people across borders.
Modern advances such as the internet and air travel have allowed for
transactions to remain incognito.
Finally, political and civil violence in certain countries has led
families to flee their homeland in search of new opportunity. All of these factors provide traffickers a
chance to take advantage of disadvantaged people.
Russia, China, Iran, and Belarus are a few examples of
countries with high trafficking rates.
In China, the one-child policy and a cultural preference for male
offspring perpetuates the trafficking of brides and sex workers. “Traffickers recruited girls and young women,
often from rural areas of China, using a combination of fraudulent job offers,
imposition of large travel fees, and threats of physical or financial harm, to
obtain and maintain their service in prostitution” (U.S. Department of State). China
also has a forced labor epidemic, in which migrants are forced to work in
factories or coal mines without pay. In
Russia, approximately 50,000 children and adolescents are prostituted without
consent. In addition, one million people
in Russia are exposed to inhumane living and working conditions, such as
nonpayment for work and destitute housing and living conditions. Russia has failed to develop a solid system
for pinpointing and assisting victims, leading to distrust amongst government
officials. Iran has demonstrated minimal
effort towards ending their sexual trafficking crisis. Even though sex rings are often defeated, the
people most punished are the girls.
Officials are unwilling to determine the difference consensual
intercourse and rape. Law enforcement
will torture and execute these women for violating Iran’s behavior standards. In Belarus, individuals suffering from
substance abuse are maltreated and sent to medical labor camps. At these camps, they are forced to work with
no pay. These camps violate the rights
of people and neglect labor laws.
“Human trafficking is fluid,
adaptable and under the radar. The secrecy and invisibility of the trafficking trade largely contributes to its success
and growth” (Weaver). Human trafficking
victims remain concealed from law enforcement due to the social circumstances
of victims and tactics perpetrators use.
A large number of victims are not allowed to leave their place of forced
work, and have no access to a phone or the internet. Additionally, language barriers between those
trafficked and the police remain a significant issue. In many of the countries that victims
originate, there is mistrust of government leaders and law officials. Officials in these countries often smuggle
people across borders themselves and do little to protect their citizens. Since many victims are illegally sent to
their destination country, they are afraid to seek help. This may turn to their own criminal
conviction. Another factor as to why
victims remain unseen is due to the sheer complexity of trafficking schemes.
Operations are usually branched out amongst many associates. This makes it difficult for law enforcement
to know where to start their search.
Moreover, lack of police specialization in trafficking cases and minimal
resources delays the cessation of operations.
Human traffickers can include pimps,
criminal networks, businesses, and family operations. Traffickers often share the same ethnicity as
their victims. This allows them to understand
and take advantage of the vulnerabilities of their victims. Traffickers can include family members,
friends, males and females, partners, and strangers. Working alongside certain businesses or
industries facilities this illegal operation.
In conclusion, growth of human
trafficking has increased globally in the last century. Since this crime does not discriminate, it can
affect anyone. Political and economic
instability, as well as poverty, are main contributing factors to the growth of
this global crisis. More should be done
to decrease the likelihood of a trafficking case occurring. Funding to train law enforcement and
government officials to identify traffickers and victims should be increased
dramatically. Tougher penalties placed
upon violators could deter the sale of humans.