Seven Things You Should Know About Human Trafficking

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Young Woman Rests After Escaping a Human Trafficking Boat – by Kari Johnstone

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry released the 2015 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.  As required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), the TIP Report assesses government efforts around the world to combat modern slavery. This year’s Report, the 15th installment, includes narratives for 188 countries and territories, including the United States. This year also marks the 15th anniversary of the TVPA.

On this occasion, the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons wants to share with you seven things you should know about human trafficking.
1.     Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons or modern slavery, exists in the 21st century, even in the United States.

Although the legal institution of slavery was outlawed in the United States nearly a century and a half ago, it is estimated that more than 20 million adults and children around the world, including in the United States, are victims of modern slavery. “Modern slavery,” “human trafficking,” and “trafficking in persons” are used interchangeably as umbrella terms for this crime, which involves the exploitation of someone for the purposes of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.  Where a person younger than 18 years old is induced to perform a commercial sex act, it is a crime regardless of whether there is any force, fraud, or coercion.

2.     Anyone can be a victim of human trafficking.

At the heart of the phenomenon of human trafficking — whether forced labor or sex trafficking — are the many forms of enslavement:  domestic servitude, debt bondage, forced child labor, child sex trafficking, and the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers.  Human trafficking affects women, men, and transgender individuals, adults as well as children, and citizens and non-citizens from all socioeconomic groups.  Women have been identified as victims of labor trafficking in many industries, including the agricultural and hospitality sectors, as well as domestic workplaces.  At the same time, boys and men also have been among those identified as victims of sex trafficking.

3.     Victims may be willing participants at first, but can later become trafficking victims.   

Whether a person originally consents to a certain type of employment, to migrate for a better job, or to work off a debt is irrelevant once that person’s free will has been compromised.  Often, traffickers use the initial consent of victims against them to stigmatize them for their choice and compel them to continue working.  A person who faces force, fraud, or coercion in such cases is a victim of human trafficking.

4.     Migrant smuggling and human trafficking are distinct crimes.

The terms “human trafficking” and “migrant smuggling” are often conflated or referred to interchangeably, but these two crimes are distinct.  A person being smuggled must be moved across an international border and is not considered a victim, absent another crime.  In smuggling cases, an individual consents to being moved and the transaction between the migrant and the smuggler typically ends once the migrant has paid the smuggler and crossed the border.  In contrast, a person who falls prey to human trafficking is a victim of a crime under international law, a crime that contains an element of force, fraud, or coercion.  And, notably, no movement is required.  Individuals may be considered trafficking victims regardless of whether they were born into a state of servitude, were transported to the exploitative situation, previously consented to work for a trafficker, or participated in a crime as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking.

5.     Natural disasters place vulnerable people at heightened risk of human trafficking.

Natural disasters, such as this year’s earthquakes in Nepal or Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013, displace large numbers of people and leave them vulnerable to trafficking.  Quick and strategic actions must be taken by governments to ensure that citizens are not exploited in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.  For example, the Philippine government’s previous investments in addressing human trafficking enabled it to react swiftly after Haiyan by working with international and local NGOs to provide security and screening checkpoints at evacuation centers, in tent cities, and at major transportation hubs.  These preventative measures helped to protect vulnerable populations as they migrated en masse to other parts of the country and resettled in temporary shelters or private residences.

6.     There can be intersections between environmental degradation and human trafficking, as well as between forced labor and sex trafficking.

Industries that face particularly high environmental risks, such as agriculture, fishing, logging, and mining, are also industries in which forced labor has been documented. Exploitation of both people and natural resources appears even more likely when the yield is obtained or produced in illegal, unregulated, or environmentally harmful ways and in areas where monitoring and legal enforcement are weak.  Moreover, the link between some industries, such as mining, and sex trafficking is increasingly an issue of concern among governments and advocates.  Bolivian and Peruvian girls are subjected to sex trafficking in mining areas in Peru, and women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking near gold mines in Suriname and Guyana.  NGOs have reported continued commercial sexual exploitation of children related to mining sectors in Madagascar.  In some areas, for example in Colombia, this exploitation involves organized crime in which criminal groups control sex trafficking in certain mining areas.

7.     The International Labour Organization estimates that the illegal profits made from forced labor in the private global economy amount to $150.2 billion per year.

Of the $150 billion, two thirds of the profits, amounting to an estimated $99 billion per year, are generated by commercial sexual exploitation exacted by fraud or force.  More than one third of the profits – $51.2 billion – are generated by forced labor exploitation.  It should also be noted that, of the estimated 21 million victims of human trafficking worldwide, 68 percent are victims of forced labor and 22 percent are victims of forced sexual exploitation. The remaining 10 percent are in state-imposed forms of forced labor.

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Hilton Hotels bans all on-demand in-room porn videos

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Good News!

Hilton Hotels bans all on-demand in-room porn videos

Travelers with a penchant for porn videos will have to look elsewhere than their Hilton Hotel room television. The hotel chain recently announced that it is removing all on-demand porn videos from every one of its worldwide properties. The news of the move, which arrived by email today from the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) said that the organization was grateful to Hilton for this decision and to no longer profit from hardcore porn. Of course this is also a positive move for families who want to protect children from hitting the wrong button on the TV. “We want to publicly thank Hilton for its decision to create a safe and positive environment for all of its customers,” said Dawn Hawkins, executive director of NCOSE. “Hilton has taken a stand against sexual exploitation. Pornography not only contributes to the demand for sex trafficking, which is a serious concern in hotels, but it also contributes to child exploitation, sexual violence, and lifelong porn addictions. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation applauds Hilton Hotels for recognizing these harms, and is glad to announce that Hilton Hotels will be removed from the Dirty Dozen List.”
Nancy Lauria


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Protecting Unaccompanied Mexican Migrant Child Trafficking Victims

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Recently, the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report regarding the care of unaccompanied migrant children by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The GAO report entitled Unaccompanied Alien Children: Actions Needed to Ensure Children Receive Required Care in DHS Custody, found that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents have not consistently screened unaccompanied Mexican children in their custody for trafficking. Mexican unaccompanied migrant children are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation as they are often recruited to be drugmules or are fleeing gang recruitment or intimidation. As such, the screening at the U.S./Mexico border is extremely important. The lack of consistent trafficking screening of Mexican unaccompanied migrant children raises concern about the prevalence of trafficking in this population and signals a need for reform.


(Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images)

As reported last year on HTS, unaccompanied migrant children face one of two processes when they arrive in the custody of the US government. Which process an unaccompanied migrant child receives depends on the child’s country of origin. Unaccompanied children from countries other than Mexico or Canada who are apprehended at the border are turned over to the Office of Refugee Resettlement to be either reunited with family members in the United States or placed in foster care while waiting to appear at an immigration hearing and consult with an advocate. These protections increase the likelihood that authorities would discover a child’s viable claim to asylum, as a trafficking victim, or other form of immigration relief.

In contrast, unaccompanied migrant children from countries contiguous to the United States, Mexico or Canada, are only entitled to minimal protections. Per the requirements of theTrafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), immediately after being apprehended, a child from Mexico or Canada is given a simple screening by a Border Patrol agent to determine whether they are at risk of severe form of human trafficking or have a fear of return, and that they are capable of making decisions. The child may be sent back to their home country on the same day he or she was apprehended and must be returned within 48 hours if no evidence of trafficking or fear of return or incapacity has been found. This short and immediate screening conducted by CBP is not enough and endangers unaccompanied Mexican migrant children who are vulnerable to human trafficking.

The GAO report highlights that CBP officers are not child protection and human trafficking experts but law enforcement officers. Border Patrol officers do not have the expertise to fully and appropriately screen children for human trafficking and need assistance in doing so. Inconsistent screening results in misidentification of child trafficking victims as was recently experienced by a group of girls from Mexico who were caught and repatriated by U.S. immigration forces multiple times before they were later discovered by U.S. police as victims of a sex trafficking ring. CBP had repeatedly failed to identify these girls as victims being transported by their traffickers.  In short, they were ill-equipped to prevent and respond to child trafficking.

In a positive first step, the new GAO report recommends improved human trafficking screening for Mexican unaccompanied migrant children. The report instructs DHS to revise the form that is used to screen Mexican unaccompanied children, to implement better training for officers, and to make the officers better document their findings. With intergovernmental investigative efforts like the GAO Report calling for reform, there is hope that CBP will reform its trafficking screening practices and will work to better ensure the prevention of future incidents of child trafficking at the U.S./Mexico border and will better identify and protect Mexican migrant child trafficking victims.

Ashley Feasley is a Migration Policy Advisor at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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Faces of Labor Trafficking in the United States

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Human trafficking generates extensive national interest and media coverage in the United States, but that attention often focuses solely on sex trafficking. In addition to incidents of sex trafficking, there are also cases of labor trafficking and labor exploitation that happen every day in the United States. U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, women, men, and children can be victims of labor trafficking. Immigration status, recruitment debt, isolation, poverty, and a lack of strong labor protections are some of the vulnerabilities that lead to labor trafficking in the United States. Given the diversity of environments that labor trafficking can occur within the United States, it is important to understand more about labor trafficking and who is particularly vulnerable.

Xue Sun, a manicurist who uses the name Michelle, in the Flushing, Queens, apartment she shared with her cousin, Jing Ren, and four other people. Curtains separate the beds.

Xue Sun, a manicurist who uses the name Michelle, in the Flushing, Queens, apartment she shared with her cousin, Jing Ren, and four other people. Curtains separate the beds.

(Photo Credit: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times)

In 2014, the Urban Institute issued a ground-breaking report on labor trafficking in the United States. The report, Hidden in Plain Sight, identified some important factors among labor trafficking cases in the U.S., such as the high likelihood of recruitment fees and smuggling costs that workers had to pay to even be considered for jobs in the United States. Additionally, the report found that a high number of foreign national labor trafficking victims were brought to the United States through legal immigration means such as guest worker visa programs.

In the U.S., labor trafficking is most prevalent in domestic work, agriculture, the hospitality and construction industry. It has also been reported to occur in door-to-door sales crews, health services and carnivals.

Domestic work in the United States represents the industry with the most identified labor trafficking victims. Domestic work generally refers to workers, primarily women, who are employed in child care, elder care, or domestic service in private residences and nursing homes. These workers are highly susceptible to labor exploitation due to the isolated nature of their work, their living situations which often include living and working in the same location, and their dependence on their employers. Recent high profile cases of domestic workers exploitation in the United States involved foreign diplomatic families living in the U.S. The struggles that domestic workers face in the United States to receive fair wages and humane treatment illustrate the vulnerability that migrant domestic workers experience worldwide.

Labor exploitation occurs in American agricultural communities. With large agricultural companies dependent on seasonal labor to harvest crops, there are many work employment opportunities for migrant workers in the U.S. agricultural system but also opportunities for exploitation. A 2013 National Institute of Justice study examining labor trafficking among North Carolina migrant farm workers found that at least 25% of workers experienced labor trafficking and approximately 39% experienced other abuse such as restrictions of physical liberty, passport confiscation, threats and verbal abuse.

Some victims of labor exploitation in the United States work in other service-based industries, such nail salons. As manicures and pedicures have become a more common beauty activity, the growth of the number of nail salons in the United States has mushroomed, and along with it the demand for low cost labor. The New York Times recently discovered that some nail salons in the New York area pay as little as $60/day starting rate for nail technicians to work in their salons for 10-12 hours a day. The nail salons utilize mostly foreign national women, including immigrants from Korea, Tibet, Nepal, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. These women endure long hours, little or no pay, and frequently also must pay the nail salon owner to “train” in the first few months of service.

When talking about human trafficking in the United States, it is important that we include discussions about labor trafficking and exploitation and remember that labor trafficking victims toil every day in our fields, caring for children and elderly, and in our service industries. Labor trafficking does occur in the United States and can be prevented.

Ashley Feasley is the Director of Advocacy at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, CLINIC.

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