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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