What is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking violates the sanctity, dignity, and fundamental rights of the human person. The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines it as “the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons by means of force, fraud or coercion…for the purpose of exploitation.” According to the U.S. State Department, human trafficking appears in “many guises”, often taking the form of commercial sexual exploitation, the prostitution of minors, debt bondage, and involuntary servitude. The United States government, and increasingly the international community, utilize the umbrella term “trafficking in persons” to define all forms of modern slavery.

Almost every nation is affected by trafficking, as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims—the United States is no exception.

Every year, millions of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers in their own countries and abroad.  No sector or industry is immune from human trafficking.  Victims may be workers in food processing factories, waiters or cooks at restaurants, construction workers, agricultural laborers, fishers, housekeeping staff at hotels, domestic help in private residences, or sex trafficked women and men in brothels, spas and massage parlors. According to the United Nation’s International Labor Organization’s (ILO) 2016 “Global Estimates of Modern Slavery,” nearly 40.3 million people are victims of modern slavery, of whom 24.9 million are entrapped in forced labor and sexual slavery and 15.4 million subjected to forced marriage. Through coercion, deceit, or force, they are trapped in jobs and situations from which they cannot escape.

Traffickers lure men, women, and children with false promises of good jobs, education, economic security, and love. Once enticed, traffickers keep their victims from seeking help through means such as confiscating identification documents, threats of violence against the victim or their family, and physical or psychological abuse.

Human Trafficking: Key Statistics

The International Labour Organization (ILO) and Walk Free Foundation’s “Global Estimate of Modern Slavery” (2016) provides alarming statistics on the prevalence of human trafficking worldwide:

  • 25% of all victims are children age 17 or younger, representing 10 million girls and boys worldwide
  • Nearly 30% of all victims are men and boys; jumping to 46% for victims of forced labor
  • Of the 24.9 million victims of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation, nearly 1 of 4 were exploited outside their home country
  • For every 1,000 people across the world in 2016, 5.4 were victims of human trafficking

Why is Human Trafficking So Prevalent?

Owing to the hidden nature of the crime, lax enforcement of anti-trafficking laws, the ease with which victims can be re-exploited, and large demand, human trafficking is considered a low risk and highly lucrative illegal enterprise. Calculated as a 150-billion-dollar industry, modern day slavery has become the fastest growing source of illicit profit for criminals worldwide.