In 2000, the United States Congress signed into law the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. The Act represented the beginning of one of the largest coordinated efforts to fight human trafficking across the country’s borders. However, the act of illegally moving people across its borders remains prevalent to date.
A simple definition of human trafficking is the illegal movement of people mostly for the purpose of forced labor, sexual exploitation, and commercial exploitation. It can also be defined as the coercion or force used to make people work under the total control of other persons or organizations, also known as involuntary servitude or slavery.
The vice may also be described as the act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, or receiving individuals through abduction, coercion, fraud, deception, or abuse of power for the sole purpose of exploiting the victims.
Human trafficking also occurs when an individual is forced to pay off a debt by working instead of exchanging money. If the individual works for an agreed upon time then this form of trafficking is referred to as debt bondage. However, if there is no clear time frame then the situation is referred to as peonage. Another instance of human trafficking is the movement of people, through force, coercion, or fraud, to another area where these individuals are made to perform sexual actions for money or other valuable items.
Most people believe that the sex trade is synonymous with human trafficking. However, human trafficking can also occur in labor situations including migrant agricultural work, labor in prison-like surroundings, and domestic servitude. Additionally, in labor situations, the initial agreement between both parties to travel does not imply that the employer has the right to restrict the employee’s freedom or use threats to obtain repayment.
Another mis-conception that people hold on the subject matter is that human smuggling and human trafficking are the same offence. Indeed the two actions are linked but movement is not a necessity for human trafficking to occur. In addition, not all individuals who are smuggled across borders are trafficked. It is important to have this distinction in mind if one is to honestly understand human trafficking, how it occurs, and its implications on global political, social, and economic developments.
Statistically speaking, there are more than 12.3 million enslaved individuals across the world. At least 1.39 million individuals in this category are victims of sexual servitude, within national borders and internationally. Furthermore, more than half of the enslaved individuals are women and girls below the age of 18.
In the United States, human trafficking is prevalent in areas that have large international travel hubs as well as enormous immigrant numbers. California, Texas, and Georgia have the highest rates of human trafficking in the country because of their travel hubs, large sizes, and large immigrant populace. It is estimated that approximately 17500 people are trafficked each year into the country. However, this figure is unreliable because of the large numbers of undocumented immigrants presently in the United States. Furthermore, the Department of State approximates that more than 244,000 American youth are at risk of being trafficked every year. A large percentage of this population includes runaways, orphans, or children with family issues that have not found a placement through the Social Services Department.
According to Shelley (2010), human trafficking generates an estimated $9.5 billion annually. She also estimates that human trafficking is one of the fastest growing economic activities of multi-national criminal syndicates. However, Belser (2005) contends with this information by stating that the global profits accruing from human trafficking transcend $32 billion annually. Belser (2005) continues to argue that approximately $28 billion of the total amount is attributed to forced commercial sexual exploitation.
The Complexity of Human Trafficking
Human trafficking is known to entangle its victims in a seemingly impenetrable web. The reason for this is the fact that the victims of the crime may not realize they are imprisoned and need to seek help immediately. Especially in instances where coercion is used to lure victims, they may not realize that they are in fact enslaved.
The situation becomes even more complex because the victims are often financially dependent on their captors. Most of the victims come from very poor backgrounds and being enslaved is their only source of livelihood. Human trafficking also often takes place in plain view making it less apparent to observers and on-lookers that might have helped save the victim. Furthermore, there are blurred lines in human trafficking as the victims can be exploited for labor, or for sex, and in some instances for labor and for sex.
Signs of Human Trafficking
It has been stated severally that human trafficking is one of the world’s ‘invisible crimes’. The reason is the fact that the signs of the vice are not as obvious to the members of the public. However, some indicators can tip off members of the public about the possibility of the crime especially if the signs appear together. The signs include:
ü A potential victim of human trafficking often lacks travel documents or any form of ID
ü The individual’s movements seem restricted by his employer
ü The potential victim will often live and work in the same place. For instance, he may work and sleep at the sweatshop.
ü He seems deprived of basic necessities including food, medical care, and sleep yet he works throughout the day
ü He seems to be curtailed from socializing, contacting his family members, or even attending local religious events
ü A strong telltale sign is scars, and wounds that might indicate that the individual is a victim of physical abuse.
ü The individual is very fearful or submissive especially in the presence of his superiors
ü Potential victims also lack concrete knowledge of where they are or how they got there
ü The individual seems to have no control over his schedule.
Human Trafficking in the United States
According to Dank, Khan, Downey, Kotnias, Mayer, Owens, Pacifici & Yu (2014), the core human trafficking location in the United States is Georgia. Their report showed that some traffickers in the area were raking in nearly $32,000 in a week through human trafficking activities. The reason for the large volume of human trafficking in Georgia could be its humongous size and the presence of a large airport.
Their study indicates that there are three primary sex trafficking venues in Atlanta, Georgia. The venues are massage parlors, Latino brothels, and street and online prostitution. The activities of the traffickers tend to be concentrated in the Atlanta metropolitan area and are divided along national and ethnic lines. Furthermore, there is a significant volume of pimp-controlled prostitution on the Internet and the streets of Atlanta. Most of the pimps look for prostitutes or sell the services of prostitutes on websites such as Backpage and Craigslist.
Most massage parlors in the area are prime spots for human trafficking especially forced prostitution. Koreans run 96% of these parlors while Thai and Indonesian make up the remaining 4% of the massage parlors that harbor prostitution and related activities. The parlors are highly organized and connected to other similar massage parlors across the country.
The Atlanta area also hoses several Latino brothels. The establishments are usually run out of apartments and cantina dance clubs where membership is mostly Latinos. The brothels and their services are advertised using word of mouth strategies. The brothels are also well structured, organized and connected with other brothels across the nation (Dank et al., 2014).
The downturn of the economy has not slowed down human trafficking activities in Atlanta, and in Georgia in general. Advertisements on the Internet now offer discounts to the customers to attract more of them to purchase sex. According to Dank et al. (2014), the pimps are offering discounts for gas, early bird specials, veteran specials, military specials, and two for one discounts.
Furthermore, the pimps also use price discrimination to broaden their revenue base. For instance, the prices charged on the street are different from the Internet prices. The prices on the street are per sex act while the prices on the Internet are inclusive of specials and other ‘goodies’. On the street, a typical pimp will sell his prostitute for $50 or $100 an hour or $75 to $150 for ‘full service’. On the other hand, services on the Internet are advertised as ranging from $60 to $100 for 15 or 30 minutes. A full service is usually charged at $250 to $300 (Dank et al., 2014).
The modern form of slavery is prevalent in many parts of California. The proliferation of human trafficking in the region is attributed to its proximity to some of the major international borders in the country. In addition, California has a large economy with many of its industries demanding high numbers of forced labor. The large immigrant population in the state also plays a contributory part to the growth of human trafficking in the state of California.
Major trafficking hubs in California include San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, and Los Angeles. According to a report prepared by Bales, Fletcher, & Stover (2004), California has the highest number of human trafficking survivors alongside other major cities including New York, Oklahoma, and Texas.
Further research on the matter has indicated that over 495,200 undocumented Mexican immigrants are survivors of labor trafficking in the state. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center reports that between December 2007 and June 2015, it received more than 13000 phone calls on human trafficking incidences in California. The numerous phone calls resulted in the investigation of more than 3628 cases (Polaris, 2015).
According to the data set provided by the NHTRC, the most common type of human trafficking in California is sex trafficking. Forced domestic labor, travelling sales groups, forced labor in agriculture, forced labor in health and beauty services, and begging rings are common types of human trafficking in the area (Polaris, 2015).
Zhang (2012), postulates that nearly 31% of the undocumented Mexican immigrants have been the victims of human traffickers. 6% of the immigrants were brought into the county by their smugglers while entering the US. Approximately 28% of them were trafficked by their employers once they had crossed the border from Mexico into the country.
Additionally, Zhang (2012) found that 36% of the undocumented populations of Mexican immigrants who work in the cleaning sector were victims of human traffickers. 35% worked in the construction industry, 16% worked in agriculture, and 27% worked in landscaping. An accord was signed in 2012 to expand prosecution of perpetrators of human trafficking activities between Mexico and the United States.
Efforts to Curb Human Trafficking in the United States
Several strategies have been put in place to eradicate human trafficking in the country. An inter-departmental strategy has been put in place to assist law enforcement agencies in the annihilation of the vice. The departments involved include the Department of Homeland Security, the State Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice (Department of Homeland Security, 2016).
The component agencies of the Department of Homeland Security involved in the fight are the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The inter-departmental framework makes it easier to share information regarding human traffickers and their victims as well as resources deployed in combating the crime. Some of the initiatives embarked on by this cooperation include Blue Campaign, No Te Enganes, and Blue Lightning (Department of Homeland Security, 2016).
In 2002, Katherine Chon and Derek Ellerman founded the Polaris Project, an NGO designated to stop the proliferation of human trafficking activities in the nation. The NGO created the National Human Trafficking Resource Center in 2007.
Callers can contact the NHTRC and give information on possible human trafficking activities. They can also receive information on the vice in the nation. Furthermore, the NGO’s website informs the members of the public about incidences of human trafficking across the country. It records the areas from where calls have been made on a map to illustrate the locations where human trafficking activities are common.
According to Polaris (2016), more than 1600 human trafficking survivors reached out to the NGO for help in 2015. The number represents a 24% increase from 2014 and a further 519% increase in cases handled by the organization since 2008. Additionally, the NGO helped identify thousands of at risk youth and women through the calls made by family members, friends, community members, and social services providers. The organization has created the biggest data set on human trafficking activities in the United States.
January 11 is National Day of Human Trafficking Awareness in the US. The day was designated to raising awareness about the vice and how the public can support the government in its eradication. From 2010 to 2013, President Obama declared January as the National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.
In 2014, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency funded a technology based program known as Memex. The program is designed to fight human trafficking through domain search and tracking. The program has an advanced search capability as well as the ability to enter into the dark web. Memex scours the Internet including the deep web to search for advertisements that could potentially lure victims into situations where they are sexually and commercially exploited or held in servitude. The program has been successful in the seizing of human traffickers resulting in their consequent prosecution (Greenemeier, 2015).
States have also instituted methods of curbing the vice within their borders. For instance, California passed the Assembly Bill 22 in 2005. The Bill is the state’s first law that sets significant criminal penalties for any individual found to be aiding or participating in human trafficking. Furthermore, the state made into law the Transparency in Supply Chains Act in 2011. The law mandates retailers to report on how they are helping in the eradication of human trafficking and other forms of slavery from their suppliers. Any retailer with annual gross receipts of $100 million and above and annual sales in California of more than $500,000 are subject to the law (Parks, Duffy & Church, 2011).
The criminal code of California also guarantees that the Attorney General gives prerogative to all matters touching on human trafficking. Law enforcement officials are required by law to carry out due diligence in the investigation of human trafficking and the identification of victims. Additionally, heavy fines are instituted against convicted human traffickers. The money is used in promoting awareness about child trafficking and child sexual abuse. The funds also go into counseling and promoting the welfare of child victims of the vice.
Forced labor and other human trafficking activities are a prevalent problem in the United States largely due to the ignorance of the public on the subject. There is also a staggering lack of sensitivity towards the victims of the vice as well as an unstable and bureaucratic legal system, which makes it very difficult for victims to report injustices done to them by the traffickers. Furthermore, the increasing public demand for cheap products and services has exacerbated the issue (Bales, Fletcher, &Stover, 2004).
Even with all the aforementioned issues, forced labor and any related human trafficking activities can be stopped. The government and other stakeholders need to commence a strong and broad awareness campaign on the vice specifically targeted at immigrant communities in the country. Greater awareness among the members of the public will help increase the identification and consequent salvation of the victims.
The government should also improve the capacity of the institutions created to deal with the vice. Improving their capacity will help in generating faster responses to human trafficking and forced labor. Improving institutional capacity will entail training officials in the identification, investigation, and consequent prosecution of the perpetrators of the vice. Mechanisms should be put in place to ensure stronger cooperation among local, state, and federal authorities to curb the vice (Best, 2010).
In addition, the government needs to institute better mechanisms for the protection of employees who work in industries that are vulnerable to human trafficking activities. The country needs to increase legal protections in at-risk working environments and sectors including sweatshops, domestic labor, agriculture, and the food service industry to guarantee safer working conditions for these employees (Best, 2010).
Another recommendation is to change the aspects of the laws governing immigration that encourage forced labor. For instance, the government should scrap the visa requirement that insists that a worker should remain with the same applier. Once this draconian requirement is removed, low wageworkers including domestic laborers will be less vulnerable to exploitation by human traffickers (Best, 2010).
The last recommendation is to enhance the strength of the rehabilitation programs designed for human trafficking survivors. The government needs to create incentives for victims and survivors to come forward with their experiences. Their experiences will help law enforcement authorities seize the perpetrators of human trafficking in the country. To gain information from the victims and the survivors, the government needs to guarantee their safety vehemently. Once they feel safe and secure, they are more likely to divulge pertinent information regarding the crime to police officers including the whereabouts of the trafficker, his connections, and how he runs his human trafficking operations (Bales, Fletcher, & Stover, 2004).
Bales, K., Fletcher, L., & Stover, E. (2004). Hidden Slaves: Forced Labor in the United States. Prepared for Free the Slaves and Human Rights Center. Retrieved on 11/3/2016 from http://web.archive.org/web/20070830033751/http://freetheslaves.net/files/Hidden_Slaves.pdf
Belser, P. (2005). Forced labor and human trafficking: Estimating the profits. Working Paper 42. Geneva: Labor Office.
Best Jr., R.A. (2010, Dec 7). Securing America’s Borders: The Role of the Intelligence Community. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved on 11/3/2016 from https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/R41520.pdf
Dank, M., Khan, B., Downey, M., Kotonias, C., Mayer, D., Owens, C., Pacific, L., & Yu, L. (2014, Mar 12). Estimating the size and structure of the underground commercial sex economy in 8 major US cities. Urban Institute. Retrieved on 11/3/2016 from http://www.urban.org/research/publication/estimating-size-and-structure-underground-commercial-sex-economy-eight-major-us-cities/view/full_report
Department of Homeland Security (2016). Human Trafficking. Retrieved on 11/3/2016 from http://www.cbp.gov/border-security/human-trafficking
Greenemeier, L. (2015, Feb 8). Human Traffickers Caught on Hidden Internet. Scientific American. Retrieved on 11/3/2016 from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/human-traffickers-caught-on-hidden-internet/
Parks, G.T., Duffy, J., & Church, E.D. (2011). California’s Transparency in Supply Chains Act. National Law Review. Retrieved on 11/3/2016 from http://www.natlawreview.com/article/california-s-transparency-supply-chains-act
Polaris (2016, Jan 28). 2015 Human Trafficking Hotlines Data Released. Polaris. Retrieved on 11/3/2016 from https://polarisproject.org/news/press-releases/2015-human-trafficking-hotlines-data-released
Shelley, L. (2010). Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. Cambridge University Press, pg. 2.
Zhang, S.X. (2012). Looking for a Hidden Population: Trafficking of Migrant Laborers in San Diego County. Submitted to the United States Department of Justice. Retrieved on 11/3/2016 from https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/240223.pdf