Human Trafficking and Exploitation

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Section 1: Overview

The United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) defines Human Trafficking as:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

There are 45.8 million people enslaved today, according to the Global Slavery Index.  Over the last 10 years, the profile of detected trafficking victims has changed. Although most detected victims are still women, children and men now make up larger shares of the total number of victims than they did a decade ago. In 2014, children comprised 28 per cent of detected victims, and men, 21 percent (UNODC, 2016).

Human trafficking earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, according to the ILO. The following is a breakdown of profits, by sector:

  • $99 billion from commercial sexual exploitation
  • $34 billion in construction, manufacturing, mining, and utilities
  • $9 billion in agriculture, including forestry and fishing
  • $8 billion dollars is saved annually by private households that employ domestic workers under conditions of forced labor

There are 7 different kinds of trafficking or ways people are being exploited and they include (UNODC, 2016):

  • Forced labor
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Child soldiers
  • Forced begging
  • Forced marriage
  • Selling children
  • Removal of organs

Reducing the issue of trafficking to one form is not helpful. Human Trafficking and Exploitation is a complicated issue covering many areas and will take a comprehensive approach to end it.  The movement to end trafficking and exploitation involves prevention, rescue, and recovery.  The approach to end trafficking includes businesses, supply chains, law enforcement, justice systems, poverty, war and more.

There are many drivers for exploitation which mean to end trafficking and exploitation will take more than just pulling people out of prostitution, or forced labor. Whole systems need to change There is no easy solution.   The solution involves all people at all levels working together to value life.

We need to create laws that punish offenders.  We need to get rid of demand. We need to change how we spend money.  We need to rethink refugees, migration and conflict zones, land rights, poverty…and more!

Section 2: Migration as a Driver

The 2016 Trafficking in Persons report focused on issues of migration. Those migrating, especially refugees and those seeking a better life in another country are especially susceptible to trafficking.

Traffickers target the most vulnerable is society. In order to prevent trafficking, we must understand the conditions that make individuals vulnerable.

Refugees and those in conflict areas are exploited as they are seeking safety and a better life.  We live in a global world and how we treat those migrating, seeking asylum and looking for a better life shows what we value (our own “safety” over others).  We can prevent exploitation by how we treat migrants and refugees.  By making them “illegal” or in the shadows we disproportionately increase their risk for exploitation.


Section 3: Domestic Trafficking

But it isn’t just those coming to America, or in another country.  TraffickingTargeting victims happens right here in America too.  And it goes beyond sexual exploitation. Domestic trafficking has increased in the last few years.  Roughly 42 percent of detected victims between 2012-2014 were trafficked domestically.  The UNODC report key findings for North America including:

  • Most frequently detected victim profile: Women, 60%
  • Most frequently detected form of exploitation: Sexual exploitation, 55%, Forced Labor 39% and Other, 6%
  • Gender profile of convicted offenders: 61% male
  • Summary profile of trafficking flow: Mostly local trafficking, but also a significant destination for long-distance flows.
  • Emerging trend: Many women and girls trafficked for forced labor.

The UNODC report also discussed the traffickers themselves.  Victims and traffickers often come from the same place, speak the same language etc.  This helps them earn trust.  Family ties can also be abused. An example being family members entrusted with caring for a family member and instead profiting from the family members exploitation.

Other vulnerable populations in the United States include homeless youth and those in the LGBT community. Reports done by Loyola and Penn State in 2017 revealed that 1 in 5 homeless youth has been trafficked. Key findings include:

  • 21.4% of young women and 10% of young men interviewed had been trafficked for sex 
  • 26.9% of LGBTQ youth reported experiences consistent with the U.S. federal definition of sex trafficking 
  • 32.1% of the youth interviewed had engaged in some way in the sex trade at some point (40.5% of young females, 25.3% of young men and 56% of transgender youth) 

Within the study, the research found 19% of 641 youth had been trafficked in some form: 14% sex trafficking, 8 % labor trafficking, and 3% for both.

There are multiple factors that contribute to these groups trafficked including (Covenant House, 2017):

  • Economics: the vast majority of youth claim economic factors made them most vulnerable
  • Work: 91% of respondents were approached by strangers offering fraudulent job opportunities
  • Housing: 19% of all youth interviewed had engaged in survival sex solely so that they could access housing or food.

The Report found that LGBT youth accounted for 36% of victims and those with a history in the foster care system accounted for more than 25% of victims.

Runaway youth and homeless shelters, or really anyone, can help prevent exploitation by focusing efforts on employment, housing opportunities and healthy relationship education to provide resiliency against traffickers (Covenant House, 2017).  Additionally, we should target locations where abusers are targeting youth including social media, online job postings, and bus stops.

Section 4: Conclusion and Resources

There are many great reports and resources used here to discuss the global problem of human trafficking.  It is clear that there are many forms of trafficking, and many factors that contribute to a person’s exploitation.  We must not only work to get people out of slavery but prevent their exploitation in the first place.

Individuals can create impact against exploitation simply by paying attention to what we buy.  There are families, individuals, and stories behind the coffee, shirt or electronics we buy. Check out the Live Fair Resources page to see our favorite companies and fair trade products.

If you are interested in reading more check out the following reports:

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