Human trafficking is defined as “the exploitation of other persons for sex, work, or other purposes”. The phenomenon of human trafficking may have been around since the formation of society but it is only since recent decades has the term gained social relevance and global attention. Since the 1980s, there has been ever growing attention surrounding human trafficking resulting in the effort of governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academia, and the media to gather information to better combat the issue.
Many bureaucrats, researchers, and activists argue over the origin of human trafficking. Many believing that it has roots in the transatlantic slave trade of the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, where an estimated 9.5 million people were taken from Africa by European slave traders to work in the colonies in North and South America. The slave trade was outlawed in the United States in 1807, slavery, however, continued for many more decades. It was not until 1865 that slavery and indentured servitude was formally abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Despite these laws, the transatlantic trade itself continued later into the nineteenth century.
Slavery and the slave trade were formally banned internationally with the 1926 League of Nations Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery. It was then later recognized by the United Nations during 1956 and slavery and similar practices were again banned under the Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery.Human Trafficking is generally viewed from several perspectives.
These perspectives often dictate the way in which the problem is approached and dealt with. One perspective is that of law enforcement; as a violation of human right—with women and children being seen as more vulnerable to trafficking. The other is that of the violation of labor and migrant rights.
Lastly, the most commonly known perspective associated with human trafficking is human sex trafficking. It is challenging to fully understand how far the problem of human trafficking extends because it is such a large and intricate issue. It is an international issue, and the nature of human trafficking is hidden. Its boundaries are not always clearly defined and the victims are not easy to identify in some cases. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), in 2012, there were about an estimated 21 million people in forced labor across the world. Human trafficking also covers other specific kinds of exploitation, such as organ trade and the trafficking of children for adoption.
In 2014, the United Nations reported that 40,177 victims of human trafficking were detected between 2010 and 2012. Approximately 53 percent of those were exploitation specific to known victims of sexual exploitation and 40 percent were victims of forced labor in other sectors, such as construction, textiles, and domestic services. Of the 31,766 whose gender and age were reported, women made up 49 percent and girls constituted 21 percent of the total number of estimated victims.
About 97 percent of those trafficked for sexual exploitation are female. Most people tend to believe that developing countries are the source countries for victims of trafficking and that developed countries are also hotspot destination countries. But contrary to popular belief, there are victims of human trafficking in every country, including the United States. According to the 2015 Trafficking in person report, the United States is a source, transit, and destination country for trafficked persons.
As stated earlier, it is difficult to determine the number of trafficked persons, in large part due to the fact that reporting rates and prosecutions are low. Trafficked persons in the United States encompassed a large group of vulnerable people. This group is largely filled with children, foreigners smuggled into the country, native-born victims of trafficking, and migrants who were exploited after entering the country. Homeless youth, runaways, and kids in the juvenile justice system are a very vulnerable population. It is believed by some experts of human trafficking that the most common forms of exploitation in the United States are forced labor, debt bondage, and sexual exploitation. One extreme case of trafficking on United States soil was the infamous case of businessman Kil Soo Lee who worked in the American Samoa and was convicted of having trafficked more than two hundred people from Vietnam and China in the 1990s to work in his garment factory in very poor and abusive conditions.
The largest recorded human trafficking case in the United States history occurred when six people were accused of forcing four hundred Thailand migrants to work on their farms in Hawaii. However, the case was ultimately dismissed in 2012. There have Legislature of recent that have been put into place in order to combat human trafficking.
In the United States, according to the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA), defines sex trafficking as “recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of an individual through the means of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial sex”. However, it is not necessary to demonstrate force, fraud, or coercion in sex trafficking cases involving children under the age of 18. The term “commercial sex act” is defined as “any sex act on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person”. Sex trafficking is distinguished from other forms of human trafficking by applying the “Action, Means, Purpose Model”. This model takes on three parameters in order to define sex trafficking. It states that a human trafficker must take an action, and then employ the means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of persuading the victim to provide commercial sex acts or labor or services. At a minimum, one element of each category must be fulfilled to establish a potential case of sex trafficking.
The presence of force, fraud, or coercion indicates that the victim has not consented of his or her own free will. In the case of minors, laws are more strict. In the cases of minors under the age of 18 engaging in commercial sex are considered victims of human trafficking without the use of force, fraud, or coercion.
One reason for the continuation of sex trafficking is because to the surprise of most people, there is little to no perceived stigma for exchanging money for sexual favors, and prostitution is viewed as a victimless crime. In fact, prostitution is legal in some countries in Europe. As sad as it may sound, women are culturally and socially devalued in many societies, there is little to no problem with the purchasing of women and girls for sexual services. The most dangerous tool of human trafficking is how it is kept out of the public sphere and human traffickers also take advantage of the voluntary ignorance of the general public. Most people do not believe that such a crime could be happening so close to their homes. Also, many feel to realize the blatant connection between the commercial sex trade, and the trafficking of women and girls and the illegal slave trade.
In western society, in particular, a great majority hold the perception that women choose to enter into the commercial sex trade. However, the majority of women in the sex trade, and more specifically in the case of trafficked women and girls who are coerced or forced into servitude, face a different reality.In addition, unbeknownst to most people a lot of people participate in sex tourism.
Sex tourism is the act of traveling or vacationing for the sole purpose of having sex. This is a whopping billion dollar industry that encourages the sexual exploitation of women and girls. Many sex tours only feature underage girls. The tours market to pedophiles who prey on young children, and men who believe that having sex with virgins or young girls will cure sexually transmitted diseases. The result of this ends up with men spreading HIV and other STDs to their young victims, creating disease epidemics.Trafficking has a terrible effect on the mental, emotional and physical well being of the women and girls who are victims. Aside from the physical abuse, trafficked women suffer extreme emotional distress, including shame, grief, fear, distrust and suicidal thoughts.
Victims often experience post-traumatic stress disorder, which entails acute anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Many victims turn to drugs and alcohol as a method of escape as well as to temporarily reduce the pain.Sex trafficking signals societal breakdown by removing women and girls from their families and communities. Trafficking also aids in helping organized crime groups that usually participate in many other illegal activities, including drug and weapons trafficking and money laundering. It negatively impacts local and national labor markets, due to the loss of human resources. Sex trafficking burdens public health systems. And trafficking erodes government authority, encourages widespread corruption, and threatens the security of vulnerable populations.