10 Facts About Human Trafficking

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Slavery and human trafficking are industries that have existed for eons and continue to affect millions of people in virtually every country worldwide. It is hard to believe that the purchase and sale of human beings still thrives in the 21st century, but it remains a lucrative business, raking in billions of dollars in revenue each year.  Here are 10 facts about human trafficking and modern slavery.

10. Human Trafficking is the Fastest-Growing Criminal Enterprise

Human trafficking, or modern slavery, is the fastest-growing criminal enterprise in the world.

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Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, and sale of individuals, through force, fraud, deception or other means, with the aim of exploiting them for economic gain. It is the fastest-growing and second-largest criminal enterprise in the world. Almost every country is affected by human trafficking, whether as a place of origin, transit or destination for victims. In the eyes of the United Nations, this is a crime against humanity.


9. There May be up to 27 Million Slaves in the World

The U.S. State Department estimates there could be as many as 27 million victims of human trafficking worldwide.

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According to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), there are as many as 27 million victims of human trafficking, with as many as 100,000 in the U.S. According to the organization Free the Slaves, there is a concentration of slaves in South Asia, South East Asia, North Africa and West Africa, but slavery occurs everywhere, including the United States.


8. A Modern Slave is Very Cheap

The low price of $90 will buy a slave most anywhere in the world.

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Many factors have contributed to the rise of modern slavery, including population growth, especially in the developing world, displacement of people to urban areas, civil wars, lack of job security, and extreme poverty. Government corruption is also a big factor, as is the low cost of a slave. The average price of a modern slave is a mere $90.


7. Slaves are in High Demand

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year.

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Between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders annually, according to the U.S. Department of State. The major forms of human trafficking are forced labor, sex trafficking, forced child labor, child sex trafficking, involuntary domestic servitude, and bonded labor.  Victims are forced to work without pay, cannot escape from their captors, and live under constant threat of violence. Trafficking victims normally don’t seek help for fear that they or their families will be hurt or killed. Many are also afraid of being deported.


6. Most Victims are Women and Children

Sexual exploitation is a common fate for human trafficking victims.

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Roughly 50 percent of trafficking victims are children (under the age of 18), and 80 percent are female. Poor families have been known to sell their children to slave traders, and in some countries children are routinely kidnapped. Many vulnerable people, desperate for work, are tricked into slavery by ruthless individuals promising them good jobs. Most slaves are forced to work in agriculture, mining, and prostitution. Many women find themselves in domestic servitude, which is often an abusive situation. Men also fall victim, and the majority end up in forced labor.


5. 75 Percent of Trafficking Involves Sexual Exploitation

Roughly 75 percent of trafficking involves sexual exploitation.

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There is a high global demand for women and children for sexual exploitation. Traffickers use their victims as “products” for sale. The average age of a young girl first being trafficked is 12-14 years old. Sex trafficking is a lucrative business and a trafficker can earn up to 20 times what he or she paid for a young girl. Often girls and young women are lured in by promises of good jobs and opportunities in other countries, only to find themselves trapped by ruthless criminals in a foreign land. Their passports are taken away from them when they arrive, and these helpless victims are often forced to work in strip clubs, massage parlors and as prostitutes. The chance of escape is very slim, but some eventually do manage to find help. Others are not so lucky.


4. Both Men and Women Participate in Trafficking

There is no common profile for the modern slave trader.

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What does a modern slaveholder look like? They can be from any walk of life, and involved in any number of industries. Potential traffickers can include gangs and criminal networks, pimps, small business owners, factory owners, corporations, brothel and massage parlor managers, or employers of domestic servants. Both men and women are involved in trafficking operations, and they all profit from the control, exploitation and misery of others. Despite some progress, unfortunately the number of traffickers caught and convicted remains low, due to poor anti-trafficking legislation in some countries, corruption, and lack of training among law enforcement officials and prosecutors. Victims may also be unwilling to cooperate, because their traffickers have threatened them.


3. Some Countries Ignore Human Trafficking

The U.S. State Department cited 23 countries in 2011 with total disregard for efforts to curtail human trafficking.

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The annual U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report on 175 countries is the most comprehensive worldwide report on the efforts of governments to combat human trafficking. In 2011, 23 countries failed to meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards, and were classified as Tier 3 countries. That’s up from 13 countries in 2010. Countries making the list in 2011 included many habitual offenders, headed by Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma, Congo (DRC), Mauritania, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and Kuwait.


2. Thousands of Slaves End up in the United States

As many as 100,000 victims of human trafficking are in the United States.

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The U.S. ranks high as a destination country of trafficked victims, along with Belgium, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Thailand, and Turkey. Traffickers bring an estimated 14,500 to 17,500 foreign nationals into the U.S. each year, mostly women and children, who are forced to work in agriculture, the sex industry, domestic servitude and in factories. There are also homegrown trafficking and slavery victims that come from vulnerable populations, such as teenage runaways, migrants, illegal immigrants, and the homeless. In 2010 the USA was ranked in the Trafficking in Persons Report for the first time.


1. Some Slaves Manage to Escape and Gain Freedom

Some slaves get lucky and escape to freedom.

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To end on a positive note, there are many non-profits, government agencies, national and international organizations, and individuals around the world, dedicated to fighting and ending modern slavery. There are also many incidents where slaves have managed to escape from their oppressors and gain their freedom. Many freed slaves dedicate their lives to helping other victims and their stories shed more light on this deplorable crime against humanity. Much work remains to be done however, in education, prevention, raising awareness, protecting victims, increasing convictions of traffickers, and ensuring governments worldwide make significant strides to eliminate this scourge from the world.

Written by

Alison Hill is an Emmy-nominated producer, an accomplished journalist, and a regular guest commentator on BBC Radio news shows. She is the founder of Seren Media, and serves as a producer, writer, editor, and workshop leader. Originally from Wales in the UK, Alison now lives in Durham, North Carolina.