Just because slavery is no longer legal doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Human trafficking isn’t an issue that gets a lot of public attention, but if you look, what you can find is scary.
What human trafficking is
There are three fundamental elements of human trafficking:
- Actions: This includes recruiting, transporting, or harbouring someone in order to exploit them
- Means: Traffickers may use tactics like threats, violence, coercion, grooming, fraud, and deception.
- Purpose: The purpose is exploitation, which may include commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude, or forced organ removal. This is the key element that differentiates human trafficking from migrant smuggling.
Groups that are particularly high-risk of being trafficked include vulnerable youth (e.g. runaways), Indigenous women and girls, and temporary migrant workers.
Human trafficking can occur either domestically or internationally. The United Nations has a Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which 176 countries have signed on to.
Control and silencing
A variety of methods are used to control victims, including confiscating ID, threatening to harm their families, and social isolation. Language barrier may be a factor for victims of international trafficking. Addiction may be fostered by the trafficker as another means of control. The trafficker might brand or scar victims as a means of exerting ownership.
Victims are also kept silent through guilt, fear of being arrested or deported, an inability to move about freely, and a lack of familiarity with the health care system and other social systems. They might worry that even if they did make it home, their family wouldn’t accept them because of the things they were forced to do.
Polaris operates the National Human Trafficking Hotline in the United States, and according to its 2018 statistics:
- there was a 25% jump in number of cases over the last year
- 23,078 survivors were identified, along with 10,949 human trafficking cases (a case could involvr multiple victims)
- of these, 15K were female, 2.9K were male, and the remainder were either other gender identities or unknown gender
- the most common ethnicity were Latinx and Asian
- 10.7K were adults, 4.9K were minors, and the remainder were unknown
- the most common type of trafficking cases identified was sex trafficking, and specifically escort services
Polaris also notes that the problem is vastly underreported, and the real numbers are probably far higher.
According to the International Labour Organization, at any point in 2016, there were 40.3 million people in slavery, 25% of which were children, Of the total number, 24.9 million were in forced labour and 15.4 million were in forced marriage. Women and girls make up 99% of the cases of commercial sexual exploitation.
So this is the problem, but what’s the solution? The United Nations observes International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women annually, which can help to raise awareness, but that’s not enough. If the root of much of the problem is socioeconomic vulnerability, perhaps the most effective prevention is to improve those conditions in order to reduce vulnerability. Sadly, that seems rather unlikely to happen.
- B.C.’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons: Human trafficking training
- International Labour Organization: Forced labour, modern slavery and human trafficking
- MCIS Language Solutions: Online training initiative to address human trafficking
- Polaris Human Trafficking Hotline
- Wikipedia: Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children
The Social Justice & Equality page has info and resources on a wide variety of social issues.