Human Trafficking: Slavery Is Still Happening

Trafficking in women and girls has increased during COVID-19 – UN Women
UN Women

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 the number of cases over the last year
  • 23,078 survivors were identified, along with 10,949 human trafficking cases (a case could involve 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 ethnicities 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 whom 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.


Learn more about human trafficking


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22 thoughts on “Human Trafficking: Slavery Is Still Happening”

  1. Human trafficking is so real and sometimes very scary close to home. It is and must be a shared problem.
    Women are very vulnerable to this, maybe the sex industry is more in the picture but adults and children working in factories, clothing factories (yes H&M and all the big giants), working in mines to collect mica for all the bling in make up and for cacao production, the list is endless there. Also like you said working as a nanny or domestic helpers. There is a lot of hidden suffering.
    I think the consumer needs to educate himself too. Money makes the world go around, so when there is more awareness, maybe the ‘demand’ will go down. Like maybe people won’t buy so much bling make up and so on.
    On the other hand, there are many people who just ‘don’t care’, which is sad.

    1. When there are multiple layers between people and social problems and it becomes all too easy for people to look away.

      Child labor is a huge issue, not just in terms of children who’ve been trafficked, but kids whose parents are sending them to work because there isn’t enough money to support the family.

  2. We hear of so many cases here in our large cities like London. Many times, nannies and housekeepers have been imprisoned by their ‘keepers’ for years. They’re made to work terribly long hours with ‘spare change’ for wages, and ‘live’ in dingy basements.

    Obviously it happens on larger scales too where traffickers bring in vulnerable migrants who’ve paid a fortune to get here, then they exploit them in the sex trade. I think the traffickers should be strung up! It makes me so angry and sad at the same time.

    Why does it still exist — in 2020? Does nobody care anymore?

      1. We think about this quite often.

        The college we used to work at had a hotel careers major. We brought in a county sheriff’s employee to teach students how to spot sex trafficking at their properties (hotels, motels, resorts). The hotel chains were also implementing programs to help slaves. We don’t think our state prosecutes slaves. That helps slaves start healing faster if they are rescued.

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