Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in America

Most typical teenagers likely have thought about or, even, have tried running away from home. Parents and non-parents alike must take this intention seriously as it is as a very dangerous thing to do. Throughout the United States, 450,000 minors run away from home every year and within 48 hours one out of three will become a human trafficking victim.

Running away from home is oftentimes the gateway to being trafficked into the scary and dark business of selling and buying human beings, such as being sex workers, sex slaves, labor slaves, or other derogatory inhumane positions against their will. Other than being on the streets, other “gateways” include being kidnapped in public places, being lured by a “friend” who works for a trafficker, and being coerced into adopting the lifestyle, oftentimes with violence and intimidation, even murder.

For instance, a girl can be approached by an older man who professes his love to her and sweeps her off her feet, only to find out that her prince charming is a professional pimp who beats her if she doesn’t want to have sex with johns. A friend who offers money, clothes, jewelries, and drugs can persuade a minor into believing in “making easy money” in “dating business.” There are all kinds of scenarios to lure minors into the world of human trafficking.

As a society, it’s our responsibility to ensure that our children, teenagers, women, and men don’t enter the dark abyss of human trafficking, while we can still help them. We should open our eyes and ears about trafficking events that occur every day around us.

Be aware, be totally aware.

Human trafficking is a nagging on-going international and humanitarian issue. It occurs in both developing and developed countries without exception. Astonishingly, trafficking is quite rampant in advanced countries like the United States and European countries, not only in poor regions of Thailand and China, for instance.

In USA alone, approximately one hundred thousand children are trafficked each year, according to statistics by National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. According to various sources, 27 million people are currently working slaves worldwide, 80 percent of people being trafficked are female and 50 percent of them are children, 70 percent of people being trafficked are sold as sex workers and sex slaves, and 200,000 minors with starting age of 11 to 14 are exploited every year in USA. Worldwide human trafficking industry generates $150 billion annually.

Definitions, Types and MOs

This lengthy definition encompasses three elements: act, means, and purpose. When these three elements do exist, human trafficking occurs. And this definition serves as an international consensus on what “human trafficking” is.

Further in the Article 5 of The Protocol, all UN member countries is required to cover human trafficking in their national laws. The criminalization of human trafficking should include attempting to commit trafficking, participating as an accomplice, and organizing others in this crime. And the frameworks within which the laws should criminalize include within and cross-border, various range of exploitation (sexual and non-sexual), victims of all ages and genders, and with or without the involvement of organized groups (individual or group crimes). Both sexual and non-sexual trafficking must be criminalized with the assistance of dedicated law enforcers and law makers.

Sexual trafficking includes selling and buying sex-related services, sex workers, and sex slaves. While the majority of sexual trafficking involves women and girls, some men and boys are also targeted. Pedophile rings, for instance, have interest in both boys and girls. Trafficked individuals are organized by their “pimps” or sold to other “sex sellers,” in the country or cross-country.

Non-sexual trafficking includes selling and buying hard laborers and slaves. These are people who work on manufacturing things in factories and small businesses, working on manual labor like in construction and other blue-collar positions, and doing household chores to free other people’s time to do higher-valued tasks.

Modern slavery rings usually promise desperate job seekers an excellent opportunity. In return, they must pay a certain amount of “job seeking fee,” which they can pay after receiving wages from employers. This is called “debt bondage,” which is meant to control and intimidate. The slaves’ wages will be deducted to pay for food, shelter, clothing, and transportation fee, leaving them with almost nothing to pay back their “debt.” They’re likely to experience physical and psychological abuses if they plan to leave. Female workers are prone to sexual harassments, including repeated rapes.

While most modern slaves in factories and farms come from foreign countries, like South America and Asia, some are Americans. As long as there are jobs requiring hard labor, modern slavery rings may exist. Even “Made in USA” products may be manufactured by modern slaves working in sweatshops. We just need to be more aware of it.

Prevention and Protection

Modern slavery also occurs in US upper middle-class communities, not merely in Asia and Africa. They are often “hidden” under the labels of “maids,’ “migrant workers,” and “hard laborers,” even though not all household maids, migrant workers and hard laborers are slaves. Some factories and ethnic restaurants are known to hire them.

Shyima Hall, the author of Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Slave

In April 2002, a neighbor in Orange County called the authority about an underage girl who slept in a garage and didn’t attend school. She seemed to be always be doing house chores. Apparently, she was a girl who was bought from her parents in Egypt and brought back to USA by her alleged “masters” or “family,” which were an Egyptian couple living in a mansion in the OC suburb. She wasn’t allowed to go outside the house, her passport was kept by her “masters,” and she was intimidated psychologically because she was an illegal alien in the country.

In adulthood, she wrote a book titled Hidden Girl: The True Story of A Modern-Day Child Slave. Her name is Shiyma Hall, now a twenty-something human trafficking activist US citizen.

How do you prevent and protect innocent people from becoming victims of human trafficking?

Educate men (and women) who buy sex about this trafficking issue, as oftentimes, buyers of illegal sex services don’t see the workers as “individuals” with their own families and lives. By educating them to see sex workers as human beings with feelings and thoughts, it’s one step closer to end sex buying.

Though it would take a strong combined effort with experts from multiple fields, educating sex buyers is something most people can do. The same applies to educating slave buyers about “the person” behind the “slave” facade. They must adhere to the minimum wage law when hiring and keeping a labor, otherwise legal prosecution and penalization would follow.

Next is educating the young generation about the hidden danger of human trafficking, so they are well educated for not becoming victims nor organizers and accomplices in the future. Remind them over and over again how human traffickers attract children and teenagers. Include various possible scenarios, like a friend who gives away expensive stuff, an adult who promises a dream-like life in the future, and anything that’s too good to be true.

If you found a victim of human trafficking, what should you do?

Human traffickers are highly organized and deceptive. We don’t want to deal with fakery and deception. In short, be extra careful when dealing with human trafficking cases. Keep the victim’s name anonymous or use and alias. Refrain from sharing too much, particularly on the Internet. Keep things confidential. And be extra careful.

National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC)
Hotline: 1–888–373–7888

The Michigan Law School Human Trafficking Clinic is at the forefront of human trafficking legal studies. Starting February 2011, the first national database of human trafficking legal cases is available for the public to support the government, legal enforcement, and practitioners who work closely with human trafficking victims and their cases.

The US federal anti-trafficking law, which was named The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), was enacted in 2000. Like the UNODC’s definition, there are three elements of “human trafficking”:

  • force
  • fraud
  • coercion

For the protection of children under 18 years old, these elements need not to be present. And the cases in the database aren’t necessarily prosecuted under TVPA, as it includes cases dating back to 1980.

On international level, UNODC has been working diligently to strengthen national criminal justice systems worldwide. Adopting international conventions into their national legal systems is merely the initial goal. The more crucial goal is the enforcement of those anti human-trafficking laws. In many countries, legal prosecutions are often jeopardized due to weak legal protection of witnesses and intimidation of victims.

A strong legal enforcement must be accompanied with strong protection of victims and witnesses, which can only be achieved with a solid collaboration of several justice institutions. UNODC provides comprehensive services to assist governments and legal institutions in developing national anti human-trafficking laws.

Human trafficking occurs around us all the time. We need to open our eyes, ears, hearts, and minds so, at least, we can prevent one person from becoming a victim. And one is a great number. As a start.

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Author, columnist & serial entrepreneur |

Author, columnist & serial entrepreneur |