Human Trafficking: The Return of an Ancient Malaise

In mid-April, the world heard the news that the terrorist group Boko Haram had abducted more than 300 Nigerian school girls. Shortly afterward, a video of the group’s leader revealed his plans: “I will sell them in the market….There is a market for selling humans.”

Armed conflicts, kidnappings and terrorism have unfortunately become regular news, but “selling humans” is a concept alien to most in the Western world. Boko Haram’s announcement that it will sell the girls reminds us of a dreaded disease for which we found the cure long ago. Unfortunately human trafficking, together with its corresponding cruel and unfair treatment of people, has flared again from embers we thought were cold and dead. It will take the vigilance of a civilized public and its law enforcement community to stamp out the blaze and keep the future of humanity on the right path.

In late 2000, as part of the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (the Palermo Convention), the United Nations adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. In October 2000, the United States passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), making it easier for authorities in the U.S. to prosecute traffickers and help victims.

The TVPA defines severe forms of trafficking as either: a) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or b) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery.

Human trafficking takes place all over the world, including in the U.S. The State Department estimates that of the more than 27 million people currently enslaved, 75% are sexually exploited and most of the remaining people are subjected to other types of bondage, including forced labor, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude and debt bondage. Enslaved people work on farms, in restaurants, hotels, nail salons, shops, factories, slaughterhouses, brothels and in domestic situations in private homes. They live in large cities, small towns, suburban neighborhoods and rural areas. The FBI notes that human sex trafficking and sex slavery happen throughout the U.S., right in citizens’ backyards, including those in upscale neighborhoods right in our nation’s Capitol. According to a 2013 Congressional Research Service Report cited by NBC News, as many as 100,000 U.S. children may be victims of domestic human trafficking. The report also estimates that traffickers bring about 17,500 victims into the U.S. each year. Polaris Project CEO Bradley Myles noted in an interview with NBC News: “The average American should understand that human trafficking is much larger and more prevalent than most people realize, and they may come across human trafficking in their daily lives.”

According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, the trafficking of human beings is tied with arms dealing as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and is the fastest growing. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center estimates that human trafficking is a $32 billion industry, with half of this money coming from industrialized countries. Those profiting from it include organized criminal groups, terrorist groups, and individuals who prey on the most vulnerable people. In some cases, a cruel cycle exists where terrorists kidnap victims during armed conflicts and sell them to fund future attacks and additional kidnappings.

Human trafficking represents a real and present threat to Homeland Security. In addition to the multi-billion dollar enterprise supporting terrorist efforts, the exploitation of humans for terrorist activities including suicide bombings is well documented. It is obvious that the UN is incapable of properly thwarting the influx of individuals brought to the US against their will. The Department of Homeland Security, through its various sub-components, should become the primary federal agency tasked with monitoring and halting human trafficking in the US.

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